May Chow

Change Agent

Posted: June 22, 2018

I’ve worked as a Recreation Therapist with the Thrive Program at Open Door Group for about 10 years. Although I have 13 years of experience working with clients who live with mental illness, I wasn’t sure what to expect by participating in the Imagining Inclusion: Creating Upstream Change research project’s Photovoice sessions during the fall of 2017.

All I knew was that it was an amazing opportunity to use photography as a form of expression. The participants, all Thrive clients, were given cameras to photograph their mental health experiences. Then, they came together to have discussions about their experiences based on their photos. These sessions were facilitated by a peer who works on the research project. I was tasked sitting in on Photovoice sessions to observe and take fieldnotes. Participants dove deep and tackled some really big themes that were often dark and complex, but with a beautiful sense of authenticity and vulnerability.

May Chow
enjoying an  outdoor adventure.

Photovoice allowed clients to reflect on their past experiences. Having a peer facilitate the discussions was valuable because it allowed clients to relate to someone who fostered a sense of empathy and compassion because of their shared lived experience. It opened up meaningful conversations on weighty topics and presented an opportunity for connection and understanding.

For some participants, the process was a cathartic progression in their recovery journey. Many of my clients felt empowered by the process because they had an opportunity to discuss and dissect issues they face on a regular basis. Most walked away with a renewed sense of self and resiliency. I feel that Photovoice is powerful and can be helpful in a client’s recovery when they are grounded and mentally ready to do the work.

Photovoice reminded me why I’m doing what I’m doing here at Thrive. I have created good working relationships with clients. I help them to the best of my ability, but their own will is what is going to really help them in their recovery. I realize that I should be learning new tools and resources to support my clients in this process.

I want my colleagues to know that mental illness is complex. Photovoice helped me realize that there is much to be learned from my clients’ stories that are individual yet share common threads. Since recovery and treatment are different for each client, we as professionals have to learn how to better support the process.