Learn about the healing power of photography and how it can help you better express, understand and overcome depression and anxiety.
Updated: November 2018
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How Photography Saved My Life
What is Therapeutic Photography?
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.
Therapeutic Benefits of Photography and Writing
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
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)
Natural Remedies For Depression and Anxiety
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.
*posted with permission