The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #18
May 30, 2005
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The folks at The Spiritual Cinema Circle have begun airing a new call-in talk show every Friday from 2pm -3pm (PST). Join hosts Stephen Simon and Gay Hendricks, Circle co-founders, for their weekly one-hour radio show called Spiritual Cinema. I urge all those interested in CT to call in.  In the U.S., dial 1-888-327-0061. From outside the U.S., dial the international country code, then 858-623-0102.

This site, The Silver Lining - Film Reviews - Moral deliberations and ethical dilemmas in seven modern films, lists interesting reviews of seven thought provoking movies.

This Yahoo personal list cites movies the author calls her "cinema therapy" picks.

And here's a useful list of CT books: Reel Power - Spiritual Growth through Movies.

starSupport Groups:
This new group in Walnut Creek, CA, Sacred Sight — Spiritual Cinema Group with Holly Hand, began April 22 and runs through June 10. Drop-ins are welcome. They meet each Friday from 7 - 10 p.m. at the Unity Center of Walnut Creek, 1871 Geary Rd, Walnut Creek. Here's a brief introduction:

Looking to enjoy films that inspire, heal and transform?   You are invited to participate in "Sacred Sight", an 8-week spiritual cinema group created as a sacred space in which to connect with others.   Join us to experience the community of sacred cinema where participants can view, share, inspire, and inform each other through the expression of feelings and reactions to a wide variety of films especially chosen for this purpose.   Inquire beneath the film's surface to notice and identify with the spiritual principles in support of Wholeness. Experience how a few simple tools can help sharpen your focus and awareness. Participants are invited to bring a journal and writing instrument. Drop in's welcome.

Upcoming films include:
June 3 - What Dreams May Come
June 10 - Indigo

Lisa M. Gray, MFT is forming a Desperate Housewives women's therapy group at Anthropos Counseling Center in Livermore. She will use the show and other movie clips to launch discussion of women's midlife issues. These include: working vs. non-working while raising kids, personal fulfillment while raising kids, keeping your marriage alive, spiritual issues, etc.   Lisa says: This will be a FUN but therapeutic group.


General Audiences:

My workshop at the New Living Expo in San Francisco on April 22: Cinema Alchemy - Using the Power of Movies for Spiritual and Personal Growth was very well attended and received. One participant told me that she is a therapist and that she had specifically traveled to San Francisco and come to the Expo to learn about Cinema Alchemy.

Our colleague Michael Kahn, LPC, NCC, JD presented on CT at the NC EAPA March Conference 2005. A synopis of his address includes:

Participants will learn how to help their clients watch films with conscious awareness.   Helping clients build a bridge between their realizations in "reel" life and their experiences in real life can be transformational and possibly shorten the course of therapy by facilitating insights and bolstering the therapeutic alliance.

The University of Vancouver, BC held its second annual Mental Health Film Festival May 12-15 at the Pacific Cinematheque theatre. It included the Vancouver premiere of Neighbours: Freud and Hitler in Vienna and several workshops. The festival evolved from the award-winning Frames of Mind film series, an innovative monthly program designed to promote professional and community education of issues pertaining to mental health and illness while acquainting audiences with exceptional world cinema.

Professional Classes:

On May 14, I presented at the 41 st Annual Conference of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists: The Timeless Art and Emerging Science of Relationships: Therapy in the 21st Century in San Jose. Titling my talk, Saturday Night at the Movies, I briefly introduced the audience of 200 therapists to the concepts of cinema therapy and showed Don Juan DeMarco (1995), followed by an experiential exercise. This movie spoke to many of the attending health care practitioners since it addresses on a metaphoric level a professional dilemma they sometimes have to face. The feedback was overwhelming. Some of my colleagues still came up to me on the next day, saying how inspired they felt by the previous evening.

Upcoming Workshops:

Cinema Therapy - Using the Power of Films for the Therapeutic Process

Continuing Education Presentation, sponsored by the East Bay Chapter of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.
Friday, June 10, 2005, 4-6 p.m.
Epworth United Church, 1953 Hopkins Street, Berkeley, CA
No fee
2 CEU can be earned
Contact: Ada Karlstrand at or (510) 655-1657

Cinema Alchemy - Using the Power of Movies for the Therapeutic Process

Saturday, August 27, 2005, 9-5 p.m.
John F. Kennedy University, 100 Ellinwood Way, Pleasant Hill, CA
Fee: $145 US
7 CEU can be earned
Call (925) 969-3150 or register online.

Cinema Alchemy - Using the Power of Movies for Healing and Transformation

September 16-21, 2005
Hollyhock, Cortes Island, British Columbia, Canada
Fee: $396 US, (meals and accommodation extra), 5 nights
Call (800) 933-6339 or (250) 935-6576 (outside North America); Fax: (250) 935-6424; email; or visit their Web site.

From Erika. UABC, Mexico I received the following note:

As a pilot study, here in Tijuana, two psychologist were applying the cinema-debate technique (it's similar to cinematherapy) to a small group of 8 kids in 12 sessions and they were surprised at its positive effects.

Erika would like to know if anybody has worked in this field or knowns about similar studies that may support and compare this results. Please let me know if you know if you do and I will forward this information to Erika.

starIn the Spotlight:
This 1999 article in Salon received a 3 rating in The qwert12345 Science Archive. A brief excerpt from the article:

During the early days of home video, psychoanalyst Foster Cline treated a woman whose wild and uncommunicative child resisted the slightest display of maternal affection. It occurred to the doctor that his patient might benefit from seeing how Anne Sullivan dealt with the similarly rebellious Helen Keller, so he asked her to pop "The Miracle Worker" into the VCR.

E-Motion Picture Magic turns out to be a hit at the Behavioral Science book club of BookSpan. My publisher was told that E-Motion Picture Magic gets chosen more frequently by their members than many of the other books from their selection. The book also received a listing on Self Help HQ.

Writer Chris Ratcliff has published CT articles in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and South Flordia Parenting Magazine, both available in the CT PressRoom. He also wrote a review of E-Motion Picture Magic for

And an article published on WebMD in February, 2004, received new life by being republished in Medical Mutual.

USA-Today published an article April 22 on the symbolism of Darth Vader in anticipation of the release of the final episode of Star Wars. A reprint of it is available here.

An interesting discusson about how "Movies are good for mental health say cinema therapists" took place on


Therapeutic Movie Review
By Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT


Director: Taylor Hackford
Producers: Taylor Hackford, Stuart Benjamin, Howard Baldwin, Karen Baldwin
Screenwriter: James L. White
Stars: Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Regina King, Clifton Powell, Curtis Armstrong, Sharon Warrent Mulroney, Len Cariou, Howard Hesseman, Kathy Bates
MPAA Rating: PG 13
Year of Release: 2004

Ray tells the life story of the late iconic musical genius and American legend, Ray Charles. Although this movie plays primarily between 1948 and 1965, it also cuts back to the artist’s roots. Charles was born into a poor family in Albany, Georgia. At age five he witnessed the death of his younger brother. In a memory that haunted him throughout his life, he stood nailed to the spot while the little boy drowned in a bath basin. In her deep despair his mom yelled at Ray, ”why didn't you call for me to rescue the boy?” A few months later, Charles contracted glaucoma, and went completely blind at age seven. He blamed himself for the accidental death and carried lifelong guilt that, the movie argues, contributed to his eventual drug addiction.

With the staunch support of his fiercely independent single mother, who insisted he make it on his own in the world, Charles found his calling and his gift behind a piano keyboard. Touring across the Southern musical circuit, the soulful singer discovered his own sound, which revolutionized American popular music. His work reached worldwide fame when he incorporated gospel, country, jazz and orchestral influences into his inimitable style.

This film demonstrates how Ray Charles contributed to tearing down the walls that separate people and styles. As he revolutionized music, he simultaneously fought cruel prejudices against the blind, and racial segregation in the very clubs that launched him. He also championed artists’ rights within the corporate music business.

As Ray’s fame grew, so did his weakness for drugs and women, until they threatened to strip away the very things he held most dear. The genius of Ray Charles was nearly destroyed through the use of heroin, as he spent years in denial.

It was not until he was about to lose his family and his career, and spend years in prison, that he cleaned up. He broke down the barrier of drugs, which had caused segregation in his own life: the separation from his wife and kids. As the movie demonstrates the challenging process through which Ray Charles finally was able to defeat his own personal demons, it brings our attention to an inspiring and unforgettable true story of human triumph.

Cinema Alchemy:

My client, Barbara, (54) was dissatisfied with her life. Since her childhood she had unsuccessfully tried to lose weight. Her work in a managerial position in a big organization for more than 20 years had become increasingly dissatisfying. Because writing poetry and painting pictures inspired her, we had explored her artistic talents and dreams. But she still rarely engaged in creative pursuits.

One day Barbara came to her session telling me that she was deeply touched by the movie Ray. In response to my inquiry she told me that what effected her most were two things: Ray Charles’ amazing creativity and the fact that he may have developed blindness bec“If he had already been blind when his brother drowned, he could not have blamed himself for the death.” The direction in which this answer seemed to point surprised me.

From experience I knew that, in all likelihood, my client was moved by Ray's tragedy and had shared this response with me, because she was ready to express and explore previously unexplored preconscious material. My next question was a stab in the dark though: I asked her how the connection between a theme of responsibility and physical symptoms might have appeared her own life.

Consequently we explored whether a part of Barbara’s psyche still might hold onto a need for protecting her mom. As this understanding deepened over time, my client developed the capacity to keep her weight off.

I also asked Barbara whether she remembers certain experiences of her own creativity, unfolding in similar ways to the one she had seen on the screen. When she recalled several incidences, we explored these stories for a while. By doing so, as well as by bringing her attention to the physical sensations that were associated with remembering these experiences, she deepened her connection with her artistic nature. Pretty soon Barbara's inner work bore fruit. Holding Ray Charles in the back of her mind, she found deep and consistent joy in her creative pursuits.

Theoretical contemplations:

Because he wanted the real story told, Ray Charles was deeply involved in this film project for years, until his death in June 2004.

Biographically inspired movies frequently have a more powerful impact on the viewer than those that are based on a fantasy screenplay. I found that many of my workshop participants and clients, like Barbara, feel more deeply touched by a biographical motion picture, because they empathize strongly with the historical figure that they perceive behind the film character.

The opposite effect can also be true for some viewers. If this type of film hits too close to home, it sometimes activates a defensive structure and therefore inhibits deeper self exploration.

With Barbara, I used a part of the Cinema Alchemy approach that I call the Evocative Way. This method borrows from dream work. Our clients’ emotional responses to movies, like their nighttime dreams, can serve as a window to their more hidden layers of consciousness. Like exploring their dreams, inquiring into clients’ responses to movie scenes or characters can bring their preconscious inner world to a conscious level.

With Barbara, I used a part of the Cinema Alchemy approach that I call the Evocative Way. This method borrows from dream work. Our clients’ emotional responses to movies, like their nighttime dreams, can serve as a window to their more hidden layers of consciousness. Like exploring their dreams, inquiring into clients' responses to movie scenes or characters can bring their preconscious inner world to a conscious level.

As clients understand their emotional reactions to a movie, they get to know themselves in ways they previously were not aware of. The expanded awareness often helps them let go of unhealthy patterns and reconnect with their authentic self. If they resonate with a movie character in a positive or admiring way, a subsequent inquiry can help these clients to discover their latent and not fully conscious capacities and inner resources.

The Evocative Way helped Barbara let go of inhibitions to her artistic nature. After Ray became the catalyst for increased awareness of old unhealthy patterns in her relationship with her mother, she eventually overcame longstanding problems.

Guidelines for questions:

Suggestions for clients while they watch the film:

• Focus on the metaphorical meaning of this movie for you.

• What parts of the movie touch you most?

• What character do you most identify with and when?

Questions after the movie:

• As you reflect on the parts that touched you most, how does the movie character's experiences remind you of your own? Do certain themes in the film reflect themes of your own life?

• Do you get a glimpse of the capacities that you recognize in an admired movie character inside yourself? How do you feel when you sense the potential of these inner resources?

starReader Feedback:

Film As A Co-Facilitator

Films have always affected me in an uplifting way. Since I was a young boy, right up until this very day as an "older" man, I can't leave the theater without that good feeling. It follows me outside to the car and all the way home, making me want to talk about what I've just experienced. Now, let's get this straight, cinema inspires me to do better, makes me aware of my inner self, it insists that I share my thoughts with others and directs me to seek answers to what I have just witnessed. Hey, this sounds perfect for my drug and alcohol therapy groups.

There are some powerful films out there that can make an addict feel, think, question and seek recovery, strive for that clean and sober lifestyle. "My Name is Bill W.", "Days of Wine and Roses", "The Boost", and "When a Man Loves a Woman", are just a few of the many hollywood productions that have a place on my recovery top ten list. Yes, there is no doubt that this valuable sobriety tool will be used to the fullest in my groups. Lights, camera and action, let's get some recovery!

—Steve Benko, Jr.
Uniontown, Pa.

starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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


-Franklin Seal
freelance writer
editor & webmaster
Moab, UT, USA