Photography Is Therapy

     Everyone has a story to tell.  As a counselor I spend a lot of time trying to help people examine their past.  My job is to help people.  One of the tools that I use is the past.  People do the things they do, because of the things they have done.  How we remember the past greatly influences our present thoughts and beliefs.  I believe that photographs are one of the most overlooked tools for counseling and life in general.  People are storytellers by nature.  We want people to know where we have been.  We want them to know how we feel.  Our greatest stories can be written through photographic prints.  You know how they say a picture is worth a thousand words right?  Well the digital age has given us the ability to capture photos in ways we never could have hoped to do just a few years ago.  But something changed.  We stopped printing our pictures when we started taking photos with digital cameras.  We no longer have boxes or albums full of prints.  We have old hard drives full of images on old computers.  Our computers have been replaced with our tablets.  Our cameras have been replaced by our phones.  It's really easy to take pictures, but it's a hassle to print them.  So we don't.  We have become a culture that has forgotten how to write our stories.  We capture the story and unknowingly discard it.  We are so busy taking pictures with our phones, that we don't really experience that special or important moment.  Then we move on, and never really archive that photo.  We might go back and look at it again once or twice in the phone or camera, but something will come along that will keep that memory from being transferred to a print.  We are witnessing the story, and then forgetting to write it down.  Maybe your software update will go wrong and the images will get erased.  Maybe your memory card will go bad, or you'll accidentally erase the photos.  Maybe your phone will accidentally go swimming.

     Did you know that film is almost no longer being made?  Photo printing has become so inexpensive, but we only print a small fraction of what we shoot with our cameras.  I believe that printing your pictures is something that can help you write your story.

     I admit, I am guilty of not printing enough of my own photos.  I did professional photography for several years, and I loved to print my own photos.  Eventually it became too much like work to print my own photos.  It was also pretty pricey to print my own with the extremely nice ink jet printer I had.  Today I can get professional prints made for less than twenty cents apiece.  I have made a commitment to my family to print more photos, and I have been doing it.  I have to say, that it's really cool to see more and more prints on our walls.  It makes me remember the great times that we have been having as a family.  Now that we have two children, I am very excited.  I want them to see visual reminders of their stories hanging on our walls.  I want them to see that we choose as a family to visually write our story through photography.

You Are The Therapy

     I want to do a little bit of self-disclosure for this blog post.  The most important thing I learned in graduate school was a very simple sentence.  I will never forget my professor Dr. Lawson saying, “You are the therapy.”  
     “What the heck did that mean?” I thought. 
     What he meant was that my therapy comes from my experience.   It also meant that what I learned from life would be the medicine that I would bring to people.  It stuck out in my mind because of the conviction in his voice when he said it.  At that time I had not really learned enough about counseling to know how much of a guiding principle this would be for me.  I knew that I was attending graduate school for counseling psychology because I felt God leading me in that direction.  I was also trying to hide the guilt from my past.  I was trying to keep it from my psychology teachers…I was a little paranoid.  I thought many times to myself that maybe they were on to me.  I just knew they were secretly diagnosing me.  Could they use their secret psychology powers to discover the things I had done in my previous college “experiences?”  If they found out would they think less of me as a Christian, or as a student?  Ok, that’s enough self -disclosure.  You might learn too much about me if you keep nagging me like this.  Ok, fine.  I’ll tell you.
     I became aware of a verse in Romans and it changed my life.  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”  I was immediately aware that Paul, who wrote this passage, struggled with his own sin, and he was a prominent writer of New Testament books.  If Paul could struggle with his own life story and be confident that God was using his life to point to Jesus, then who am I to say that God could not use my life to point to Jesus?  This made Dr. Lawson’s point hit home for me. 
     Now, as a therapist and as a teacher, I draw on my life stories to normalize what people reveal in therapy and class.  I don’t want people to be paranoid about my “secret psychology powers.”  The truth is I’m at least as broken as they are.  I have days where my wife tolerates me, and my daughter is not impressed with how I push her on the swing.  But one thing I have found is that just being genuine with my wife and my daughter works much better than trying to be perfect or trying to hide behind appearing to be perfect.  Also as a teacher, I find that people relate to my stories of having stuttering problems as a teenager (up until I was about 21 really).  They like to hear that I was suspended from college (twice, but who’s counting) for bad grades.  People appreciate a humble person who has learned from mistakes, more than they respect an egomaniac.   They would much rather hear that I was broken for several years, and then made a dramatic turnaround.  So when I talk about overcoming failure in college, the story doesn’t end in me dropping out of school.   I turned from my sinful choices, and then went on to make straight A’s throughout the rest of college and graduate school.  When I think back to my days of failure, it makes my current situation seem unreal.  How does a stuttering, kid who can’t motivate himself enough to actually show up to his classes, go on to make straight A’s in graduate school?  How does he become a licensed talk therapist and then marry a speech therapist?  Because… God causes all things to work together for good, to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.  It’s a much better, and more real story than the letters behind my name would lead you to believe.  Billy Barnett MS, LMHC.