Saturday, 23 July 2011

A query from Bethy on Photography Therapy/PhotoTherapy

Hugh Diamond
I am currently going into my final year of BA visual communications specialising in photography. I am researching for my dissertation, I am looking to write about therapeutic art, how effective is it? how does it help people? what artists (with a particular reference to photographers) use therapeutic art etc. I was wondering if there were any books or any forms of reference and research that you could recommend.

Hi Bethy
This is a really interesting topic for a dissertation, and one close to the Fairy Art Mother’s heart! You probably don’t have thousands and thousands of words to play with, so try to narrow your focus. If you look at art therapy in general, your dissertation might become superficial so if you can stick with photo therapy you will achieve a deeper, more rewarding, study – and there is certainly a lot you could explore here.

But to start with, do explore the whole concept of art or creative therapy, so that you can understand the theory behind it. Books by Tessa Dalley, Caroline Case, and Marianne Liebmann should be useful, or the Art Therapy Sourcebook by Cathy Malchiodi.

Bernie Warren's Using the Creative Arts in Therapy is also a good overview of art, drama and music therapy. There have also been some international events that have prompted the use of art in therapy where children have been so traumatised that they can't speak. Visualisation was their only form of communication. Children from Dafur, for example, witnessed the most terrible atrocities, often against their own families, and the children of Beslan, who were held captive, and some shot, by Chechen reblels in Russia.


Once you do get down to photo therapy (be careful of the terminology – photo therapy can refer to treating patients with light – NOT what you are looking for!), you could start by looking at the history of the use of photography in psychiatric practice, such as Dr Hugh Diamond, who photographed patients because he believed they would benefit from the interest taken in them, and the way they could look at themselves. (Results were not conclusive) Photography was also used by Duchenne de Boulogne in the Salpetriere hospital in Paris. (There are also sub stories amongst these topics – a great deal of the emphasis was on women, and there has been much written by feminists on what these photos actually say.)

I’ve not been able to find any trace of this book, but if you can, Sander Gilman is a fascinating author: The Face of Madness: Hugh W. Diamond and the Origin of Psychiatric Photography By Sander Gilman

Hugh Diamond: Ophelia

As you come into the modern era, today there are five ways photography is used in therapy:
  1. The first is something you could explore yourself – look at family photo albums. Look closely at patterns: do certain family members always sit together? Is there always one member of the family not in the picture, or looking away. Albums tell stories, and are great starting points in therapy, including memory therapy in Alzheimer’s patients.
  2. The therapist can work with the client on pictures the client has taken
  3. The therapist and client can explore photos of the client
  4. Self portraits can be used
  5. Selected photos can be used as stimuli – the client is asked to interpret them
Books you could look at include:
Beyond the Smile: Therapeutic Use of the Photograph, by Linda Berman
Phototherapy Techniques: Exploring the Secrets of Personal Snapshots and Family Albums by Judy Weiser
Exploring the self through photography: Activities for use in Group Work by Claire Craig

A key name to look at is, of course, Jo Spence, who used self-portrait photography whilst she suffered from cancer.

The best website to start with is:

Depending on where you are studying, you might find art therapy is taught nearby. You could contact the tutor for information, or better still,  undertake a short evening course to get a really personal understanding of creative therapies.  Post grad approved colleges include Sheffield, Goldsmiths, Hertfordshire, Edinburgh, Belfast, Chester, and Derby, shorter programmes and MA components are on offer at Warwickshire College, Leamington Spa, linked to BCU (Margaret Street – the course leader on the MA here is Kate Broom, I believe, but I am not sure if the course is approved by BAAT. The British Association of Art Therapists

You will have difficulties getting examples or art/photo therapeutic work due to the personal nature of the topic. Creative therapies are not recognised as useful practice in some countries, even some close European nations, and some hospitals don’t provide the facilities that would benefit patients. Cost/space/hygiene is always an issue. It is also a very low paid profession, if very rewarding.

Duchenne de Boulogne
Good luck with your research – and if this has been useful, do tell your friends about this site, and get back to me if you get stuck!

1 comment:

  1. Hi again, Bethy,
    You might also be interested in this free course from the Open University - lots of resource material, and all online. It's called Picturing the Family: