Photovoice for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Awareness

Overview and Challenge

Individuals and families who experience mental illness and substance abuse report that getting help can be difficult. Moreover, they also report that staying well is just as hard. Clinical evidence and other research has shown that trauma histories are often at the root of the problem and until these trauma histories are addressed, mental illness and substance abuse are rarely successfully treated.To raise awareness and support an effective treatment, the Mental Health Board of St. Louis and NAMI St. Louis approached the HCRC about using photovoice with clients who have gone through TREM or M-TREM. TREM or M-TREM stands for Trauma Recovery Empowerment Model or Men’s Trauma Recovery and Empowerment Model and has been recognized as an effective treatment modality for adults across ages, genders, races and ethnicities.

While MHB and NAMI St. Louis reported that the need for this program is great, there are few clinicians in the St. Louis metro area who offer it. As ways to give voice to the clients who have taken TREM or M-TREM, and to explain the modality to other clinicians, the HCRC developed and launched a photovoice project with 12 TREM and M-TREM participants and created a video with clinicians.


For this project, the HCRC worked with local partners to recruit participants for the photovoice project. An initial pre-launch survey was conducted with participants to understand their knowledge of photography and their attitudes on photovoice.

The HCRC conducted background reviews on mental health and substance abuse photovoice projects, as well as TREM and M-TREM.

Strategy and Creative Direction

The project ran over the course of eight sessions in the fall and spring.

Participants were trained on digital cameras and the basics of photography, as well as the photovoice method. Participants developed their own ground-rules for the project and examined common themes from the pictures that expressed how TREM and M-TREM had helped or made a difference in their lives.


From pre and post-test surveys, all participants expressed a desire to continue taking pictures and sharing their perspectives. Several participants began branching out further and attended advisory groups related to mental health as well as an advocacy day at the capital in Jefferson City. After a graduation and photo exhibition at the St. Louis public library, additional clinicians who were not currently offering TREM or M-TREM expressed interest in bringing it to their clinical settings.


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