The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #8 Nov. 24, 2003
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starIn The Spotlight:
The Daily Record, of Glasgow, Scotland, UK reported on
Oct. 31:


Films can help young cancer victims cope with their pain, doctors claim. When sick children were shown amusing cartoon movies such as Disney's The Lion King, they needed one-third less pain relief drugs. Consultant Dr. David Weeks, of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital, said the "cinematherapy" paired watching movies with treatments such as chemotherapy. He said: "Watching funny movies has been found to be helpful in dropping anxiety levels in young cancer patients. When they could view popular cartoon movies, they definitely coped better with acute pain and were less distressed."

starNew Cinema Therapy Research:
Colleague, Shawna M. Benson, Psy.D., in Brooklyn Park, MN, reported on her doctoral dissertation, Model of Interpersonal Forgiveness and Reconciliation Based on Popular American Film.
The main thrust of her research is augmenting the ongoing development of psychological models of forgiveness and reconciliation with models derived from popular American cinema.

"In order to better help people cope with their interpersonal difficulties, it is important that clinicians understand how people experience forgiveness and reconciliation within those relationships," she explains in the introduction. Turning to cinematic sources makes sense, she adds, because:

"American cinema, and American media in general, is influential within multiple contexts of peoples' daily lives... While it is important that clinicians understand the theoretical bases of forgiveness and reconciliation models within psychological research, it is also important for clinicians to understand what an influential, mass-medium of information, like American cinema, is endorsing regarding the concepts of interpersonal forgiveness and reconciliation. In addition, film is sometimes used as a therapeutic adjunct in the clinician's office..."

In a letter describing her work, Shawna concludes that the films she used seemed to fit forgiveness examples "a bit better" than reconciliation examples (Ordinary People, Broadway Danny Rose, Running on Empty, In Country, Lone Star and The Straight Story).

"I ended up realizing that there may not be too many films available that deal with reconciliation as a long-term process that would be more similar to real life experiences (i.e., films would end after forgiveness seems to happen and an implied agreement to reconcile and try again in a relationship, but [there were few] examples of how film may show how reconciliation is monitored and renegotiated over time as a relationship attempts to maintain itself following a misdeed/betrayal and forgiveness).

Shawna's dissertation will be available in the near future from UMI (ProQuest) / Dissertation Abstracts International.

starCinema Therapy Groups:
I'm happy to report that my weekly cinema therapy group passed its first year anniversary a couple months ago and has been consistently achieving great results. I received two reports this month from leaders of other cinema therapy groups. I invite any reader to send in similar reports about groups in which they participate.

I have been doing cinema therapy with children and adolescents on the behavioral health unit at Millcreek Community Hospital for approximately six months now, and it has been well received.  I first tried using vignettes from the movies, but the kids always wanted to watch the rest of the movie and the goal of the group was lost.  I then began to show the whole movie and it has worked very well. The kids like the Disney movies, and they work well because of the numerous appropriate themes for discussion. It amazes me that even at the age of seven a child can point out that, "A family can be anyone as long as you love each other". It is surprising every time I use cinema therapy that the kids pick up themes or points that I myself have even missed. One child told me, "every time I see this movie I will think about what I have learned here." That, to me, shows that cinema therapy does work well for the kids. Cinema therapy works so well because the movies hold the kids' interest. The movies are entertaining as well as educational. It has been my experience that the kids get more out of the cinema therapy groups than those groups which are purely educational. With the experiences and responses to cinema therapy I have had, I will continue to use it on my unit.

—Tina Murzynski, BHT

Earlier this year Margot Escott, LCSW presented an interesting workshop in Miami entitled DSM-4 at the Movies. Three of us attending the workshop got together and decided to form a group to view and discuss movies and their potential as therapeutic aids. We assign two movies to be seen before each meeting, which is on the second Friday of each month (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.) at the Rusty Pelican Restaurant. We split the cost of lunch among the participants who have grown in number to seven. Along the way we discovered your informative Web site, which helped us come up with a format for purposeful viewing of the films. The group members vary in age , ethnicity and culture (a microcosm of Miami) and this often lends itself to eye-opening perspectives. We are all convinced of the power of film to "bring the message home" and as an ancillary therapeutic tool. Any licensed therapists in our area interested in joining our group are invited to contact us at
Founding Members:
Mara Fisher, LCSW
Jennifer Nowacki, LCSW
Helen E. Schuster, LCSW

—Jennifer Nowacki, LCSW

starHow Movies Have Changed Lives:
Our latest submission to the "Tell Us Your Stories" page comes from this anonymous writer. She tells of her reaction to watching the film Contact:

The movie Contact really hit home. As I cried through the movie I wanted to shout, "That's me!"

My battle began in the 50's being born a girl who loved science. Where I grew up this was unacceptable. My father encouraged my passion, but everyone else saw it as abnormal. Dad was pushed aside by what seemed like the rest of the world, bound & determined to squeeze me into a stereotypical "one size fits all" mold for females, complete with conditioning.

Contact did contact me - inside. The truths learned have impacted my life. I learned from this, oddly enough, "science fiction" movie: 1) molds are not "one size fits all" - avoid them & just be "you", 2) the Truth is everything - even if it it makes you unpopular, 3) yes, there will always be those waiting to steal your work & take credit for it, but those who live by the sword die by the sword, 4) there will be those who will try to discredit you the best they can as a way to increase their own power & control - don't give in to them, 5) you must be true to yourself no matter what, and 6) we must each find our own way & do what we are passionate about.

I agree with the main character - The world really is what we make of it. I now find the world especially sweet when I get to do what I love. This movie gave me strength. It left me feeling inspired and very hopeful about everything.

starCinema Therapy Review:

Cinema Alchemy
Mining the Gold in Movies for the Therapeutic Process

by Birgit Wolz Ph.D.

About Schmidt

Director: Alexander Payne
Producer: Harry Gittes, Michael Besman
Screenwriter: Alexander Payne
Stars: Jack Nicholson, Hope Davis, Dermot Mulroney, Len Cariou, Howard Hesseman, Kathy Bates
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2002
Released on Video: 06/03/2003

With the baby boomer generation approaching retirement, an increasing number of our clients find themselves struggling with the vacuum created when the most significant parts of their lives — work and sometimes family relationships — begin to come to an end. Though certainly no panacea, About Schmidt can serve through both positive and negative modeling for individuals seeking to add meaning to their lives.


About Schmidt is an intricate character study of a man who falls into the abyss of retirement and widowhood then gradually climbs out of it by getting in touch with his heart. His salvation comes inadvertently, through a one-way series of letters he writes to an orphan in Tanzania.

As the movie begins we learn that Warren Schmidt for decades felt displaced in his own home, evaded family conflicts and defined himself by his work. He appears to lack even the slightest spark of intellectual curiosity or passion. Days after a meaningless retirement dinner he returns to the office only to find that his young replacement has upgraded Warren’s entire system and discarded his files, using none of the legacy of business acumen Warren left behind.

At home his wife Helen tries to be cheerful and surprises him with breakfast in a new RV. The stale dialogue displays a yawning absence of meaning in their marriage. Neither understands any longer who they are to one another. One night Warren finds himself, after 42 years of marriage, asking, “Who is this old women next to me in bed?” But when he returns home one day to discover Helen has dropped dead on the kitchen floor, his life quickly unravels.

Even as ineffectually as his marriage and work filled the void of his life, when both suddenly vanish Warren sinks into a depression. Then, at the nadir of his decline, he decides to adopt and sponsor a six-year-old African boy for 73 “precious” cents a day. The viewer is given few clues as to why he decides to take this action. But as the film plays out, in hindsight it appears as if in this act he is subconsciously grasping a lifeline. A second lifeline falls his way equally as “accidentally,” when Warren decides to take to the road in the RV in order to stop his daughter from making a tragic mistake by going through with her wedding.

En route to “save” his daughter, Warren flexes the wings of his new freedom by trying his hand at social relationships. But having practiced few social skills during his life, his attempts fail, either because he is oblivious to the other person’s feelings or because he is bound by his own fears. His daughter keeps him at arm’s length when he ham-handedly tries to intervene in her wedding. Her fiancée’s liberated mother makes casual romantic advances and it scares him to death. Later, when temporary neighbors at an RV park invite him to dinner, he misinterprets the situation miserably, makes a pass at the neighbor’s wife and gets thrown out.

But throughout this series of social catastrophes, Warren continues to write his adopted “son.” The long confessional letters provide Warren his one honest emotional outlet. It’s almost as if he were writing them to his own long-orphaned inner child. Eventually, when he receives news of the benefits his sponsorship has on the boy’s life, he sheds real tears of joy, and we realize that slowly, this accidental “therapy” has had its effect. Despite the botched efforts to connect to people, Warren begins to feel alive, reborn. He starts to appreciate himself and his defenses begin to dissolve.

Cinema Alchemy:

As an adjunct to therapy, About Schmidt can be thought provoking, perhaps even transformative. It can serve as both a negative or positive model for clients.

One example of how it can serve as a warning comes from Roger who posted this note to my Web site, “About Schmidt is one of the most depressing movies I have seen this year. Can a film affect you that negatively, [and] yet have an upside in cinema therapy? The message to me was don't sit on your butt waiting for something to happen to you after retirement, start planning now. I have, in fact, begun discussing it with my wife and we have had a number of excellent plans. Retirement will begin with the purchase of a Winnebago. We'll see where life takes us after that.”

An anecdote about a client, Becky, aptly demonstrates how the film can serve as a positive model as well. Becky felt depressed as she struggled with mid-life questions of meaning and purpose. I encouraged her to watch About Schmidt. In our following session she said she was inspired and reassured that she was not the only person caught in this predicament. Becky especially focused on Warren’s internal monologue and could relate to the discrepancy between his thoughts and actions, which made her laugh and allowed her to view her own lack of authenticity without getting trapped in self-criticism. Seeing the effect of Warren’s letter-writing process prompted her to begin daily journaling, advice she’d resisted for months. As Becky wrote about her deepest inner truth she gradually dared to get in touch with emotions that she had previously guarded from the world. This awareness process supported our work immensely. When my client’s self-acceptance and authenticity increased, her depression lifted.

Guidelines for questions:

Before clients watch the movie:

• Keep the following question in mind while you watch: What makes Warren Schmidt such an “empty” and depressed person?

• What helps him start changing?

After clients watch the movie:

• Is it possible there are things you are not aware of - like Schmidt?

• Did Schmidt demonstrate something that you need to avoid and other behavior that you might want to adopt?

• Do you have inner resources that Schmidt doesn’t have?

starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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

-Franklin Seal
freelance writer
Moab, UT, USA