The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #15
July 12, 2004
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I'm happy to announce that recently added 50 movie reviews to our Movie Review page, including this review of In America, which was also recently published in The Therapist. All the newly added reviews will soon be linked to their Film Index listings

Fritz Engstrom, MD, Senior Vice President of Medical Affairs, Brattleboro Retreat, Brattleboro, Vermont has a new book out: Movie Clips for Creative Mental Health Education, published by Wellness Reproductions, New York City in April 2004. The book focuses on 3-5 minute scenes from popular movies, and how to find and use them with a variety of audiences.

A new Web site offered by Dr. Charles Cooley,, joins the ranks of sites listing therapeutic films. It describes its purpose:

Movies are perhaps the single most potent force for change available today and the most under utilized self help tool we have. A powerful part of our culture, movies are the modern equivalent of myth and storytelling. They focus on life’s universal themes and no aspect of the human experience has been left unexplored. Millions have been influenced, some slightly, some very significantly, by movies.

On Fri. August 27 (8 — 10 p.m.) and Sat. August 28 (9:30 a.m. — 3 p.m.) I will facilitate a Cinema Alchemy Event at Harbin Hotsprings. The workshop will include instruction in the technique of watching movies with conscious awareness and other powerful exercises derived from spiritual traditions and Transpersonal Psychology.

I'm also happy to announce that on Oct. 30 I'll be giving a Cinema Alchemy Training, Using Movies as a Transformational Tool. The day-long workshop will be hosted by the Institute for Hypnotherapy and Psychospiritual Trainings in Lafayette.

Both workshops are described in detail on my new Web site,, which will be devoted to announcing my upcoming training sessions and events.

Our colleague in Bucharest, Romania, Claudia Bris, reports on her ongoing survey project:

What pleased me about my research's results is that over 50% of my subjects would like to join CT groups. And most important of all, I think, is their wish to talk openly about their personal problems with a therapist and other young people with similar problems. Here, where psychotherapy is almost an enigma, at least for people over their 40s, I'm pleased to find out that young people got the main ideas what therapy is about and they seem to understand its importance.

starIn the Spotlight:
The Oakland Tribune carried this article, Movies as Myth-- Cinema's gods and goddesses -- and why we care on June 6. It features interviews with psychologist Randy Cornelius, professor and director of the American Culture Program at Vassar College in New York, and Ken Burke, professor of film studies at Mills College in Oakland.

Our colleague Dr. Conni Sharp was featured in a CT-related article in the June issue of the widely circulated magazine Health (the magazine is not available online.)

Counselor Michael Kahn was featured in a CT-related article that ran in the Charlotte Observer on May 17. The article is availbe for download in the archives here.

The June issue of the British magazine Positive Health published an article about cinema therapy by editor and freelance writer Franklin Seal. It features an overview of the field and examples of successful cinema therapy session-work. You can view Cinema Therapy – Unique Psychotherapy Technique, online at Positive Health (free registration required, then go to back issues, select Issue 100), or you can go directly to a reprint of the article in the archive.

The June issue of East Bay Therapist, the monthly publication of the East Bay Chapter of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, published my article, Releasing Negative Beliefs through the Transformational Power of Film.

This article was recently published in Harbin Hotspring's quarterly magazine, in conjunction with the workshops I'm conducting (see Workshops above):

Cinema Alchemy — Using the Power of Film for Healing and Transformation
by Birgit Wolz

I have loved movies all my life, and they often had a powerful impact on me. For example, I remember Il Postino (The Postman) (1994). In this film, the main character Mario’s talents and passionate heart never had reason to show themselves. His life on a quiet Italian island had been simple, carved out for him as it was by his fisherman father. But when renowned poet Pablo Neruda is sentenced to political exile there, Mario takes the job of delivering his daily fan mail, and gradually becomes friends with the famous man. This friendship serves as a catalyst for Mario to get in touch with his passion for poetry and the natural beauty around him.

I fell under The Postman's spell and became completely enchanted. There is so much vitality and genuine passion in this film. While I watched with increased conscious awareness, the simplicity in the main characters’ lives as well as their appreciation for poetry and nature made me feel joyful and relaxed. It felt as if I could breathe a little deeper, as if my busy life had stopped for a while, and I enjoyed these moments of peacefulness. The tenderness in the relationship between Mario and Neruda, as well as the authenticity that Mario displayed, touched me deeply. After the closing credits this feeling stayed with me, and I recognized that the movie had made me aware of deeply held values again, values that had been buried in my everyday life. I decided to bring these qualities back by spending more time alone in nature, simplifying my life and bringing more tenderness and authenticity into my relationships.

These and many other amazing experiences with movies have planted a seed that continues to grow over time. I learned, and teach now, that one of the most important aspects in utilizing the power of movies is watching films with conscious awareness. We enhance our conscious awareness when we bring non-judging attention, curiosity, and acceptance to whatever is arising in our experience of the present moment while viewing a film.

Many spiritual orientations teach us to become more aware of ourselves because they recognize the healing power of awareness. The Jewish Talmud points out that normally we do not see what we think we see, that what we perceive is more a reflection of us than it is objectively it. Everything we experience is altered and shaped by our minds. Our desires filter our selection of the items that we perceive. Our emotions color those perceptions. And finally, our attention wanders from perception to perception, virtually guaranteeing that what we see of the world and ourselves is mostly inaccurate.

Buddhism makes the same basic observation saying that our awareness is usually clouded and that we are spiritually asleep. When we are not mindful we replace authentic experience with habitual responses. Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, speak of this state as a dream, illusion, or maya in which our minds are veiled. St. Paul claimed, “A veil lies over their mind,” while Islam multiplied the metaphor to seventy-thousand veils. Charles Tart offered that we live in a ‘consensus trance’ that is ‘a much more pervasive, powerful, and artificial state than ordinary hypnosis, and it is all too trance like.’ The metaphors differ, but the message is the same.

The experience of watching movies can be seen as a metaphor for this trance or illusionary state. Becoming consciously aware in the present moment helps us to wake up. This is like remembering that we are watching a film even as we are deeply absorbed in the story. Sensing our arms as they touch the sides of our seat in a movie theater or in front of the TV might make us conscious that we are just watching images on a screen in front of us.

Abbreviated Guidelines to Watch Movies with Conscious Awareness:

• Since our rational mind is only a small part of the portal to your inner wisdom, I suggest a process in which you watch and listen with your whole body, not simply with your mind.

• In preparation for each viewing session, before a movie starts in a theater or before you turn on the video, sit comfortably and relax. Let your attention move effortlessly, without strain, first to your whole body and then to your breath. Notice any tension or holding. To release tension you may experiment with "breathing into" any part of your body that feels strained.

• When you start watching the movie, pay attention to the story and to yourself. Do not continue to create a particular state, such as relaxation, but rather be a compassionate witness of what is. Observe especially how the movie’s images, ideas, conversations, and characters affect your physical sensations. What happens when these throw you off balance because they trigger undesired emotions? Just put your attention on that experience while you are watching. In all likelihood, whatever unbalances you in response to a movie character or scene is similar to whatever unbalances you in daily life.

• Stay present and alert. Watch your responses with an interested, curious detachment. Bring your inner attention to "all of you" — head, heart, belly, etc. Once in a while you might notice a certain sensation or emotional response from your subtle, always-present intuitive core. You might let yourself get totally absorbed by the movie for a while and forget about anything else. Notice your sensations when you come back to awareness of yourself.

These guidelines are intended as a practice in observing from the inside. As a witness, you “step back” and the bigger picture becomes more obvious. You will notice that, at first, it is easier to stay consciously aware of your reactions to movie characters than to real people with whom you might experience some emotional entanglement. Practicing with movies will help you apply conscious awareness from “reel” life to scenes in your real life. You will regain access to values or capacities in the big “movie” of your life with which you might have lost touch. As I experienced with Il Postino, this process can provide an opportunity for you to become deeply present, connect with your inner wisdom and essential Self.

starReader Feedback:

I am a young girl with no mental problems, I think. I don't know if you'll accept my testimony but there is one movie that I identify with wholly, it really gives me comfort. The movie is "Little Darlings." I don't think this movie is on the Cinema Therapy list. The movie is about two girls and their experiences with relationships and sex. Although I am a teenager, I don't think about boys and sex constantly. But I was having a slight problem with my relationship with this boy and I could identify with Kristy McNichol's character. She didn't know what she wanted but she knew he wasn't it. She knew that she had to find herself first which is a such a cliche but I didn't find it cheesy at all. I think this movie should be added to the list so teenage girls have a movie that displays feelings like this as a visual.

-- Eme
A note we received from a young Georgian girl during her visit last month to the site)

I have always found films as very enriching in the process of self-discovery. I found movies to be fundamental in the understanding the dynamics of human interactions as projected through the characters in films. During some less glamourous times, story lines and their characters made me feel less alone and understood better than the people around me. This strengthened my thinking patterns of combining psychology and films. I almost always take something with me on viewing a film, a deeper insight, whether psychological, spiritual, emotional, a good line to remember or a good joke.

-- Pierina Mercieca
a third-year psychology undergraduate student at the University of Malta

Last month's Issue #14 included a typo. In my review, the movie title should have read: My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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


-Franklin Seal
freelance writer
Moab, UT, USA