Last Updated: November 15, 2019
Sections on Therapeutic Photography
- What is Therapeutic Photography?
- Therapeutic Benefits of Photography and Writing
- What is the Difference between Therapeutic Photography and Phototherapy?
- What are the Benefits of Therapeutic Photography for Mental Health
- Get Weekly Tips for Using Therapeutic Photography
- Learn our Fundamental Therapeutic Photography Techniques
- Connect with Others Doing Therapeutic Photography Research
- Featured Therapeutic Photography Stories
Watch our TEDx talk
How Photography Saved My Life
Therapeutic photography involves taking, analyzing and using photos for the purpose of personal healing, growth, or understanding, whether done consciously or unconsciously. By actively constructing, exploring and reflecting on photographs by pairing it with creative writing, you are able to learn more about yourself and how you see the world.
In 2018, researchers at Lancaster University found that taking a daily photo improved wellbeing through:
- Community interaction
- The potential for reminiscence
“Taking a moment to be mindful, and looking for something different or unusual in the day were seen as positive well-being benefits of the practice.”
In 2017, Sumin Zhao and Michele Zappavigna published Beyond the self: Intersubjectivity and the social semiotic interpretation of the selfie stating “Our analysis suggests that the potential for empowerment is inherent in the visual structure of the selfie, and that, as a genre, it is open for recontextualisation across contexts and social media platforms.”
As well in 2015, Re‐storying narrative identity: a dialogical study of mental health recovery and survival in the Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing states, “narrative re‐storying may help the recovery process for individuals and communities; that hybrid transcultural writing positively undermines barriers between professionals and consumers of mental health”.
In 2010, researchers analyzed and reported a summary of over 100 studies focusing on the effects of art on physical and psychological health in The Connection Between Art, Healing, and Public Health: A Review of Current Literature.
A few of the positive ways visual art and expressive writing affect our health included:
- Art allowed them to express their feelings in a symbolic manner
- Helped bring focus to positive life experiences, relieving their preoccupation with illness
- Opportunities to demonstrate continuity, challenge, and achievement enhanced self-worth and identity
- Patients can forget about their illness for a while and escape intense emotions
- Artistic self-expression might contribute to maintenance or reconstruction of a positive identity
- Art reduced stress by lowering levels of the stress hormone cortisol
- Enabled them to maintain an identity of who they were before they got sick and expand their identity in a way that resisted being defined by their illness
- Emotional writing about upsetting experiences produces long-term improvements in mood and health and can influence frequency of physician visits, immune function, stress hormones, blood pressure, and a number of social, academic, and cognitive variables
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Studies have shown that, relative to control group participants, individuals who have written about their own traumatic experiences exhibit statistically significant improvements in various measures of physical health, reductions in visits to physicians, and better immune system functioning. (Source)
These terms are often used interchangeably, however it’s important to note the distinction between the two as PhotoTherapy refers to techniques put into practice by a trained therapist and/or mental health professional (hence photo “therapy”). Therapeutic photography is often a practice and set of techniques that you use on your own outside of a professional setting, which can also enhance the work you do in therapy and with any mental health professionals you’re working with.
For more on the definitions and differences between these two terms and fields, we recommend you visit the website of a previous mentor and advisor of The One Project, Judy Weiser at the PhotoTherapy Center.
Photography can be a form of mindfulness (or present state awareness), similar to meditation, which is proven to help people suffering from depression and anxiety. Often when you’re taking photos, you can find yourself in “flow”, which brings many health benefits similar to meditation like calming the mind and providing relief from stress.
Art helps people express experiences that are too difficult to put into words, such as a diagnosis of cancer.
By creating photos that you are proud of, you can start to build self-esteem. Similarly, sharing your photographs and getting positive feedback from others can help you continue to build confidence and become empowered, which can help you become more comfortable expressing your opinion, thoughts, and story with others. A 2014 study found that those who took part in creating visual art had a significant increase in psychological resiliency. The neurotransmitter dopamine can be increased through this process, which can be lacking in those suffering from depression and has been found to immediately start to help prevent depressive-like behaviours.
A person’s perspective on themselves and the world can be gradually explored and changed through the process of taking photographs, analyzing them and discussing with others. Neuroplasticity tells us that our brain has the ability to change constantly throughout our lives and grow new connections.
People are using therapeutic photography techniques to help themselves and others overcome depression, anxiety, chronic pain and much more.
Our community manager Kaye shares weekly story prompts 3 times a week, including a new Therapeutic Photography tip every Wednesday. Here are a few examples of past tips you can access after signing up or logging in to the private community:
- Playing with bokeh.
- Embracing the fog.
- Create while you’re down.
- Enduring the climb.
- Reflection and introspection.
In Build Your One Project, you’ll get videos, assignments, worksheets, and resources to learn:
- The top 10 benefits of photography for depression and anxiety
- Why you don’t need fancy equipment, skills or education to get started
- The importance of perspective and how it’s keeping you from overcoming these issues
- Why we often can’t see the support network that surrounds us and is there to help
- How to utilize simple creative writing with your photos to create stories that maximize the therapeutic value and insights you receive for yourself
- Why you need the Story Spectrum to help you start talking about these issues
- How asking the right questions about your photos can help you gain powerful insights about yourself and why you’re suffering with depression and anxiety
- Why talking about these issues with words doesn’t always work
- How you can uncover your bad habits, work to remove them and build better ones that serve you in your recovery and growth
- The 3 types of photos you need to use to best understand and uncover your authentic self
- How every action that you take in your own journey of recovery and growth can impact and help others
- And so much more…
We’ve had many people request to have a space to discuss the research and academic realm of therapeutic photography (TP) around the world, as many students, therapists, academics and aspiring mental health professionals who are currently working on a thesis or larger project around the therapeutic benefits of photography enter our community.
You can use this space if you are:
- Sharing new insights, research or developments in helping to display the therapeutic or healing power of photography
- Requesting or searching for information on therapeutic photography
- Working to organize research or academic projects on TP
- Discussing different techniques and applications for TP
*posted with permission