The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #12
Mar. 25, 2004
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I'm happy to be able to bring this new CT-related site to your attention: The Spiritual Cinema Circle published by Stephen Simon. It works like a book club. For $21/month (introductory offer) you join and receive 3-5 features and shorts on DVD each month, personally selected by Simon to represent the "best of spiritual cinema and art" -- new films you are "unlikely to see anywhere else." I was particularly impressed by the write-up on this film, Finding Joy.
Simon focuses mainly on the prescriptive use of films for cinema therapy, but his emphasis on the spiritual aspects of CT appeals to me. Having finished my first book on general cinema therapy -- now in the final stages of being published under the title E-motion Picture Magic -- I am now focusing on writing a second book and possibly teaching about how movies can be used to develop our capacities toward expansion of our individual consciousness.
As always, I encourage all readers to submit articles about their experiences with CT.
Pierina Mercieca, a third year undergraduate psychology student from Malta, (a tiny island in the Mediterranean Sea), writes that she is planning to do her dissertation on CT. Titled Reel Power: The Attitudes of Maltese Psychotherapists and Psychologists towards Reel Therapy. she says, "this research will try to find out whether Maltese psychotherapists and psychologists are aware of the emerging phenomenon of Reel Therapy. If they are, it is to investigate their attitudes and use of it."
She will investigate CT in two ways: 1. a short questionnaire to Maltese psychologists and psychotherapists to find out whether they have heard of CT and whether they use film in their therapy; 2. conduct five interviews with psychologists and psychotherapists who actually use this method to evaluate their attitudes. She adds that her research will be based on my book, E-motion Picture Magic, to be published soon.
The Healing Movie Book -- Precious Images: The Healing Use of Movies in Psychotherapy is now officially published reports author Michael A. Kalm, M.D. He is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Utah and in full time private practice. His book is available now at www.lulu.com/MichaelKalm. Within four to six weeks it will be available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Borders etc. Kalm writes that The Utah Psychiatric Association has asked him to be their guest speaker on the subject of Cinema Therapy at their Spring Conference on April 16.
This article about CT, based on an interview with me, appeared in the Norwegian newspaper Diskuter Helse on March 4. Does anyone out there read Norwegian?
The following story was written following a BBC radio interview with our colleague, Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D. about CT.
Cinematherapy and the BBC: A Hollywood Story ©
by Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D.
Peter and Alexandra flew all the way from chilly, rain-swept London Towne to the sun-drenched, glamour capitol of the world, Hollywood. Non-stop. Coach class. To save the BBC money. They came to do interviews. One of the interviews was to be with me, and concerned cinematherapy. This is a surprisingly popular topic in England nowadays. Peter hosts the BBC science-oriented radio show, Frontiers. Alexandra is his Segment Producer and “sound person.”
They arrive at my house late, hurried, but happy, having enjoyed their cab ride through the Hollywood hills, as a heavy afternoon rain accompanied the descending fog. Neither was prepared for the rain. Rain! This is Southern California. Hollywood, after all. Reigning movie stars, yes. Raining rain, no.
Peter is wearing a trench coat, but it isn’t because he was expecting rain. He was a print journalist in a previous life. Trench coats. Journalists. It’s a prop. Alexandra the Wet, alas, is propless.
Initial chit-chat revolves around the traffic snarl in Hollywood. They arrived in Southern California just in time to be deviled by Academy Awards traffic which includes closed or barricaded streets forming a gauntlet to my house, all in servitude to the following evening’s Oscar gala at the new Kodak Theater, a scant two miles from my home. Ironic, I thought, that Peter had trouble getting to an interview with me about cinematherapy (CT), because of the chaos surrounding a celebration of the cinema.
Alexandra sniffles as she runs through tech-sound checks on her digital tape recorder as we sit across from each other. She coughs several times and apologizes for bringing her cold germs all the way from London.
The plan is to first talk about the media’s impact on people and culture, but Peter gives this arena short shrift because he really wants to get to the highlight of the show, for him at least, a brief, on-the-spot demonstration of cinematherapy. I will play the doctor, he, the patient. That was the pre-arranged plan, hatched in London, weeks ago.
Oddly though (or not), Peter throws this schedule a curve and begins to play psychological hide and seek with me and when that fails to accomplish his goal, he appeals to Alexandra to take his place as the cinematherapy guinea pig.
Surprise? Not really. Guys hate to be vulnerable in public. Alexandra shows spine, though. Deftly she turns the focus back on him, first cajoling then goading, appealing to Peter’s talent and intelligence (both considerable), and his status as show host, and finally as celebrity-in-residence. It works. Very eventually and very reluctantly, Peter relents. After all, if not him, then who? Not Miss Sniffles.
So, Peter positions himself on the celluloid couch. We try to mount a CT dialogue on some vague movie scenarios Peter tosses out as sops. This gets us nowhere because the films are a micron deep in emotional importance for him. I scowl a bit and Alexandra laughs at the sheer flimsiness of his stalling. Grudgingly, Peter abandons his evasiveness, switches gears, and starts to talk about a film he saw recently on television, Carol Reed’s 1949 shadowy masterpiece thriller, The Third Man.
At my urging, Peter recalls a pivotal, cinematic scene from the film: Orson Wells, a drug dealer, Harry Lime (played by Orson Wells) and his old friend and pulp fiction writer, Holly Martins (played by Joseph Cotton), are on top of stationary carousel in East Berlin. From that height, the people below look like specks to them. Lime disdainfully points out to Martins how meaningless, how tiny, how thoroughly ineffectual, the people below are. Dealing them addictive drugs or diluted penicillin is no worse than squashing an ant, Harry Lime opines coldly.
Peter throws out a few word scraps about how much the scene upsets him, and stops.
“Why,” I prod Peter, “is this scene important?” He shrugs. I probe further. He’s holding back. I verbally recreate the troubling scene and plumb again: “With whom do you identify? What feelings are uncoiled in this scene for you?” “This resonates with you. Why?”
At first Peter mumbles something about the scene making him feel like one of the ants. His speech is halting, then without warning, the dam breaks and words of bitterness spill out of him. As he talks, this Niagara of feeling seems to surprise Peter as much as it surprises Alexandra and me.
If this is an act, Peter’s an Oscar contender. He decries his impotence in confronting the economic system that is presently gutting his pension plan. He resents his powerlessness to fight the powers that be, the “Harry Limes” who played with the stock market and bankrupted so many small investors, including himself, and, more to the point, the portfolio managers who carelessly “downsized” the value of his pension plan. He feels the weight of future anxiety. He can scrap early retirement. It’s gone.
In this brief cinematherapy demonstration, a movie, The Third Man, became a road into Peter’s barely hidden catacomb of angst. The movie became a TAT or Rorschach and more. The process had worked its projective voodoo on Peter, and he ultimately gave himself over to its brief voyage of discovery. It was a start. He could, if he wanted, continue the journey elsewhere, back in London.
Peter had his CT demonstration for the radio audience. But that’s the show biz part. What Peter was truly surprised at, was how with rather modest prodding from his producer and me, he was so ready to risk vulnerability. Films have a definite charm. And the synergistic impact of multiple visual and auditory skills of music, dialogue, lighting, camera angles, sound effects, enables a film to bypass ordinary defensive censors in a viewer. These filmic “effects” get to hidden or unnoticed cognitions by way of evoked emotions, or vice versa, and get there more easily than any other artistic or entertainment medium. But what one does with and in response to a film, within the cinematherapy modality, in the moment or with aesthetic distance, is part of what differentiates the process from a rip-roaring, coffee house, intellectual debate.
Like many men, Peter hates to talk about his failings, his fears, and his depression over an uncertain financial future. Initially skeptical about the technique, his mental table was turned as the demonstration zeroed in on the emotions engendered by the affecting dialogue on an East Berlin carousel.
Peter says he was glad he did the demonstration: for the show, and for himself. From his looks and his words, it is clear to me that Peter has come to see movies as being a lot more than entertainment. I sense he now fully recognizes that if people choose to pay attention to their autobiographic resonances when watching them, there may be much emotional gold to mine. What’s on the screen is only half of the treasure map. The other half is located squarely in the mind’s eye.
Later, as we sit across from each other, eyeing each other, the mood of elation-from-discovery, shifts and gives ground to more self-protective and primal male feelings. Peter readjusts his mask and swears a little about the economics of England and the traffic in L. A., and the rain. The moment has passed.
After they’ve left, I think about the long-term effect on Peter, if any, of the cinematherapy demonstration. Peter’s pension worries? Well, they may sink back into his mind’s shadows. Or, they may pop up again when a movie Peter sees taps into an aquifer of emotion in his unconscious landscape. Then, like he did today, he may take a look inside his head to see what’s on his mind.
© 2004 by Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D.
By Permission to The Cinema Therapy Newsletter
Therapeutic Movie Review Column
by Birgit Wolz Ph.D.
Director: Jim Sheridan
Producer: Arthur Lappin, Jim Sheridan
Screenwriter: Jim Sheridan, Naomi Sheridan, Kirsten Sheridan
Stars: Samantha Morton, Paddy Considine, Djimon Hounsou, Emma Bolger, Sarah Bolger
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2003
In America offers a unique and moving look at a family’s devastating grief over the accidental death of a son and brother, who also had a brain tumor. Stephanie Ericsson wrote: ”Grief … is the ashes from which the phoenix rises. … Grief will make a new person out of you, if it doesn’t kill you in the making.” Although In America demonstrates how intense, chaotic, contradictory, and heart-wrenching emotions can be when we are grieving, it also reveals that this nightmarish process can become transformative.
The movie also tells Jim Sherdian’s semi-autobiographical story about the so-called “immigrant experience” that is as much about family dynamics as about the struggle to survive in unfamiliar surroundings. The story starts with the Irish family sneaking across the Canadian border into the US as illegal immigrants.
Johnny, the young father, wants to be an actor. Since the death of his son, he has suppressed his emotions, which threatens his career. The mother, Sarah, is an exhausted and deeply grief-struck woman who swings back and forth between depression and moments of elation while she tries to fulfill her obligations as a mother, wife, and breadwinner. In spite of their best efforts, the marriage is in danger of disintegration. Their eleven-year-old daughter, Christy, shoots videos of everything with her low-cost camcorder and serves as a voiceover narrator of the story, writing letters to her diseased brother, Frankie. Christy’s gregarious younger sister, Ariel, who almost always has a smile in her face, demonstrates the soulfulness of children whose wonder and imagination can carry them through an ocean of difficulties.
It’s presumed that the family’s move to America was meant as an escape from the tragedy back in Ireland; yet, even with the change in scenery, both parents struggle with overwhelming feelings of guilt. Sarah urges her husband to use his talents as an actor for the kids’ sake: ”Make believe you’re happy!” But Christy breaks through the denial as a sounding board and unforgiving judge: “I’ve been carrying this family on my back for over a year.” Eventually, looking for a means to end the pain, Sarah gets pregnant. But their challenges continue when the doctor tells them that there could be life-threatening complications with the birth.
The family lives in a New York City tenement building, where they are confronted with racism and drug addiction. There is one door, which has the words KEEP AWAY painted on in big orange letters. Here lives, as called by the girls, “a man who screams” because his anguish sometimes echoes up the stairs. The girls’ innocence and implicit faith in others allows them to approach this gentle giant, Mateo, without fear, rather than to cower away from him like other tenants. Later, when he joins them for dinner, Ariel says “You’re magic.” And she is right with her intuitive response.
Everything shifts when Mateo and Johnny face each other in anger and unexpected insights are triggered. Mateo continues to be the catalyst for emotional changes in the family and for different ways of seeing. Especially in the final episode the movie boosts the human spirit and suggests that small miracles do exist.
Movies like In America, used as an adjunct to grief therapy, can serve as a catalyst for suppressed emotions. Sometimes tears flow over a sentimental film but not in real life. Emotional release can lift clients’ spirits for a while. Energy that was drained by depression can reemerge, at least temporarily. With therapeutic guidance this “break” frequently allows clients to open up to the grieving process or explore the issues that have inhibited healthy mourning. They may also feel less alone in their pain. Film characters often serve as either negative or positive models for the grieving process. Their story can also help clients recognize the transformational potential in grief.
My 40 year old client, Kevin, had lost his sickly younger sister, Kate, to heart failure when they were children. Because he feared that peers would make fun of him, he never cried. Although his parents had told him that Kate’s death was not his fault because she suffered from an incurable heart condition, Kevin felt responsible. He believed: “I shouldn’t have encouraged her to play with me the day before she died”. Since then, every year around the anniversary of her death Kevin felt depressed. When he suspected that there might be some unresolved grief, he entered therapy.
Our work progressed well. However, the most significant breakthrough happened after Kevin watched In America. As he recognized the family’s pain in the film, tears started flowing for the first time. In our next session he told me that these were his “un-cried” tears over the loss of little Kate. More grief surfaced during the following weeks.
First Kevin was afraid that “something must be wrong with me that I felt so sad”. With the help of some guiding questions (see below) Kevin started to accept his mourning as a healing process and felt more normal. He experienced the movie characters like a support group. Subsequently we worked with his guilt going back and forth between his inner experience and observing the movie characters. Pretty soon Kevin found peace around his loss and even felt inspired to volunteer in a children’s hospital.
Guidelines for work with clients
Before the movie:
• If the movie elicits emotions, let yourself feel them and cry as much as you like.
Ask clients to notice …
• how Johnny’s and Sarah’s negative, self-defeating beliefs and their resistance to grief slowly change
• how they develop a new sense of self, compassion, and purpose when they finally give themselves permission to grieve
• the characters take small acts of courage in spite of fear
• their determination and endurance helps them become stronger.
After the movie:
• How do you feel about the character’s experience of grief and guilt in relation to your own?
• What did you see in the film that reminds you of your own inner and outer resources?
• Have you discovered transformational gifts of grief after experiencing a loss before, similar to the family in the movie?
The following article announces a new CT training program.
Great films provide great clinical training
by Michael Freeny, LCSW and Margot Escott, LCSW
Films and television are the voice of American culture. For better or worse, visual media influences and reflects our values and beliefs. The media mirrors our strengths, struggles and sometimes solutions in diverse subject matter, whether comedy or drama, fiction or documentary. It is the story of us and it has therapeutic power. Many therapists recommend films to their clients.
Now two therapists are taking what may be the next logical step; using therapeutic films to teach therapists. Margot Escott, LCSW offers national training in cinema therapy: the use of films as a therapeutic intervention and as a training tool for clinicians to understand psychopathology and family dynamics. Michael, LCSW is another national clinical educator known for topics that range from HIPPA to sexuality. His novel Terminal Consent was the first to be approved for continuing education for mental health providers.
Escott and Freeny have joined creative forces in producing professional workshops based on Capturing the Friedmans and Thirteen, which both received Oscar nominations last year.
Capturing the Friedmans is a unique documentary that uses personal home movie footage to capture a family trying to cope with overwhelming forces and accusations. The director also interviews investigators and alleged victims, resulting in a true clinical mystery film.
Thirteen is an intimate and controversial portrait of today's adolescent life and challenges.
In both of these six-hour workshops, films are viewed and used as intense case studies and provide common ground for for participants in processing character and dynamics.
In the workshops clinicians are prepared with background material, putting context to what they will see. For example, Michael shows a film he produced of regular teens talking about the sexual world they live in, which gives credence to what participants see in Thirteen.
Cinical discussions includes aspects of family dysfunction in the face of external threats, like the investigation of the Friedmans. Family alliances are formed and broken; revelations are made and then retracted.
The films are so realistic they accurately reflect the complexity of real life. They show depression and anxiety, suicide and self-destructiveness, alcohol and drugs, divorced and compromise parents, rescuing siblings, compulsion, betrayals, hope, affiliation and family. And that's just in the first ten minutes! It's an intense version of what therapistis face every day. Yet there's an advantage in learning with peers who share the experience.
While the films may evoke strong emotions for the participants, our job is to help clinicians learn how to deal with this material in actual practice. Through role-plays, small group exercises and assessments they will have the tools and experience to help them integrate this material into their unique clinical styles and approaches,
The presenters also use these two workshops to demonstrate the potential power of films with clients. Most participants think that all parents and clinicians should see the film Thirteen. Although not every parent can identify with the specifics in the film, there are global issues that affect all parents of adolescents presented in this work. The use of film as metaphor, seeing others struggle as you do, is part of the healing aspect of this modality.
Cinema therapy, which is really an outgrowth of bibliotherapy started by Menninger in the 1930's, is becoming recognized as a valid therapeutic intervention and successful clinician training tool. And it has no known side effects.
Escott and Freeny offer home study versions of the two films with continuing education credit and have been booked for the two workshops at the NASW Florida State Conference in June. Additional workshops can be viewed at clinicalCE.com.
Michael Freeny may be reached at: Mfreeny@clinicalCE.com and Margot Escott at Me1818@aol.com.
Dear Dr. Wolz,
I've just started receiving the CT Newsletter. Most of all, I'm finding it very motivating. Hopefully, it will encourage me to finalize the Web site I have been thinking about/designing for years. Talk about procrastination. I love the work you are doing. More power to you.
--Charles Cooley, Ph.D.
I get your newsletter and I appreciate the work that goes into it. I wanted to let you know of a booklet that might be of interest to those who use Cinematherapy.
Back in the 70's, a cult icon came on the scene named "Billy Jack". You may be too young to remember, but he, and his movie, became quite a cult film of the time. He was a hero, who didn't really fit anywhere, who came on the scene in a turbulent time to stand up for human rights. Tom Laughlin wrote, directed, starred in and ultimately distributed his own movie.
Tom later went on to train and become a Carl Jungian psychologist, very revered in the field. He is a member of Menses. He made an attempt to run for President in the early 90's and he is still a social activist and very out spoken. His Web site is www.billyjack.com.
He has put together a booklet for independent filmmakers on the nine essential ingredients needed in a screenplay to make a movie a hit. While the booklet may have been originally written for writers, each of the essential ingredients for a hit movie are explained using Jungian psychology; showing the relationship between the ego and emotions and why people go to movies. It also offers excellent examples of movies that hit the mark and those that fail. I just thought it might be a good resource for you.
Best wishes and thanks for the wonderful newsletter!
Hollywood Endings and How to Get One
Thanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.
-Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT.,
Canyon, CA, USA
Moab, UT, USA