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... about the "why" of your photographs
and the feelings and stories they create...
"Photographs are footprints of our minds, mirrors of our lives, reflections from our hearts, frozen memories that we can hold in silent stillness in our hands -- forever if we wish. They document not only where we have been, but also point the way to where we might perhaps be heading, whether or not we realize this yet ourselves..." -- Judy Weiser, R.Psych., A.T.R, Founder/Director of the PhotoTherapy Centre
The Secret Lives of Personal Snapshots and Family Photographs
snapshot a person takes or keeps is also a type of self-portrait,
a kind of "mirror with memory" reflecting back those moments
and people that were special enough to be frozen in time
forever. Collectively, these photos make visible the ongoing
stories of that person's life, serving as visual footprints
marking where they have been (emotionally, as well as physically)
and also perhaps signaling where they might next be heading.
Even people's reactions to postcards, magazine pictures, online images, or
snapshots taken by others can provide illuminating clues
to their own inner life and its secrets.
actual meaning of any photograph lies less in its visual
facts and more in what these details evoke inside the mind
(and heart) of each viewer -- including the person who took it or who appears in it. While looking
at a snapshot, people actually spontaneously create
the meaning that they think is coming from that photo itself,
and this may or may not be the meaning that the photographer
originally intended to convey. Thus, its meaning (and emotional
"message") is dependent upon who is doing the looking,
because people's perceptions and unique life experiences
frame and define what they see as being real. Therefore,
people's reactions to photographs they feel are special
can actually reveal a lot about themselves, if only
the right kinds of questions are asked.
Therapists Use Photos to Help People Heal
people keep photographs around, without ever pausing
really think about why. But, because personal
snapshots permanently record important daily moments (and
emotions unconsciously embedded within these), they can
serve as natural bridges for accessing, exploring, and
about feelings and memories (including deeply-buried or
long-forgotten ones), along with any psychotherapeutic
these bring to light. Therapists find that their clients'
photos frequently serve as tangible symbolic self-constructs
and metaphoric transitional objects that silently offer
inner "in-sight" in ways that words alone cannot as fully
represent or deconstruct.
the guidance of a therapist who has been trained in
clients explore what their own personally meaningful snapshots
and family albums are about emotionally, in addition
to what they are of visually. Such information
is latent in all personal photos, but when
be used to focus and precipitate therapeutic dialogue,
a more direct and less censored connection with the
will usually result.
PhotoTherapy sessions, photos are not just passively
reflected upon in silent contemplation, but also actively
created, posed for, talked with, listened to, reconstructed,
revised to form or illustrate new narratives,
collected on assignment, re-visualized in memory or imagination,
integrated into art therapy creative expressions, or
even set into
animated dialogue with other photos. This allows clients
to better reach, understand, and express parts of themselves
in ways that were previously not possible.
-- The Bigger Picture
explained in the book, PhotoTherapy
Techniques -- Exploring the Secrets of Personal Snapshots
and Family Albums, PhotoTherapy is best viewed as
an interrelated system of photo-based
counseling techniques used by trained mental health
professionals as part of their therapeutic practice
while helping clients consciously probe, and subsequently
cognitively reintegrate, their photo-precipitated insights
in order to better understand and improve their life.
it is not the same thing as "Therapeutic
Photography" (which is sometimes also confusingly called
"Photo-Therapy", particularly in the U.K.), as those are
self-conducted activities done outside any formal counseling
context. People use Therapeutic Photography for their own
personal self-discovery or artistic statement purposes,
whereas therapists use PhotoTherapy to assist other
people (their clients) who need help with their problems.
While the results of doing photo-based self-exploration
(photography-as-therapy; i.e., photography used for
personal insight purposes, but with no therapist involved
or guiding the process) often ends up being serendipitously
"therapeutic" on its own -- especially when using the camera
as an agent of personal or social change -- this is not
the same as activating and processing such experiences while
under the guidance and care of a trained counseling professional
(photography-in-therapy; i.e., using photos and people's
interactions with them, during the therapy process,
as an integral part of it).
PhotoTherapy is a collection of flexible techniques, rather
than fixed directives based upon only one specific theoretical
modality or therapeutic paradigm, it can be used by any
kind of trained counselor or therapist, regardless of their
conceptual orientation or preferred professional approach.
This is one of the many ways that PhotoTherapy is both similar
to, yet distinct from, Art Therapy
-- as well as the reason it can be used so successfully
by a variety of other mental health professionals who are
not trained in Art Therapy specifically. (Those who do have special additional training in Art Therapy, use a sub-set of PhotoTherapy techniques called "Photo Art Therapy).
The specific definitions for PhotoTherapy, Therapeutic Photography, and Photo Art Therapy are shown on the "Entry page" of this website; however these are repeated below for readers who did not enter this site from that first page:
techniques are therapy practices that use people's personal snapshots, family albums, and pictures taken by others (and the feelings, thoughts, memories, and associations these photos evoke) as catalysts to deepen insight and enhance communication during their therapy or counseling sessions (conducted by trained mental health professionals), in ways not possible using words alone.
(Photo Art Therapy techniques are art therapy practices based on a specialized adaptation of PhotoTherapy techniques that are used only by those with postgraduate training in Art Therapy, who actively use photos as one of their art media of choice)
Therapeutic Photography techniques are photographic practices done by people themselves (or their helpers) in situations where the skills of a trained therapist or counselor are not needed -- for example, where photos are used to increase people's own self-knowledge and awareness, improve family and other relationships, activate positive social change, lessen social exclusion, assist rehabilitation, strengthen communities, deepen intercultural relations, reduce conflict, bring attention to issues of social injustice, sharpen visual literacy skills, enhance education, promote well-being, expand qualitative research and prevention methodologies, and produce other kinds of photo-based personal/emotional healing and learning.
Since PhotoTherapy is about photography-as-communication, rather than photography-as-art, NO prior experience with cameras or the photographic arts is necessary for effective therapeutic application!
PhotoTherapy involves people interacting with their own
unique visual constructions of reality (using photography
more as an activating verb than as a passive/reflective
noun), these techniques can be particularly successful
people for whom verbal communication is physically, mentally,
or emotionally limited, socio-culturally marginalized,
or situationally-inappropriate due to misunderstanding
of nonverbal cues.
PhotoTherapy can be especially helpful, and usually
empowering, in applications with multicultural, disabled,
minority-gender, special-needs, and other similarly-complex
or marginalized populations -- as well as beneficial in
diversity training, conflict resolution, divorce mediation,
the general public becomes increasingly comfortable with
using electronic technology and digital imagery, more
exciting possibilities continue to emerge for using photos
as counseling tools with clients who have scanners, digital
cameras, photo-manipulation software, family websites,
and/or those who are able to participate in online cyber-therapy.
Please explore this site further to learn more about how
Photo Therapy can help people get a better picture of
their life -- one that is worth far more than the proverbial
• To hear a brief "live" radio interview with Judy Weiser (Director of the PhotoTherapy Centre), about how people can use these techniques to learn more aobut themselves and their lives, click here.
are encouraged to get in touch with the PhotoTherapy
Centre with your questions or requests for more information
or training -- and also to recommend
additional publications or links,
contribute your own reviews of the
PhotoTherapy book, add your own paragraph about yourself and your work to the "Who is Doing What, Where" page, share your
own photo-anecdotes, or send any other kind of feedback
to this site or add news or networking
suggestions to its interactive "PhotoTherapy
Discussion Group". Your communication
ALSO, please see (and join) the Facebook Group for:
"PhotoTherapy, Therapeutic Photography, Photo Art Therapy, and VideoTherapy"
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