How does photography help pain/illness?

Therapeutic photography is an invaluable tool for people dealing with chronic pain/illness.

chronic pain therapeutic photography
“The start of my cancer journey.” – Janice Green

I have been using it for years to express and deal with the myriad of feelings that arise from dealing with my chronic pain and disability. Now I am encouraging and guiding others to use this valuable tool because I believe in the many benefits it offers those of us dealing with health issues. Therapeutic photography helps people with chronic pain/illness/disability:

  • Express feelings, thoughts and reality without having to use words. Often it is too hard or we don’t know how to express and let go of the grief, depression, anger, and sadness we are feeling. Sometimes we don’t even know what we are feeling and photography is a way we can open up and let go. What needs to be expressed can be simply take place through taking a photo. This is when powerful insights and healing often take place.
  • Change and grow. By reflecting on our photographs we can express and then let go of feelings. We can recognize if there are things we need to change in our lives. We can recognize and document things to be grateful for. The potential for learning and growing, through photography, never ends.
  • Gain control. We usually have little control over our pain and illness but with photography we can have full control. We can choose what feelings we express. We can choose what we want to say in a photo. We choose what, how, when, if we want to share, whether to delete, how to edit and share it with others, and we can decide what message we want to send.
  • Communicate to others. By taking photos of our reality and sharing these with our loved ones we can help them to have a better understanding of our situations and feelings. A dialogue can be started that can improve relationships which are often strained when health/pain is part of the picture (no pun intended!)
  • Increase self-awareness. By focussing our cameras on ourselves and our lives we can’t help but face our feelings and our realities. The mind is quieted, we are not distracted and we are centred on ourselves.

    therapeutic photography
    Hanging on tight
  • Becoming mindful. Photography requires that we be “in the moment”. We focus on the here and now which means our mind is taken away from dwelling on our pain/illness. We are present and focussing.
  • Connect with others and realize we are not alone. By sharing our therapeutic photographs with others who live with chronic pain/illness, we have the opportunity to connect with others who may be experiencing similar feelings and circumstances. Friendships and community often develop through the sharing of photographs.
  • Tell our pain/illness stories. Sharing our stories is powerful on so many levels. Some people do this through writing, others through speaking and some through photography. Documenting one’s story through photography is powerful and therapeutic is so many ways. Some people may not feel comfortable sharing their story through their voice or words so photography is an optional and very powerful way to do so. It is validating, therapeutic and educational to share our stories of living with pain/illness. As human beings we need to be heard and understood.
  • Establish a new hobby. Those of us with pain/illness often have to give up so many, if not all, of our hobbies. Even if one is housebound due to illness/pain, there are many opportunities for taking and/or editing photos.
  • Record change. Taking photo of yourself and your situation on a regular basis keeps a record of your feelings and situation.
  • Raise awareness. The famous phrase, “a picture says a thousand words” is especially true when we share photos about living with chronic pain/illness. A photo showing the reality of our lives can be much more impactful than trying to explain our situation to someone else.

    "It seems my friends don't know where I am anymore... So I feel invisible most of the day... Especially when I'm all alone." - Kelly
    “It seems my friends don’t know where I am anymore… So I feel invisible most of the day… Especially when I’m all alone.” – Kelly

Past therapeutic photography course participants explain why and how they think therapeutic photography is helpful:

“I could be me while still hiding behind a cover.”

“It helped to connect my creative side with feelings that I don’t usually express to others.”

“Using photography helped me open the subject without having to say a word, yet explaining the photo helped me to really open myself up.”

“I had never used it (photography) before and I really enjoyed it. It helped me explore new feelings and thoughts, as well as take more time to think about old beliefs and feelings and investigate them. I really enjoyed putting together a pic, looking at it, playing with it for while, and having new ideas pop up!”

“Sometimes a photo can express so much more than words. A photo adds a visual image to words, making them so much more powerful.”

“I think photography helps us be vulnerable. we can express sometimes in a photograph what we can’t say out loud. An image that stands for representation of an emotion can often reach out and impact others.”

“I enjoyed connecting & feeling not alone as I saw others that have similar day to day realities.”

“I loved the idea of using photography to describe our feelings, I also loved seeing pain/illness through the eyes of others and how their photos spoke into my own situation and to know I wasn’t alone in my feelings meant so much.”

“It made me dig deeply into my feelings and get honest with myself. Photography helps to convey the words we sometimes can’t find. By using photography, it helped me to clarify my thoughts and feelings.”

“I shared hard feelings and found it safe way to express them by photos. And seeing others photos give me help too.”

“I really liked that the photo prompts made me think about different ways to express what I am feeling/going through. Sometimes I went with the most “obvious” type photos…but other times I really had to think about what it FEELS like and what really represents those feelings. I’m limited with where I can get to in order to take photos…especially this time of year with the cold…but it just makes me think that much harder about things.”

“I was able to look at myself, my life, my pain/illness in a safe, understanding space. It gave my days a different look–I wasn’t just gritting my teeth through them but looking for a way to express something about my life, self, that day.”

“By saying the things I personally can’t say.”

“I think it challenged me to look at a lot of the areas in my life that I gloss over and to quantify my feelings about them.”

“I mostly used abstract photos, however they helped me learn a lot about myself. I also used them to share how it felt to be in chronic pain 24/7/365. I also used images to help people realize they aren’t alone and are more than their pain.”

“Shows me that I can be stronger and not let it bring me down. That I can use it to empower myself and others as well.”

“I had not used any visual means to express anything I felt about my illness/pain before this project. It gave me a way of saying things that touched others and helped me see myself more clearly.”

“I don’t often share at all so it helped enormously.”

“I made me look deeply and analyze.”

“Previously, pain and my illness were something I refused to think about, just something between doctor’s appointments when I had to try to describe it. This project encouraged me to take it out, hold it in my hands, turn it round and round, consider, take it in, then use the right side of my brain to describe it with photography. This was very timely for me, as I was in the midst of the worst, uncontrolled flare in 18 years of RA. Having others participate was crucial to my experience – not only their acknowledging my illness/pain, but the inspiration, practical ideas, and “normalizing” what I’m going through got me out of bed each day. This was amazing.”

“It also helped me to notice things I may not normally have and then to document those things.”


3 thoughts on “How does photography help pain/illness?

  1. It’s my second year of participation in the project.
    It helped me in many ways.
    Including to learn from others how to put in words what people go through and feel.
    Wording is not my strong part, and English is not my language.
    It was incredible to share with other women.
    It gives you a perspective on your situation, your pain, your life, where to go from here and now.
    Looking forward to the next year project.


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