Therapeutic Photography in Psychiatric Hospitals – The Image, Mirror of the Inner Universe

Lumenesc and INDIEBOX, through the MIND MOVING project weave a different framework of expression and connection for patients of the psychiatric hospitals Voila in Câmpina and Eftimie Diamandescu in Bălăceanca, using alternative therapeutic methods such as therapeutic photography.

They say a photo is worth a thousand words. Behind it lies a story, an intention, an emotion, waiting to be discovered. For patients, photography certainly becomes a catalyst through which communication overcomes the limitations of words, and they can find a bridge through which they can connect with themselves, others and the outside world. Moreover, using a creative and free environment, where they decide what they want to photograph and how, nurtures a sense of empowerment and increases self-confidence.

Therapeutic Photography is a structured, guided method with the creative intervention of photography to produce images for the exploration of inner and outer reality with clearly defined outcomes for the participant. (Neil Gibson, 2018). No knowledge of photographic technique or professional equipment is required for this method. On the contrary, free and intuitive exploration is fully encouraged.

Often, in the context of psychiatric wards, verbal language is extremely difficult or there is a fear of sharing intimate aspects of personal life (emotions, feelings, memories). The use of visual dialogue supported by images gives us access to the inner world of patients in order to support them by better understanding their needs. For example, when they work with printed images and choose a frame that conveys ‘stillness’, we can understand that it is one of the needs of the present that wants to be fed. Or we can observe a patient’s inclination to photograph elements that symbolise the idea of “togetherness”, revealing their need to belong.

Each photograph taken by a patient is unique and at the same time a self-portrait, and the patient’s interpretation of the image is relevant to the personal story and brings out inner content, aspects that can sometimes be difficult to put into words. Also, complete freedom in choosing the shots they take encourages the construction of a personal version of reality, and succeeds in reducing inner conflicts or feelings of powerlessness.

Under the guidance of the therapeutic photography facilitator, the patients of the two hospitals had the opportunity to look at their environment from a different perspective, identifying what they like or what makes them feel good, thus discovering resources they can draw on to increase their well-being. Through symbolic exploration, patients were able to get closer to themselves through the projections they made on images, managing to address certain emotions or subjects without judging or repressing them.

At the same time, photography gave them the opportunity to play with different roles – photographer/creator or model/subject, moments when patients could collaborate to translate their ideas into images. In most cases, whether working in pairs or in a large group, this activity had a significant impact, with everyone involved and contributing to the generation of a joint creation. As they explored, they came up with more and more ideas, they enjoyed seeing their initiatives become reality and others were participative. This encouraged them and gave them confidence in their own strengths.

Therapeutic photography, with its free and creative approach, opens a gateway to the unique inner universe of each individual and outlines this realm through images, offering the possibility to gain a better understanding of the self as well as resources for the future.

Article written by Ema Alexandrescu as part of the mind-moving project.

mind-moving is a project initiated and organized by Indie Box, in partnership with NOPA – Norwegian Society of Composers and Lyricists, Entuziart Association and Profeti ART SRL.
Implementation partners: Voila Hospital from Câmpina, “Eftimie Diamandescu” Hospital from Bălăceanca, Rezidența9, Trafo Kunsthall, Asker kommune.
mind-moving is a project financed by the SEE Grants 2014-2021 within the RO-CULTURE Program. The project has a non-refundable value of 969,072 lei (197,012.33 euros) and runs for a period of 15 months.

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