The Art of Using Photography to Explore Therapeutically the Landscape of Self: Treating Eating Disorders Through Photography
How we organize meaning from our inner and outer world has a lot to do with who we are and where we come from. When we dialogue with our inner selves, sometimes there are no words to describe the reality of our experiences. They are best depicted through visual images, symbolically representing our understanding of events and the meaning for us personally and culturally. Increasingly, mental health practitioners are striving to meet clients’ needs holistically. While the spoken word is the traditional foundation for individual therapy (i.e., “talk therapy”), it sometimes fails to give practitioners and clients a clear sense of the “clinical picture”. Photography – as an art and as a therapeutic tool – may be used in individual therapy to help practitioners and clients get “a better picture” of phenomenology and symptomatology. “Arts” and “Expressive” therapies are based on the assumption that the creating and/or viewing of artistic or expressive works offers an opportunity for therapeutic exploration and reflection. Photo therapy shares this assumption. It permits the creation of a “visual diary”, enabling clients to explore therapeutically the landscape of the self – familiar terrain of where they have been emotionally and physically. It also can guide them through uncharted territory along their healing journey. This paper focuses on the art of photography to explore therapeutically clients’ psychological and physical disorders, particularly eating disorders, and how photo therapy facilitates their recovery and growth. The use of photography as an art or as a therapeutic tool has implications for research, practice and policy areas such as health promotion and community development. It holds potential to help us uncover the meaning of our inner and outer worlds, to make meaning of our lives in an ever-changing world and, ultimately, to improve our quality of life and that of our communities.
Keywords: Art, Photography, Clinical Therapy, Eating Disorders, Photo Therapy
Dr. Jennifer Boisvert
Clinical Practitioner, Private Clinical Practice
Dr. W. Andrew Harrell
Professor, Center for Experimental Sociology, University of Alberta