The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #3, May 23, 2003
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Dear Reader:

“Brevity is the soul of wit,” Shakespeare wrote. If this newsletter seems a bit thinner than usual, perhaps its length may be considered a virtue. Work on my book project, an impending vacation to Germany and a dearth of cinema therapy news items have conspired in favor of a briefer issue.

star The Film Index:
Work on the expanded Film Index is complete, except for the final step of linking all of the newly added film titles to their plot summaries on the Internet Movie Database. The numerous lists are an amalgam of all existing indexes of which I’m aware, either online or in books. Still, the collection is far from exhaustive. If you have suggestions for new categories or for film titles to add, let me know. I’d also be interested in hearing from anyone regarding the various ways in which the index is being used.

starCinema Theray Research:
Two research projects that concern cinema therapy came to my attention this month. One is a dissertation project that is still in progress. I hope to receive further word of it when it is complete. The other is a theater exit survey conducted last December in Bucharest, Romania by Claudia Biris, a sociology professor at Spiru Haret University. Biris and her students contacted theater-goers as they were leaving a showing of "Red Dragon," the "Silence of The Lambs" prequel starring Anthony Hopkins.

Along with several questions on general attitudes toward mental health treatment, respondents were asked if they had ever discovered a solution to a personal life problem from watching a movie. Biris reports that of the 200 respondents, “almost 60 percent” said yes. The remaining 40 percent either did not know, did not answer, or replied in the negative. Brisis adds that many respondents said some movies had helped them to understand what was happening to them in their personal lives, or that after watching a movie they had been able to help a friend with personal problems.

starIs There Such a Thing as a Bad Cinema Therapy Movie?:
The question first arose in a cinema therapy group
that I lead. During each session we choose a new film to watch sometime during the following week. In the next session we discuss our reactions to it and any personal growth issues that it brings up. The previous week we had chosen the film, "Changing Lanes.” There followed an intense discussion on the question of the film's therapeutic value.

For me, the discussion raised an interesting question, which I then put to my colleagues on the Movie Therapy Forum comprised of therapists and other professionals interested in cinema therapy. I asked them: When it comes to cinema therapy, is there such thing as a “bad” movie. I also expressed my opinion that probably there were very few movies that could be categorically ruled as having no therapeutic value. But I added that I suspected such a stance might be considered somewhat controversial.

The very active discussion that followed on the forum revealed that the topic certainly contains a good bit of "energy" for some folks. After a number of postings, it seemed to me that general concensus of our small group was that individuals will respond to a wide variety of characters, life situations, and artistic styles and that it is difficult to say for certain that a given film will not have therapeutic value for someone.

Several people pointed out that even if a film’s central characters exhibit few “redeeming” values, viewing such a film can be therapeutically valuable if it helps a person to become aware of aspects of their own personality that they might have repressed. During the discussion, a psychiatrist who once utilized poetry in working with his patients, cautioned that with certain types of cases (for example patients with severe Borderline Personality Disorder) some poems seemed to be counter-therapeutic. Another point made by several individuals was that tailoring the movie choice to the therapeutic goal was more important than the artistic quality of the movie.

starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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

-Franklin Seal
freelance writer
Moab, UT, USA