The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #2 April 24, 2003
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Dear Reader:

Welcome to the second issue of The Cinema Therapy Newsletter. As this publication is still new, I'd like to mention a couple of things about my process. I get a good bit of email correspondence and I want to assure all of you, if you write to me I will ask you before including your letter in this publication.

star Changes To The Web Site:
The Film Index has expanded exponentially in the last month. The original five categories have grown to over 150. As this goes to press, Franklin (my editor and webmaster) is still in the process of finishing and uploading many of the individual pages, so if something isn't there when you first check it, come back in a day or two. He promises to have it all up and running within a few days. At a minimum, all film titles will be linked to small plot summaries at The Internet Movie Database. Gradually, we hope to link some to in-house notes and articles. Franklin has set up a Google-powered search tool for the index to make it more useful, but the new additions may take a few weeks before they show up in Google's database -- so fair warning. In the meantime, you may find it more effective to search through the newly expanded list of categories.

There are a few new additions to our Tell Us Your Story page -- personal reflections from visitors on how films have impacted their lives. I hope you find that section useful as well.

I've made available for downloading the PowerPoint presentation from my one-day seminar in Monterey, CA, which I delivered on March 29 to about 50 therapists.

And The Cinema Therapy Forum, an email-based group to facilitate ongoing discussion of any issue related to cinema therapy, is up and running. It's a free public listserv open to anyone interested in cinema therapy. I invite you to subscribe.

starIn The Spotlight:
"All I needed to know about life, I learned from the movie clips," says Fuat Ulus, M.D. Dr. Ulus is the Medical Director, Behavioral Health Unit, Millcreek Community Hospital, Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine Affiliate, Erie, PA. In his new book, "Movie Therapy, Moving Therapy!" he shares his ideas about the application of film clips to group therapy. Dr. Ulus is a member of The Movies, Education, Treatment and Healing Network, an online discussion group that includes psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, academicians, educators and instructors who use commercial movies in educational as well as therapeutic settings. Further information about his book may be reviewed at Dr. Ulus' page on Trafford Books.

starCinema Therapy In The Press:
Congratulations are in order to a number of my esteemed colleagues who were interviewed in an article about cinema therapy that appeared in the April 2003 Clinical Psychiatry News. The article by Mary Ann Moon covers the cinema therapy work of Dr. Sandra Walker, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the University of Washington, Seattle; Dr. Ulus; Dr. Francis G. Lu of San Francisco General Hospital and professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco; and Dr. Sharon Packer, a psychiatrist in private practice who also teaches in the media studies department at the New School for Social Research, New York. Though too long to include in this newsletter, the article is available online at Clinical Psychiatry News and is now included on the Articles and Useful Links page on

Congratulations also go out to Pittsburgh State University counselor Conni Sharp on the great write-up in the March issue of Psychotherapy Networker. The section in Gary Cooper's Clinician's Digest column is an excellent intro to cinema therapy and the questions it generates.

Does Cinematherapy Work?

Fifteen-year old Abby's parents worried about her sex life with her 17-year-old boyfriend, but they couldn't discuss sexuality with her, even in therapy. Therapist Conni Sharp couldn't crack the ice either, so she gave them some homework -- to watch "For Keeps," a 1988 movie with Molly Ringwald and Pauly Shore about a teenage couple's pregnancy. In the next session, when the family discussed the couple in the movie, the talk segued into a frank discussion about sex.

Many therapists use movies serendipitously. But some therapists actually practice cinematherapy. They think of a specific movie that fits a client, review it, and then assign it, suggesting that the client think about a certain theme or character. Recommending "Gangs of New York," for instance, a therapist might say, "Here's a movie that shows what a profound effect violence can have," or "Tell me next time what you think about DiCaprio's character."

Pittsburgh State University counselor Conni Sharp makes a case for its effectiveness by pointing out its parallels with bibliotherapy (the use of written material as therapy homework), for which there's solid research support. Proponents of both forms of therapy believe that when clients see their own situation in someone else, it can open the doors of awareness and shorten the course of therapy.

Sharp argues that cinematherapy is, in fact, more effective than bibliotherapy. Clients are more apt to go see a movie than to read a book; it takes less time, and it's usually cheaper, easier, and more entertaining. Therapists looking for movies, their related themes, and more information on cinematherapy can start by checking out Sharp's web page at

starNews From Abroad:
Working to promote cinema therapy in the psychotherapy community here in North America, occasionally you run into obstacles and are reminded that we're "pushing the envelope." Just for a little reality check, I include this letter from a colleague in Bucharest, Romania.

Dear Birgit,

As you know, in all my messages I've tried to make you understand the situation in my country, Romania. In your country, many things that you consider "normal" (like doing psychotherapy or searching for help) are almost a "luxury" here. It's sad that here there are many people who really need help, but few who look for it. It's a problem of education and economics, too.

I think it's not fair to earn just almost over $1 per session! The luckiest therapists earn almost $10 per session. But here, the average salary is $100. You have to pay $100 just for the rent of an apartment with three rooms. It's insane! The food and the medical services are very expensive, too. So you have to get more than one job to live a decent life.

You know I'm teaching Sociology at the Spiru Haret University, here in Bucharest. This situation is possible because I am specialized both in Sociology and Psychology. Most of my former colleagues work in areas that have little or nothing in common with these two sciences. So, I consider myself a lucky person.

I have to admit that there are a few lucky therapists who do psychotherapy for a living. But they are very few, and the risk is big (the risk of not having clients constantly).

Here there is an obvious competition between psychologists and psychiatrists, who blame each other terribly. Both sides proclaim their "true" competence. In this context of rigid thinking you can't do very much. You can't be very creative because a change or a suggestion is considered "dubious", "insane" or "not scientific".

Honestly, I don't know how (or "if") many therapists use movies in their sessions. Unfortunately, some of the critics are correct. Our media culture is "smothered" by stupid movies, full of "action", violence and stereotypes. Most of them are low-rated American films. The Romanian movie is among the "endangered species".

But we have to notice "the full part of the glass", too. Among these poor films, there are also some great ones. And we can use them in our work. And also, last year I met a psychologist from the U.S.A. on the Net. Her name is Margaret Condon, a psychologist at Northeastern University of Illinois. She gave me some answers and documents about this subject: "Learning psychopathology with movies". The therapist-to-be, the student, must learn to use movies in two different, but related ways: You can use some movies for learning psychopathology; You can use some movies in psychotherapy, later. In this situation it is also important that he/she become aware of how movies should and could be used in his/her future activity.

Besides the rigid thinking of some psychotherapists, you have to deal with the expensive technologies (TV sets, video players, videotapes, computers, compact discs, video cameras etc.), here in Romania. There are some clients who haven't got the financial potential to rent a videotape! As you can see, sometimes I can elude the rigidity but then I must confront the expensive technologies. In this case you have to become ingenious (but not "too ingenious" because you can easily become "illegal.")

I hope we, the new generations, will put aside the ineffectual polemics and get down to business! There are too many sick, desperate people who really need our help.

All of the above is why sometimes I fell like "The Ugly Duck"! I would like to be more advanced in my work, but I'm still not. This is why I'm asking you not to misunderstand me. If I don't provide you certain information it is because I haven't got it, not because I don't want to.

Sending all my respect and admiration to you all,
Claudia Biris
Bucharest, Romania

starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

-Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT.,
Canyon, CA, USA

-Franklin Seal
freelance writer
Moab, UT, USA