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Is there a role for therapeutic photography in social work with groups?

Gibson, Neil




Therapeutic photography is the term given to the use of photography to elicit positive outcomes for the user, yet these benefits appear to be underutilised within professional practice, particularly where a therapeutic relationship already exists which could be enhanced, none more so than the profession of social work. This research begins by exploring the current uses of therapeutic photography to identify common outcomes and highlights the similarities between the theoretical approaches of therapeutic photography and those of social work. Utilising a socio-ecological model, a programme was then designed and delivered to a group of social work service users from a mental health setting. The qualitative approach of interpretive phenomenological analysis was utilised to explore the ways participants used the images they produced, and how social work theories might be applied in practice. Six super-ordinate themes were identified within the results. These were: 1) exposing the self, 2) searching, 3) developing the self, 4) family relations, 5) medicalised label, and 6) isolation. Each of the super-ordinate themes had three sub-themes. Results suggest that the photographs produced initiated discussions around identity, and social work theories were applicable throughout the programmes. Knowledge of group work theories was useful and, when conducted amongst peers, the use of therapeutic photography facilitated a threefold stage of exploration beginning with social identity, then personal identity, and finally self-concept. The practice of therapeutic photography also appeared to change power dynamics within the therapeutic relationship and gave a sense of control to the participant. The outcomes indicate that, when structured, the use of therapeutic photography within social work with groups may have benefits to both the participants and the professionals as it enhances communication, empowers the service user, and enables the objectification and externalisation of issues for discussion.


GIBSON, N.F. 2018. Is there a role for therapeutic photography in social work with groups? Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date May 1, 2019
Publicly Available Date May 1, 2019
Keywords Occupational therapy; Photography; Social work
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