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Photography as Therapy

Stephen Hipperson , Nov 21, 2011; 07:28 a.m.

Do you think that photography can be used as therapy in the treatment of mental illness? I'm certainly aware of 'Art as Therapy', in particular where individuals 'communicate' their inner feelings through production of pieces based on their inner personalities/feelings/etc, i.e. it becomes an effective means of getting what's in out, so to speak. But is photography capable of doing the same thing, as it tends to be an input output type of medium where pen/brush/clay tends to be straight output.


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Arthur Plumpton , Nov 21, 2011; 07:58 a.m.

Interesting and possibly very valuable proposal. I have had the privilege to see on a few occasions the art work of mentally challenged persons, most recently this past October in a wing of a gallery otherwise featuring turn of the century (19th/20th) art and which attracts a wide sector of society. The act of transferring thoughts to image via a paintbrush is perhaps more therapeutic than that which might come from mentally conceiving and making a photograph. Probably the therapy needs a bit of time in the doing and the photograph is perhaps too instantaneous for that (although good photography does normally require a lot of accompanying thought about the subject matter or conditions). But it could be useful, particularly in one of the two following modes: (a) by requesting the photographer to do a series of photos on one theme or subject, of his choosing (or in reflection on some existing art work); or (b) by having the photographer take several of his images, with perhaps other cut-out illustrative material, and make a collage of these elements.

Matt Laur , Nov 21, 2011; 08:01 a.m.

Check out Marwencol.

Pure therapy, and photography plays an important role in it.

Mukul Dube , Nov 21, 2011; 08:26 a.m.

Some years ago, the psychiatry department of a hospital sent two people to me with the specific request that I introduce them to photography. I understand that the "therapy" was deemed successful. I was on my guard but found that teaching and criticising could be done much as with "normal" people. My lay person's conclusion is that any activity which needs sustained concentration can be helpful in therapy. I'd say that all creative or productive activity, not just photography, needs a certain amount of input.

Fred G. , Nov 21, 2011; 09:19 a.m.

It can work the other way as well. The process of making photographs (emotional aspects, relationships with subjects and even viewers, obsessions about them, ongoing reaching for more, moments of doubt and anxiety, surprising revelations, opening oneself up to judgment) may cause one to need therapy.

Alan Zinn , Nov 21, 2011; 09:25 a.m.

I believe a trained therapist, shaman or psychologist, can make anything a tool for therapy. The image becomes the focus around which the discussion flows. The practice of art therapy is well established. A camera is just another medium.

Steve J Murray , Nov 21, 2011; 12:07 p.m.

Yup, I'm with Alan on this. Anything can be a "tool for therapy," in the hands of a good therapist, in whatever system he or she is using. In the hospital we use many forms of therapy, such as movement therapy, occupational therapy (often working on crafts), music therapy, group discussions on a topic, etc.
Fred, for most people, life is therapy. If something you do in life causes you to examine your life and you struggle through to resolve the issues that come up, this is the most natural form of growth, and "therapy."

Luis G , Nov 21, 2011; 01:11 p.m.

Fred G - "may cause one to need therapy."

True, and after I stopped laughing, it occurred to me that being driven to the realization that you need therapy is in a way, therapeutic.

Alan Z - "I believe a trained therapist, shaman or psychologist, can make anything a tool for therapy."

I agree, and would only add that not just the image, but the process involved can be at the core of it. I have written about and photographed an organization that has a studio in which their members make ceramics and paintings, and they are big on the process, not just the outcome.

Alan Zinn , Nov 21, 2011; 05:07 p.m.

Why does the film "Proof" (1991) come to my mind here? Blind photographer does
self-therapy with help from friends' descriptions of the pictures he takes. Oh
well, it's an excellent film.

Michael Linder , Nov 21, 2011; 06:06 p.m.

Usually, when I am wandering about with a camera in my hand, I tend to feel relaxed to a certain degree. Probably I am not allowing myself to be distracted by the usual pressures of work, etc. The same goes for my tweaking the photographs once they've been taken. The outcome tends to be my feeling better. I take it, though, that the OP is really about a formalized set of processes and/or procedures.

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