A social work expert at Robert Gordon University (RGU) is looking to spread the benefits of his experiences with therapeutic photography through the release of his new book.
Neil Gibson, senior lecturer at RGU’s School of Applied Social Studies, has dedicated years of research and his PhD to this therapeutic practice and exploring the way it can be used to help individuals and communities. He said: ‘Before all of this began, I was simply taking a photograph every day and uploading them to Flickr for my own amusement. After a year, I looked back and started to wonder if there was a therapeutic benefit to this. That’s where my PhD was born.
‘I started working with a number of groups over time and discovered that the practice is an extremely beneficial one which allows people to become more creative with their self-exploration. Its accessibility also makes it suitable for individuals and groups of all ages.’
Therapeutic photography sets tasks for people and sees them take photos on their own devices according to certain themes. These photos are then discussed and their meanings explored either one-on-one or in a group support setting. It differs from another well-known technique known as phototherapy, as the practitioner does not need to be a trained counsellor or specialised therapist to use the skills. This is where Neil’s book comes in.
Therapeutic Photography, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers last month, explores the concept of this useful practice, illustrating some underlying theories and demonstrating how it can be used to enhance self-esteem, self-efficacy and empowerment. It is aimed at professionals who are working with people who may be vulnerable, marginalised or reluctant to engage.
Neil added: ‘While there are other books that take a broader look at the benefits of therapeutic photography, I was pleased to make this the first book that presents the evidence base in such a way that it can help practitioners use the technique in a structured manner, with clear outcomes.
‘The book contains a number of exercises, with examples of them being used across the globe. This includes one particular group of people with autism, with whom I worked, and their own journey. It was an emotional but cathartic experience, as they each realised this was the first time they were able to truly explore and present their own feelings on their day-to-day lives with the condition.’
Neil’s work with therapeutic photography has seen him partner with groups around the world. Earlier this year, he travelled with Head of RGU’s School of Applied Social Studies, Professor Stephen Vertigans, to work with 20 volunteers in Kenya and research resilience. The participants used camera phones to photograph issues that impacted on their lives living in an informal settlement. Also, later this month, he will work with CLAN to train their own therapeutic photography facilitators, as they establish a group for men affected by cancer, in conjunction with Aberdeen City Wellbeing department.