The Healing Power of Photography: Combining Psychology and Art for Therapeutic Results

The article discusses the therapeutic potential of combining photography and psychology to promote self-awareness, self-expression, and a deeper level of self-discovery. The author shares his personal journey of discovering this intersection and outlines how aspects of therapy, such as goal setting and reflection, can be implemented into a photo session to achieve a greater level of authenticity and self-appreciation.

Rita Pakhlova

2/15/20234 min read

Have you ever had one of those moments when you discover something that you think is completely unique and groundbreaking? That was me when I realized that photography and psychology could be combined in a therapeutic way.

I was ecstatic, thinking I was the first and only one to come up to this intersection of two seemingly unrelated fields. I felt like a big thinker, innovator, and trailblazer ha-ha We stand on the shoulders of the titans before us. As I delved deeper into the topic, I discovered that there were others who had explored this combinations, wrote books, held workshops and organized a whole community, like Judy Weise, of artists and therapists with unique blend of skills and interests who, while employing their creativity, are looking for ways to help people lead better and more fulfilling lives. Happy to contribute and be a part of such a crowd. Here is my take on therapeutic photography, therapy and phototherapy.

What is called therapeutic?

Something is defined as "therapeutic" if it enhances insight into yourself, promotes the awareness and expression of underlying feelings, and moves your identity into new more rewarding direction.

I earlier wrote a post about my personal story of experiencing therapeutic effects of photography and discovering phototherapy. One of the insights I had that day was a clear answer to the questions "why should I photograph? for what purpose?”, as for a good part of 10 years I was looking for the reason to do photography. My experience at the beach that I describe in that post, was of me being fully present, trusting my guts and being trusted in return, following my heart, not having expectations, valuing the moment, and stepping into the action with that bitter sweet combination of fear and hope. What I was doing back then was an intuitive process, but as I later learnt many of the aspects of it are the essential attributes of a therapy session. To name a few, empathy, collaboration, non-directiveness, and trust.

Psychology and photography

Psychology and photography share a common goal: to help people see themselves and the world around them in a new light. Through my own personal journey, the work with others and their feedback, I have discovered that combining these two fields can have a profound impact on one's ability to gain self-awareness, appreciate one's unique qualities, and feel comfortable in their own skin. As a photographer and a therapist in study, I've discovered that certain aspects of therapy work can be implemented into a photo session to help clients achieve a deeper level of self-discovery and self-expression. These are:

  1. Goal setting: Setting goals is the first step in any therapy. Goals give you direction and help you identify what's important to you at the moment. Similarly, in photography, identifying the motive behind the photoshoot and transforming it into a more specific goal promotes intentional approach that can help to see a greater picture and stay on track. Prior to photos session, I ask my clients questions like, "What is this photo session mean to you?” and “ What do you want to understand for yourself?”. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a few questions to ponder: "What are some things in your life that you're tired of? What about the things you love and want more of? Was there a specific problem that brought you me? How and when did it start?" Taking time to reflect on these questions can be therapeutic in itself.

  2. Focus on self-exploration, not photos: With multiple roles in life, women often neglect themselves and their desires, which can lead to feelings of exhaustion, depression, or anxiety. During my photoshoots, I encourage clients to dedicate this time with a focus on themselves and their self-exploration. It’s the time and place to gain clarity on desires, values, and goals. Change doesn’t come quickly, but focusing on self-exploration and honoring the time invested, can lead to greater clarity and fulfillment in the long run. In fact, I’ve found that by treating the experience as a self-discovery journey, beautiful photos tend to naturally follow as a byproduct.

  3. Not seeing photos: The pressure to measure up to society's standards is overwhelming, and leads only to a confident inner critique that damages one's self-esteem. Working with film, facilitates an experience unlike any other. Not seeing photos, helps a person who is being photographed, to build trust and reliance on themselves, instead of waiting for feedback and immediate gratification. Not seeing photos makes it easier to stay in the moment, which in turn helps to come in contact and interact with unique qualities and traits. All this leads to a greater authenticity and self appreciate.

  4. Not editing photos: Editing photos plays on our insecurities that we need to be "fixed" in any way and also gives an illusion of fixing the thing. However, this can lead to a never-ending cycle of self-doubt and dissatisfaction. Personally, I’m tired of all these fake instagram accounts, retouched bodies, curated feeds and picture perfect lives. I’m sure you’re too. I know the power capturing person’s unique beauty and character has. I saw tears in disbelieve, sudden laughter and silent amazement looking at you real, raw and beautiful self. By embracing our authentic selves, we can experience a sense of freedom and confidence that comes from within.

  5. Silence: Therapists use silence primarily to facilitate reflection, encourage responsibility, facilitate expression of feelings, not interrupt session flow, and convey empathy. It might be odd to some people to stay silent next to another person, but I dare you to try it. And while you’re doing it, observe your thoughts and where they take you. What is so uncomfortable about silence? Where does the need to say something come from? Can your mere presence be enough of value to another person? How does it feel when you feel valued? During a photo session, moments of silence can create a space for reflection, allowing the client to connect with their emotions and thoughts in a deeper way.

So what is phototherapy then?

I know what you're thinking: I already understand the therapeutic aspect, but what exactly is phototherapy? Well, phototherapy is a formalized form of therapy that uses photography as a tool for healing and self-exploration. It involves a trained therapist guiding the process and typically delves into deeper psychological issues and emotions with the use of photos as a mediator. My approach begins with a motive clarification and goal-setting session, followed by the experience of being photographed, and afterward, me and my client engage in phototherapy by reflecting on emotions and insights that arose during the photo session, discovering metaphors and hidden messages in photos, and recounting of the positive changes that have occurred during the time the client and photographer have had together.

To sum up, I’d like to say that the synthesis of these fields has opened up a world of possibilities and has given me a new perspective on what is possible. I’m quite open to your thoughts and ideas, a possible artistic collaboration even, let me know. Let’s stay curious!

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