Life in the Shadow of Addiction: How Children Report about the experience of exposure to a parent's addiction through Photovoice
Addiction of a parent has a long-term psychological impact on children’s social, developmental, cognitive and emotional levels. The energy required to bear the shame of the parent's addiction and the ensuing family impoverishment, along with the need to take on parental roles at home, greatly challenge developmental processes of individuation that are central to adolescent development. It is often hard for these children to reap the benefits of group work because of secrecy and shame. Thus, it seems that indirect and expressive methods, such as working in the arts, would be helpful in the group setting (Peleg-Oren, 2002b). Art is a natural educational and therapeutic language in childhood that enables enhancement of emotional and cognitive development, and sharing emotional experiences in a more concrete and embodied way than the use of language to describe emotional states, as demanded in adult verbal psychotherapy (Huss, 2012; 2015; Kramer, 2000; Malchiodi, 2008).
The arts also enable indirect expression of the secret by using symbols and metaphors, thus maintaining a sense of safety for the children that allows for sharing but also for keeping the secret (Allen, 2003; Huss, 2012). For children who do not have the chance to play or to experience a childlike role due to home problems, an arts group enables regression, and develops the psychosocial, emotional, and educational advantages of shared play that includes expressing the safe, maintaining boundaries, sharing, and more (Malchiodi, 2008; Winnicott, 1991). The arts become a medium of symbolic reality within the group space that allows for the practice of social communication mediated through the arts and via the group leaders in the here and now. (Wolfgang, 2006; Waller & Mahoney, 2002).
Photovoice photography to empower individuals and groups. This approach provides visual expression and thus agency to individuals, groups and communities by utilizing their active "gaze" to define issues and engage in additional discussion in order to share and further define the issues, so that the hegemony or dominant voices are not the ones that define things (Wang, 1999; Woodlrych, 2004). Arts in general and photovoice are effective with populations who are less verbal due to age, disability, differences in culture, and traumatic experiences that are shameful to express directly, such as abuse (Drew, Duncan, & Sawyer, 2010). The camera enables enough physical and symbolic distance from the experiences to approach them and to share them with others (Levin et al., 2007). With children, then the camera enables children to be witnesses and phenomenological describers of their own difficult social experiences in an indirect way that does not endanger them psychologically or socially.
the camera enables children to be witnesses and phenomenological describers of their own difficult social experiences in an indirect way that does not endanger them psychologically or socially
This is also relevant when working with teenagers who do not want to directly expose their social life to adults. It enhances the relative power of youths in relation to adults because the youths control visibility and symbolic construction of their own reality. Thus, the camera becomes a bridge to the children's experiences that is a more embodied and appropriate way of addressing them than through direct questions based on adult knowledge (Drew et al., 2010; Lal, Jarus & Suto, 2012(. The use of a camera is also psychosocially enhancing, as it develops new skills, enables "having fun", and enhances a sense of efficacy and agency, which children often do not have (Moletsane et al., 2007; Strack, Magill, & McDonagh, 2004). This use of photovoice is less often described in the literature in relation to children who are dealing with parental addictions. We identify a need for innovative methods to intervene and research this population, burdened with secrets and shame, that relates both to the micro and macro levels of experiences, and thus enables both releasing the external secret and building internal self-esteem. Sharing these images with parents, creates yet another level of systemic externalizing of the secret. The group intervention was based on the use of photovoice with this group for 15 structured sessions that were held over a period of four months. It has been published more extensively in terms of methods, in Arts in Psychotherapy,( Malka et al, 2017). The following themes emerged from the photovoice (Some of the pictures are illustrated above in Figure 1).
- Personal processes of individuation through photography: The children first learned to use the camera. This focus on an external skill could be seen as adapting to the challenges of mastering reality. The agreement of the group for privacy and respect was also defined. The group learned composition, meaning, symbols, and use of props.
- Separating from symbiotic home relationships through the distance of photographing these relationships
- Using the discussion of the image in the group space as a distanced way to find words for emotional processes: The discussion of the image within the group space enabled the participants to find words for their inner emotional world, but also to address the secret of the parent's addiction indirectly. The second set of assignments dealt with the addiction that represented the shared reality of the group. The group leaders actively verbalized the legitimacy of the emotions that the children felt about the addiction. In addition, information about addiction was shared by the group leaders as part of their shared reality orientation.
- Using symbols and metonyms in photographs to indirectly depict parent's addiction and to show reactions to the addiction through symbols
- Creating a dual narrative in which what is shown is denied verbally, or using photographs showing what children are not yet ready to 'tell' and Expressing defenses
- Creating a projected distanced symbol of the vulnerable self through photography.
- Learning and expressing knowledge about the dangers of drinking
Together, the group created posters and slogans showing the dangers of drinking, based on their own images of broken bottles. Photography helped reduce denial of parents’ addiction: As stated in the literature review, a central theme for children of addicted parents is the shame over their parents’ addiction and the need to deny it from themselves and from others. This makes mediation of separation and individuation through peer interaction, and building a fulfilling social reality outside of the home very difficult for them, increasing their isolation. This paper aimed to explore how photovoice can help to achieve the aims of a support group for children of addicted parents: Two central themes or psychological effects emerged from the data: First, we saw how photovoice was effective in enabling developmental growth. Second, we found that photovoice was effective in expressing secret and negative feelings about parents’ addiction in a non-threatening way. The second theme is connected to the first because it freed up energy to deal with development rather than dealing with the negative and secret feelings about the parents’ addiction.
To summarize, the contribution of this paper is that it has highlighted the dual role of photovoice in enhancing natural development and enabling children of addicted parents to approach their pain and defenses in an indirect but concrete manner. This ability to work "inside” but also "outside” was shown to be especially relevant for many groups of children in complex realities. This connection between micro and macro levels of experience can help to externalize rather than internalize the source of the problem for the children. This is concurrent with the aim of clinical social work, that is, to present emotional problems within their social contexts, and on this level, photovoice is particularly relevant to social epistemologies of combining micro with macro perceptions, an area that needs to be articulated more clearly in social work (Huss, 2016).
Regarding practical aspects, it seems that in such a project, the organizational base and parental involvement are very important. To create a basis for the implementation of photovoice, proper organizational preparation is required, including cooperation with the parents' therapists, and preparing parents for cooperation. Moreover, parental involvement and their ability to allow children to share their experiences with group members are a therapeutic element in and of themselves.
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