Healing Through Photography. (Part 3)

Last year I attended a training for therapists, first responders, police officers, criminal justice workers, and like, that detailed the difference between compassion fatigue, secondary trauma, and burnout and how to keep yourself healthy despite these stresses on the job. Often these are believed the same thing, but they are all quite different.

As I understand it, they are loosely defined as the following:

Compassion Fatigue:  Feeling overwhelmed with dealing with other people’s issues and burdens.  For example you see yourself “taking your work home with you” emotionally.

Secondary Trauma: Trauma incurred by working with people who are survivors or with those who have perpetrated against others.  For example, hearing a survivor’s story, reading police reports, or seeing crime scene photos that induce trauma to the professional involved.

Burnout:  Stress from your job.  Working too many hours and/or being overworked.

Now, those are my definitions and yours’ may be different and the people that these can effect go well beyond who the training was aimed at (add teachers, attorneys, nurses, etc.)  In my job in the crimnal justice field, I have experienced all three.  Depending on the day, I could have all three at different times.  One of the most important things I learned in the training is that you need to have personal outlets to avoid experiencing these things or if you cannot avoid them, at least cope with them.

Quite quickly I began to realize that photography was my outlet.  I noticed that my photography is ultimately a reflection of my mood.  Early in my career I took a lot of dark, black and white photos of crumbling industrial buildings – and sometimes I still do.  Especially when I am overwhelmed and anxious about things in my life.  Other times, when I’m in a good place, my photos are vibrant and full of life. Simply put, you can tell how I am functioning emotionally simply by looking at my photography.  My photos read like a lifeline and frankly, that amazes me.  I can look back in my archives and say, “I remember that during this time I was going through X, Y, and Z.  You can tell by the way my photos are dark and lonely.”  Or, “I recall that this was a very happy time for me – look at the color and life in my work.”

*Notice how in the image above you have two very different photos, reflecting the same theme, taken by the same photographer – yet they are very unique from one another and elicit different emotional responses.*

Bottom line is that we all have difficult lives.  They ebb and flow like a tide on shore.  If we aren’t careful however, the tide can pull us in.  We need to identify things in our lives that keep us afloat.  For me, it’s photography.  It is slowly helping me heal from too many years of feeling all three of stressors named above, and not taking care of myself emotionally.  That is not to say I still don’t have days where I am completely overwhelmed with my job and my life.  Instead now, I have something I can turn to to privately cope with those struggles.

When I get behind a camera, there is only me and the world.  I am free to capture what is around me in whatever way I feel fit.  I get lost.  My anxiety eases.  I think about composition and framing.  I dream about the final outcome of the photo and what tweaks I might make.  I wonder if my photo has been taken the by another person in the same way or if I have been successful in making it uniquely my own.  It is through the lens that I have learned to cope with world around me. (To be continued….)


What helps you heal?  Have you identified that part of your life?  If not, what is holding you back?

*For my final post on my journey down two paths and how photography has helped heal me, please check in later in the week for Part 4. Thanks, A. *

Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” ~ Aaron Siskind