Tuesday, 27 August 2013


Occasionally, I receive offers from fellow authors and feature writers to appear on this blog.  It is very rare for the topic they propose to coincide with the manuscript I am working on, but there are exceptions, and today is one of those rare occasions.

I am pleased to welcome Eve Pearce.

The Benefits of Art Therapy

People have been recognising the value of artistic activity to help people cope with personal problems and mental health issues for a long time. The paintings of van Gogh were famously influenced by his mental health issues, particularly his later work which balanced melancholy and optimism. Of course, many people have also turned to writing, the main focus of this website, to help with their issues. Sylvia Plath poured her depression into poetry and fiction. Many people who have traumatic or difficult experiences in their past have written autobiographies as a way to both confront and try to understand the things they have been through. Artistic expression is so useful in helping people come to terms with their issues that art therapy is now widely employed in clinical settings with painting and drawing, writing, and music all featuring heavily. However, in spite of being a popular and growing art, photography has not been so widely employed for therapeutic value. Nonetheless, artists and psychologists alike are increasingly starting to appreciate the ways photography can help improve mental health.

Photography and Depression

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in modern society, especially among women. Male depression is by no means uncommon, but the rate among women is much higher with as many as one in four experiencing it at some point in their lives. This may be partly because menstruation and menopause can sometimes be factors in developing depression symptoms, for example in the case of Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. However, the signs and symptoms of depressionin women and men are similar. These can include mood shifts, lack of energy, and feelings of anxiety and hopelessness. Some sufferers of depression are now finding solace in photography. As cameras are widely available and increasingly easy to use, photography provides an easy and accessible means of distraction from the feelings of despair that depression can bring. More importantly, though, it is a valuable means of expression. Images can be extremely evocative and capture complex moods, meaning that some photographers find they can use it as a visual language to express things they struggle to put into words. This makes it an outlet through which burdens that normally get bottled up can be released and shared, as well as a way to achieve a sense of order by taking creative control of the activity.

Photography and Self-Confidence

A quite different approach to photographic therapy has been employed for those who suffer from self-confidence or body image issues. This can include people who suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia, or those who have had their self-value damaged by experienced such as sexual abuse. Some projects, such as the work of Ellen Fisher Turk, have allowed people with this kind of problem to benefit from photography by appearing in front of the camera rather than standing behind it. Being photographed as models and then shown the results allows them to see their physical appearance in a new way. Viewing a staged, professional photo is a more external, objective, and in some ways disconnected way to look at their own bodies. The way they see themselves in the photos is closer to the way other people see them, and they are often pleasantly surprised to find a much better, more beautiful appearance than they expected. On the other hand, some people who suffer from anorexia have been shocked to realise how thin they are, and found this equally valuable after spending so long struggling with the conviction they are fat.

The Development of Therapeutic Photography

Photography took off in the nineteenth century, and the very first use of photography as therapy was not far behind. This came from a man called Hugh Diamond, who was both a doctor working in a mental hospital and a founder of the Photographic Society. He became fascinated with the use of photography for both record keeping and treatment of patients with mental illness. However, in spite of taking those first steps more than a century and a half ago, photography remains an art form which is less widely used for therapy than others such as painting and writing. Nonetheless, this is starting to change, with an increasing number of people turning to photography to help them make sense of their lives. One online resource for therapeuticphotography suggests that this increase is due to the fact that photography degrees have become much more common over the last ten years. This, they suggest, has led to a major increase in the number of art therapists with experience of photography. This means they are more likely to be interested in exploring its value in a clinical setting.  

Eve Pearce is a full-time feature writer as well as an art and photography aficionado. She has written for numerous sites on various topics over the past few years.

No comments:

Post a Comment