Photography and Clinical Psychology
Photography has a long history in the treatment of the mentally ill. First used by psychologists as a means to document distress, most recently photography has been used by clients themselves as a way to document their own realities. As someone trained as a clinical psychologist, I have always been interested in how people narrate their stories. However, over time, I've grown frustrated with traditional forms of talk therapy and now believe that there are a myriad of ways to help people process, feel, and think more deeply about their inner experiences and outer reality.
To that end, I have started experimenting with the use of photography in my abnormal and clinical psychology classes. For my clinical psychology class, I worked with noted photographer Rania Matar on a photographic exercise that was meant to help students understand the importance of building rapport We created an assignment where students had to work in pairs and take photos of each other and then report back what it was like to be so open and vulnerable with another peer. They also reflected on the similarities and differences between the role of a photographer and a therapist. The feedback for this assignment was overwhelmingly positive.
Comments From Students
Photography and therapy alike can examine personal narratives from numerous angles. Different lenses and distances allow photographers to see and reveal a diverse array of emotions and perspectives; various therapeutic approaches have a similar effect. They both capture and expose deep-seated emotions and intimacies of people's lives, one visually (photographers) and one verbally (therapists). There are few professions which allow people to access such great vulnerabilities.
The primary similarity between photographers and therapists is that they are both charged with experiencing another person’s life secondhand, either by documenting it with a photograph that accurately captures that person’s experience, or by reliving via empathy and meaningful connection upon hearing a client’s retelling of an event or experience. Both therapists and photographers must take into account “the whole picture” rather than just the subject.