Nude Photos as Therapy, or Just Therapeutic?

Eventually, Martin said, she got some training in psychology but still views the process with an artistic eye.

"It's very much giving someone the autonomy to tell their story and it's very much them performing their story," Martin said.

Martin said she screens her clients and meets with them several times before choosing a topic for a phototherapy session, most often a historical re-enactment of a memory in which the client role plays as the important people in that memory.

Martin will later bring back her clients to talk about the various photographs that, she said, helps her clients feel compassion for themselves and the people in their past.

"I think you do, actually, have to know something about photography and its language," Martin said. "And you have to know something about therapy and how to create safety and trust and provide permission and containment."

Indeed, many people in the field of phototherapy worry that, in the wrong hands, a person with identity issues could walk away from from a photo-posing photography session in worse shape than he or she came, regardless of whether the photo shoot was nude.

"I've known people who weren't ready to confront their bodies directly," said Judy Weiser, a licensed psychologist in Vancouver, Canada who does not photograph her clients. "It can be an intense experience.

One patient sought out Weiser after a session with a photographer went wrong. "The patient said, 'I saw myself and I suddenly realized my life was a fraud,'" she said.

Photo Therapy Done by Therapists

Weiser was one of the early pioneers who helped to develop phototherapy as practiced by therapists today. "Therapy practices use people's personal snapshots, family albums and pictures taken by others," she said.

For 30 years, Weiser and a group of other psychologists in North America have explored, studied and refined the use of photography as a medium for therapy. Much of her research and a host of information about the different forms of phototherapy can be found on her Web site.

Weiser said the dawn of the Internet made it possible for therapists to notice other work around the world defined as phototherapy, and she's quick to point out that there's a difference between professional therapy and something that's therapeutic.

"Vitamins are therapeutic and someone can recommend a daily vitamin, but it's different than when a doctor tells you you have some deficiency and you need to take this vitamin," Weiser said.

"Photographers can help people by making pictures where they look good and make them feel better. It's therapeutic," she said.

Weiser said photographs in therapy can be abstract photos proven to elicit different responses from people, or they can be family album photos the therapist asked the client to bring to the session, or it can be photos the therapist asked the client to take as an assignment.

Photos as an Emotional Catalyst

In each case, Weiser said the photos serve as an emotional catalyst in the therapy.

"Some people use words, and some people use words and photographs," she said. "I have found that when I use photos, it goes quicker than when I don't. It makes the therapy deeper and thicker."

Weiser said it would be questionable on ethical grounds for therapists to take studio portraits of their clients and show them publicly, making the practice of phototherapy among photographers who don't have a license to practice psychology even more controversial.

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