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A screen saver depicting hands of support becomes a much-needed reminder that family and friends are nearby. A photo of tangled phone cords helps to communicate how a manic cycle of bipolar disorder is experienced. An image of a disorderly living room serves as a visual warning sign of an upcoming cycle of depression.
These are some of the powerful images created by participants in McLean’s recent outpatient bipolar experience therapeutic group which piloted MyMoments—a program dedicated to using digital imagery for self expression during therapy and recovery.
Founded as a not-for-profit social franchise by Steven Koppel, a retired business consultant, MyMoments uses Expressive Digital Imagery (EDI) as a tool to help people express themselves and use the images to help them focus on staying well. MyMoments is being piloted in several McLean programs and also partners with Rosie’s Place, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Gosnold on Cape Cod.
Nancy A. Huxley, PhD, director of McLean’s bipolar disorder outpatient group therapy program, worked closely with Koppel to introduce the first MyMoments pilot at McLean. During the first session, participants were introduced to the concept of using digital imagery as a modality for emotional expression. Using their smartphones, they took photos and were instructed on how to use a photo editing app to crop and apply special effects to the images. Participants were then assigned a different theme for each week, including coping strategies, warning signs, triggers, and wellness, and created images capturing their experience of these themes.
“The images were subsequently shared in the group and served as a springboard for a therapeutic discussion,” said Huxley. “The feedback was overwhelmingly positive. We received unsolicited emails saying how much the program changed someone’s life, or that they had never been able to express themselves before, or how much the program helped ‘open up avenues of expression.’”
At the end of the pilot, Huxley said, each participant received a book that included all of their images from the program. “One woman said her adult son knew that she had bipolar disorder but that she didn’t think he knew how she felt. She thought the book helped him better understand her experiences with the illness.”
“The group members were all very articulate, but the images provided another means of expressing experiences and feelings that can be difficult to capture through words,” Huxley explained.
“The goals of MyMoments,” said Koppel, “are to enable new and powerful expression, an enhanced sense of self-worth, and the ability to promote recovery beyond the treatment center and into the community. EDI engages mobile technologies so that participants can capture moments that help them express themselves while also using their own personal imagery to help keep them on track with their recovery and healing.”
Koppel said his idea for MyMoments came from his own personal experience after a family member developed a mental illness and was facing new life challenges. “I realized the photography I was engaged in as a hobby was becoming deeply therapeutic for me. I was creating images that were expressing how I was feeling and I realized I could share them with others.”
Koppel’s experience as a consultant, combined with his philanthropic work, led to his idea to create MyMoments. “There’s clearly an opportunity to do quantifiable research to show how well EDI works and we’re starting the process of measuring outcomes,” he said.
The next step in this collaboration, said Huxley, will involve incorporating EDI into the development of personal recovery plans with action-oriented strategies for managing symptoms and promoting wellness.
“We want participants to complete the group with a tool that can be used post treatment,” she said. “Additionally, we expect to soon examine the benefits of utilizing EDI in the Bipolar Group program and compare it to other therapeutic approaches. The Personal Recovery Planning through Digital Imagery group sessions, which are currently underway, will provide this opportunity as it parallels an existing psychoeducational group in the program.”
“What’s important,” said Huxley, “is to help the participants become more aware of situations that make them vulnerable and to learn how to manage them, stay mindful of the warning signs, and use their coping strategies. For participants using EDI, the images will remind them of what worked and how they felt when they were feeling well and will keep them focused on recovery. It’s also a tool that can be used by family members who can point out what they may be noticing when someone starts to experience a setback.”
Said Koppel, “What we want to do is integrate MyMoments into programs to help reduce the incidences of relapse. We want to help people express themselves on their journey to recovery.”
Other McLean programs that are planning and/or implementing MyMoments pilots: