What is Therapeutic Photography anyway?

As a result of studying for my degree in Photography, Video and Digital Imaging at University of Sunderland, I developed a very keen interest in therapeutic photography. It was new to me, a photographic term I had not previously encountered. The idea intrigued and excited me. But what exactly is it?

Phototherapy-centre.com describe therapeutic photography as "the name for photo-based activities that are self-initiated and conducted by oneself (or as part of an organised group or project), but where no formal therapy is taking place and no therapist or counsellor needs to be involved." They continue by saying, "Therapeutic Photography does not mean just only photo-taking. It also includes other photo-interactive activities, such as photo-viewing, -posing, -planning, -discussing, or even just only remembering or imagining photographs."

This may sound quite vague. I would argue that this is a good thing as being too prescriptive may discourage others from learning about this practice. On a personal level, I find there are three key areas where I engage in the practice of therapeutic photography.

The first area involves me engaging with my own personal experiences of mental health issues, creating pictorial representations of my feelings, fears, emotions and aspects that benefit or are detrimental to my overall well-being. This allows me to understand, to confront, to explain, to accept and to progress my mental health. For example, my recent body of work, In Contrast..., looked specifically at recent experiences and challenges and how my connection to the sea aids my well-being. One of the images from the series features in a new exhibition, Art & Liberation which opens on Monday 3rd September 2018 at The Holy Biscuit, Newcastle upon Tyne.

The work is in the realm of abstract expressionism and hopefully evokes an emotion or question from the viewer. I hope people can engage with this work whether they suffer from mental health issues, live or know someone with mental health issues or have never experienced mental health issues. It is about promoting conversation, starting a dialogue that will help to remove the stigma around mental health.

Creating such work isn't always easy. Dealing with such topics can open up wounds as well as help to heal them. It is not to be taken lightly if you choose to work in this sphere. Self-care is a must. I learnt that the hard way a couple of years ago.

The next area involves my passion for sports photography. Although I am still in the early stages of my sports photography career, I consider myself fortunate to work in an area that I thoroughly enjoy. After spending many years in jobs that bored me senseless, often leading to mental health challenges, I have found one that excites me, that motivates me. It certainly isn't for everyone. Whilst some days you get to work in glorious sunshine, some days you are working in driving rain and cold conditions. Whilst it is an area where I am trying to carve out a living, and with that come the usual financial pressures and time constraints, I don't get stressed or overwhelmed by it all. That is priceless, in my opinion.

The final area is simply going out and enjoying myself, creating images without any other reason than I want to! This may be going for a wander along the coast, capturing seascapes. It could be going off the beaten track and taking images with a film pinhole camera. It could be creating cyanotypes at home. It may be photographing birds or animals. It really doesn't matter. The important aspect is doing something purely for enjoyment. Not for a project, not for a client, not for any other reason than simply wanting to do something that makes me happy. After many years I finally understand the importance of my own well-being.

I hope this helps to explain what therapeutic photography is and what it means to me. It has had a positive impact on my life. There's nothing stopping you from giving it a try.

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