Have you heard of therapeutic photography? This is a brief explanation of how photography is used for insight, healing and transformation, and how it might come to touch your life. If you’re interested, you might want to explore a workshop or a keynote for your organization. Since the 1970’s I have been exploring ways in which photography—an activity to which almost everyone has access—can help us learn, grow, heal and enjoy life. And in all those years, I have discovered many ways photography can benefit all of us.
1. When we look at a photograph, we can pay attention to what we see, think, and feel, and ask ourselves why. Often we will see things more deeply in a photograph than we do when we encounter these same things in daily life.
The Sand Spirits Insight cards are an example. As we look at abstract photos of nature’s arrangements in the sand, each of us sees different forms and figures depending on our experience. The Sand Spirit images may move you in ways you never noticed when you were walking by similar arrangements on a beach! So how does this help us? The Sand Spirits teach us that simple objects in nature can help us see both the inner and outer landscape with more attention, appreciation and symbolic sight. That is, images like the Sand Spirits allow us to see beyond the literal object to parts of ourselves that the objects represent to us. Take a look at the Gallery and see what you see!
2. When we “take” photos, we can pay attention to what we are attracted to, what we see in the subject and how we might portray it in various ways. When we stop to photograph something, we stop to really see it, and create a more intimate or meaningful relationship to the person, object or landscape we are photographing. For me, the joy of photography is not found just in the technique itself but in the enrichment of the seeing process. You can use any simple camera to explore what you are drawn to in the outer world. Then you can go on to appreciate and explore those things you are drawn to—or even to ask why you are drawn to them–so that you can increase your appreciation of all of life, and understand yourself better. You’ll also enhance your creativity and self-expression.
I define therapeutic photography as any use of photography that enhances learning, human growth or healing. I have worked with many different populations using photography in a therapeutic way. I’ll give you a few examples. Children who are learning disabled may have trouble reading and writing, but may be able to express themselves fluently using a camera. A developmentally disabled young adult who had trouble speaking clearly went on a walk with me and used my camera. His first photo was of a padlock on a gate, which I believe was a portrait of how he felt inside.
Elementary school children exercised their creativity by selecting a stone, picturing its shape and form as part of a scene, writing a story about the scene and then creating a diorama illustrating the story. The photos were part of a student exhibit they mounted. This curriculum was designed to strengthen motivation for the language arts. I designed other programs to enhance self-discipline in the classroom and to strengthen self-esteem. I worked with brain-injured adults in the 1980’s, when scientists and doctors still believed it was impossible to regenerate connections in the nervous system after injury. I was privileged to watch a man speak his first word after he photographed a plant, made his own print, and explained what it meant to him by enthusiastically pointing to himself and saying the word, “Grow!” I watched memory, self-expression and socialization improve using photography. If these students who have almost overwhelming challenges can use photography to communicate and reveal themselves, then so can you! The Sand Spirit workshops and the Sand Spirits Workbook (link to Sand Spirits page) will teach you about working with others using photographic images for their learning and growth, as well as your own.
In addition, we will periodically be offering photographic workshops designed to enhance your seeing and appreciation of the world around you. Check the calendar page to see what’s being offered. You’ll have the chance to be an artist even if you feel you aren’t creative. These no-fail workshops will help you use your camera to see more meaning in this incredible journey called life. To learn more about the field of Photo Therapy and therapeutic photography, explore our Resources and Links.