Lisa Bahar

Cinema-Therapy

My journey with film began early on with my family who all adored the cinema and made it a big part of our lives as a form of entertainment and coping.   My mother was and still is fascinated with film stars and has always emulating through dress, style, and presence as I was growing up.   I find her fascinating still as she continues to create and recreate herself based on her infatuation with film.   My father enjoyed being compared to actors and realized his humor and charisma had a positive effect on those around him and my uncle expressed his creativity through sculpting and painting.   My grandmother was approached many times to act in films during the 1930's and 1940's due to her dancing and uncommon presence; she was a beauty that was captured by the likes of Joan Crawford or Betty Davis.  

I realized growing up with these fascinating people that film was a big part of their lives and an important form of communication and they became a way of life for our family to deal with feelings.   When we were happy we went to a film and when things were not so good we went to a film.   As a result of this exposure and experience of having film as a form of coping it became an integral part of my life beginning at an early age and I soon found myself wanting to be in stories as well and would create them with the neighborhood friends by putting on plays for the parents and also performing as a dancer during most of my childhood.  

As I went through adolescence, I discovered I wanted to be an actress and pursued this dream with mild success.     However, although my acting was my true desire my creativity and inspiration led me to writing which seemed to come natural to me as a way to express myself.   I was always aware of others behaviors and observed people with intense curiosity and realized I could anticipate what to expect from them in terms of words and actions and as a result I found that I could create dialogue by creating characters that were believable and real.

I attended University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television and was immediately recruited into Development (script and story editing) for television after graduation.   I was eager and as I learned the business aspects of making movies and also the technical process of how stories were made into movies from conception to actual screening.   At this time in my life however, I was honestly too naive and a little too sensitive for the field of film and television and did not have the sophistication to navigate confidently in dealing with people in the industry.    I guess the aspects of the industry including relationship building and creating the connections in order to make films seemed too insincere and it was hard for me to act one way and think another.   This is not always the case, but it seemed too prevalent to me and not easy for me to understand.   I left the industry after 15 years of minor successes and was fairly broken hearted and did not want to return ever again.   I, of course went to a lot of films to heal my sadness which is rather ironic, but it certainly worked and although I continued to act in Orange County in commercials and small independent features I never thought I would return as a writer or use film in any way in terms of part of my work.   

As I processed this loss of dreams which was an actual bereavement process and trying to figure out where I was going with my life and what I planned to do or more importantly who I planned to be in life, I started reading an enormous amount of material related to psychology including Carl Jung, Viktor Frankl , Yalom, etc. and became intrigued with the mind and the philosophy of life.   At that point as many do, I decided to change careers and was inspired to attend Pepperdine and pursue a Masters in Clinical Psychology.   I knew when I started my first semester Theories in Personality and started to study the ideas of psychology that I had found a new home.   I recall at Pepperdine people asking about my background before attending and I shared rather reluctantly (although not expressed overtly) based on my own sadness that I was initially in film and television industry.   It was not until the end of the course work in my Masters program that I began to realize that cinema and therapy could be used as a therapeutic tool and started implementing it in my work with clients.  

After graduation, I started to work more in the field of psychology and realized what an impact clients felt from watching films including how they serve as metaphors to their own problems and how meaningful a film can be to someone during a time of crisis or a time when problems seemed too overwhelming.   I began to talk about films more and more with client's and began a process of questioning ideas about character's they identify with or stories that could be used as a form of communication sometimes better than words.   I am intrigued as to how we as humans respond to stories on film and how we become less rigid and open as we join in a journey of a character and how stories can resonate with us for years.   The sensitive aspect to this experience is that films carry messages of what we yearn for in life.   If you truly think about, films have a meaning and purpose just like we all do and they speak to us in a very creative and non threatening way.   The fascination is that I have noticed we all respond to certain aspects in films that others perhaps have no connection with.   I learned that I cannot guide client's to how I experience the film or interpret what I feel is the most integral aspect of the story, but rather wait for how they experience the film, since it might be quite different than my thoughts.  

Within the context of therapy, I love the idea of using reflecting teams in a group process and discussing films that create reflections with clients through writing exercises.   I am also sensitive to the feeling that once we watch a film, it is not always best to immediately comment or come up with perceptions of the experience after viewing it, but rather take the time to create a reflective distance and then begin a discussion or conversation that is scheduled later after the journey of viewing it.   What I have come to realize is that client's adore films for a reason and characters represent certain aspects of themselves that they can identify and although film characters are perhaps fictional they have just as much meaning and history as real people do.   I believe, the cinema was put in our lives for a reason as a way to make us consider other ways of looking at life, I guess they call that therapy. J