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The Healing Tool In Your Pocket – Using Your Smartphone For Therapeutic Photography

Written by: Christiaan Partridge, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Christiaan Partridge

Demand for healthcare services has grown exponentially in the United Kingdom since pandemic restrictions were lifted. A significant proportion of this is an increase in mental health problems presenting, particularly in teenagers and young adults. Recent studies suggest that antidepressant medications may not be as effective as previously thought and should be reserved for more severe presentations. Side effects of such medicines can be equally problematic, as can those associated with discontinuation. De-prescribing guidelines are being drafted; however, there are also significant waiting times for talking therapies. Could a potential answer to some of these problems actually be in our pockets?

black and white photo of a cemetery

In a world of convenience and immediacy, the advances in digital technology have risen rapidly. With the cameras on smartphones becoming more and more sophisticated, everyone can be a photographer. Social media platforms saturate our viewing with images of all different varieties. There are advocates of having downtime from our devices, and quite rightly so, as the benefits of exercise and being outside in the countryside are irrefutable. But could our smartphone cameras also be a tool for self-healing?

A wealth of evidence suggests Therapeutic Photography practices are associated with improved mental well-being when conducted in a safe and supportive space. It has advantages over other forms of Art Therapy, as there is no requirement for a therapist, just a facilitator with adequate life experience. There must be specific aims and objectives to which images must adhere. It can be practised in small groups, reducing the need for one-to-one interactions, though this requires those involved to respect each other's confidentiality.

PhotoVoice is one such process proven to improve well-being in many circumstances. Projects range from improving mental health to improving living conditions within housing complexes and whole neighbourhoods. Some such projects even produced photobooks of their images to inform a broader public audience of their experiences and how their lives had been improved.

But Therapeutic Photography can also be self-directed, and there are online communities on which images and their individual meanings can be shared; an example is The One Project. Bryce Evans founded The One Project as a community for those who wish to learn and use Therapeutic Photography techniques to heal and share their images in a safe and non-judgmental space. This does take a certain amount of willpower and discipline, but it can be very cathartic; the images can open up and stimulate difficult and personal conversations, allowing the individual to reflect on themselves and their life journey and focus on what they want to achieve.

I have included an image from my journey to show how these images can symbolise the past, present and future. I took this whilst walking the dogs; it is the back entrance to our village church and was quite overgrown. I had only my iPhone in my pocket and saw the potential of the scene I was presented with. The original image was in colour, but darkening the bushes and a black-and-white conversion suited what I was trying to represent better. This was taken at a time when I had suffered a period of exceptionally high work stress that had resulted in being physically unwell, as well as feeling anxious and low in my mood. These feelings are represented by the darker parts of the image, with the church representing hope for better times to come – which indeed was the case. I have titled this image “The Path to Enlightenment,” though it has obvious spiritual connotations, it is meant as an image that I can revisit when times are difficult, knowing that life will get better again.

This image was very much self-directed, and I fully accept that my photography skills allowed me to create a picture with such a powerful message, but I used my phone camera and a free app to process the photo to black and white. That part was a simple process that can be quickly learned. Everyone with a smartphone can take pictures and process them like this, but sometimes, you must look for your scene. Using such images, a facilitator can open a conversation and discuss the image with the photographer, but what it means to them may not be what others see, and that platform of sharing is an essential part of the therapeutic process.

With increasing demands upon the health service, group consultations are now seen as having the potential for solving access issues. There is good evidence that Therapeutic Photography could be a handy tool for treating minor mental illnesses and reducing the medicinal burden. Self-directed photography requires willpower and discipline to go out and do it, but I urge you to try and find a scene that best symbolises how you are feeling and how you would like to change; you may be pleasantly surprised with the result.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube and visit my website for more info!

Christiaan Partridge Brainz Magazine

Christiaan Partridge, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Christiaan Partridge is a Family Doctor, Photographer, football coach and cricket coach. Having picked up a camera at a relatively late stage in life, Christiaan has recently achieved a First Class Honours degree in Photography via the University of Chester. For the past 7 years, he has been a youth football coach and also an ECB Core Cricket Coach. Christiaan also has vast experience in running amateur sports clubs, specializes manly in Landscape Photography, with a particular interest in Therapeutic Photography to treat minor mental illness.



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