Photo Therapy is about photography-as-communication rather than photography-as-art, no prior experience with cameras or the photographic arts is required for effective therapeutic use
The Secret Lives of Personal Snapshots and Family Photographs
Every 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 their reactions to postcards, magazine pictures, and snapshots taken by others can provide illuminating clues to their own inner life and its secrets.
The 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. 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 automatically 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.
How Therapists Use Photos to Help People Heal
Most people keep photographs around, without ever pausing to really think about why. But, because personal snapshots permanently record important daily moments (and the associated emotions unconsciously embedded within these), they can serve as natural bridges for accessing, exploring, and communicating about feelings and memories (including deeply-buried or long-forgotten ones), along with any psychotherapeutic issues 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 word alone cannot as fully represent or deconstruct.
Under the guidance of a therapist who has been trained in PhotoTherapy techniques, 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 it can be used to focus and precipitate therapeutic dialogue, a more direct and less censored connection with the unconscious will usually result.
During 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.