Therapeutic Photography: Photos Can Help You Heal

Behind each photo lies a story, an intention, and even a feeling. In this article, we talk about the kind of therapy that involves the use of photos.
Therapeutic Photography: Photos Can Help You Heal
Yurdey Fernanda Herran Murillo

Written and verified by the psychologist Yurdey Fernanda Herran Murillo.

Last update: 12 February, 2023

Photos are part of everyday life. Indeed, today, it’s not necessary to be a professional photographer to have a good camera. In fact, almost all of us carry ours on our cell phones. It’s because of this accessibility that we want to talk about therapeutic photography.

Photography can be a means of promoting mental health and well-being. It can help you to have a conversation both with yourself and others (psychologist, therapist, groups, etc). That’s because visual elements communicate experiences that are difficult to put into words.

Woman with a photo camera
Therapeutic photography promotes self-knowledge and well-being.

You don’t have to be a professional photographer

Using photography as a form of communication doesn’t require any prior knowledge or experience with cameras. On the contrary, this technique facilitates symbolic exploration. It allows you to approach your own feelings, and question and reconcile your own interpretations.

Therapeutic photography uses projection as a tool. It avoids defense mechanisms, such as filters, excuses, rationalizations, etc. One of its pioneers is the Canadian psychotherapist, Judy Weiser. She identified five techniques in therapeutic photography:

1. Photos taken by you

By taking the photo, you increase your possibility of interpreting reality. Somehow, you can merge reality with your way of being and connect and look at the world around you. Additionally, taking photos can help you identify the needs of those around you.

In therapeutic spaces, photos can be used as metaphors and symbols to express the meaning of the places, things, and themes that appear in them.

2. Self-portraits

In therapy, with this technique, you can work on your self-concept and self-esteem. That’s because self-portraits allow for confrontation, and self-taken photographs can be an avenue for emotional expression.

The self-portrait can help you deal with any painful and vulnerable encounters face to face with yourself. These encounters can have a positive effect on your self-image if you carry them out with a therapist who’s aware of your particular problems. Self-knowledge facilitates assertiveness. Moreover, it helps you identify both your strongest and weakest points.

3. Photos you’re in, taken by others

With this technique, you can see parts of yourself that remain out of focus in other modes of self-observation. For example, your profile or your back view, or how you look when you’re asleep or caught mid-movement, etc.

This type of photo allows you to see yourself from unusual and privileged points of view. In effect, you’re able to see yourself from others’ perspectives. There’s no single truth about who you are. After all, the photos in which you appear can vary greatly, and none of them is any more real than the others. They all show many different ‘truths’ about your identity.

4. Photos collected by you

Storing photos is useful for creating internal paths that lead to understanding. In fact, collecting photos is a means of self-exploration through metaphors. In addition, photos can help express certain complex content relating to reason and emotion.

The photos you collect usually say something about you. Perhaps because, simply by having taken them, you’ve already imbued them with a special meaning.

several photos
Photos express many things about the life of the individual who took them. This can be explained in more depth if further research is conducted through dialogue.

5. Family albums

Family albums aren’t just books, they’re moments in time frozen forever. It’s as if they were ‘alive’ and existing right now. An album encourages you to explore your life and discover your personal history through your relatives. Who are/were they? Who were their parents? What were the relationships between them like?

Finally, remember that therapeutic photography can:

Reduce problems. On the other hand, it can simply be a preventative activity to help strengthen your mental health and promote your personal growth.

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The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.