The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #22
June, 2006
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starIn the Spotlight:

The movie United 93 (2006) stirred up many discussions. Media psychology professor and senior editor at the Journal of Media Psychology, Stuart Fischoff, was interviewed for the article "Reliving an unforgettable day",which appeared in the Contra Costa Times on April 26, 2006.

Our German readers can learn about CT in their native language now. The German edition of the Financial Times published an interview with me on June 9, 2006: "Filme öffnen das Fenster zur Seele“. The extended version of this interview can be found here.


Richard E. Gill, from the National Psychologist, interviewed Allan Cooperstein, Ph.D, about the use of movies for the therapeutic process. As a result, the article "Take a Spielberg and call me in the morning" was published in May 2006.

A lecture with the title "Cinema Therapy With Children and their Families" was presented by Michelle L. Byrd, MA, LMHC, Bill Forisha, Ph.D., LMFT (WA), LP (MN), and Cathlene Ramsdell, MA at the Minnesota Association of Mental Health Conference on May 2, 2006 in Duluth, MN . The presenters stated: "By referencing fascinating film characters and familiar dramatic vignettes, a child may reveal his own internal process while having the opportunity to keep an emotional distance from stressful or frightening topics."

In his interview with the Sofia News Agency on May 19, 2006, the London-based Berny Wooder said that movie therapy is moving into the mainstream.

My article "'Reel' Reality Is Essence of Cinema Therapy" was published in The Advocate, the monthly newsletter of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, a nonprofit association based in Alexandria, Virginia.

Denise Mann, from WebMD, interviewed me for the article "Movie Therapy: Using Movies for Mental Health", which appeared in April 2006.

Book Review: June Wilson wrote a wonderful review of my book E-Motion Picture Magic - A Movie Lover's Guide to Healing and Transformation for Psychiatric Services (February 2006).

Karin Leonard offers a free monthly e-zine that supports your personal and professional evolution. Karin says: "Take a mini sojourn to refuel with inspiration, quick tips and current movie reviews." To subscribe, visit or e-mail

The Institute for Spiritual Entertainment Los Angeles (ISELA) has the mission to promote, create and produce movies as well as other media that awaken the truth within us in order to inspire individual and social transformation. The idea is to ask questions such as "who are we?" and "why are we here?", provoking change toward higher consciousness and awareness. Their intent is to assist others in making films from their highest place while expressing their true selves. The institute's long term goal is to build a fully functional production studio with a focus on making films that are spiritual and empowering in nature. This new genre is growing very fast now and includes media that is positive, uplifting, healing and inspiring. lists movies under the category "Cinema Therapy for a Meaningful Life" here.

Thomas P. Hébert and Kristie L. Speirs Neumeister wrote "Fostering the social and emotional development of gifted children through guided viewing of film" for SENG (Supporting the social and emotional development of gifted children).


Jean-Marie Mitchell , from from Palo Alto, California wrote:
"Have you ever made a significant life change as a result of watching a movie?
Have you suddenly understood yourself better or resolved a deep inner conflict after watching a film? Have you ever experienced an unusual state of consciousness during or directly after viewing a movie?   Do you have an ongoing healing relationship with movies?   Would you be willing to share your experience as part of a research project?   Jean-Marie Mitchell, a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California, is conducting research exploring the transformative aspects of film-viewing.   If you would like to join her in a journey of self-exploration about your film experiences, contact Jean-Marie by sending an e-mail to All responses are confidential.

Spiritual Film Experiences

Jean-Marie Mitchell is also planning to conduct research into spiritual experiences associated with film-viewing during a workshop being offered this summer at the Esalen Institute.   The popular workshop, entitled, "Renewing Wholeness: The Spiritual Experience of Viewing Great Films" is an annual event co-led by Dr. Francis Lu and Brother David Steindl-Rast. This year, Jean-Marie hopes to be able to interview some participants about their experiences in order to better understand the psycho-spiritual dynamics and qualitative components of the experience. The project is currently in the planning phase. "Ideally, the research will provide an opportunity for participants to reflect more deeply on their experiences, bringing added value to the individual participant and to the workshop, as well as providing important insight into the phenomenon." For more information on the workshop, please visit Esalen's website, . For more information on the research project, or to share your own spiritual film-viewing experiences, please contact Jean-Marie at ."

Stuart Fischoff published several very interesting research articles in the Journal of Media Psychology.

starWorkshops and Online Course:

Birgit Wolz

July 21, 2006, 7:00 - 9:00 PM
Friday Night at the Movies - An Introduction to Cinema Therapy
At the Annual Conference of the American Mental Health Counselors Association in St. Louis, MO, July 20-22, 2006.
To register click here.

September 15, 2006, 6:00 - 7:30 PM
Cinema Therapy - Using the Power of Films for the Therapeutic Process
Sponsored by the Marin Chapter of CAMFT (California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists)
At the Corte Madera Town Center: 770 Tamalpais Drive, #201, Corte Madera, CA  
Contact: (415) 492-9850 or
(Dorie Rosenberg, MFT)

Readers who are psychotherapist might be interested in my new online course. In a short deviation from my CT, work I developed "Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual (PDM): A New Approach to Diagnosis in Psychotherapy".

Francis Lu and Brother David Steindl-Rast

July 28-August 4, 2006
Renewing Wholeness: The Spiritual Experience of Viewing Great Films
At the Esalen Institute, Big Sur, CA.

In celebration of their 15th Esalen film seminar together, Francis and
Brother David will present a 7-day retrospective of great films that have been highlights of past seminars.  

Shoshanna April

July 8, and August 6th 2006 (Sundays), 7:00 PM
Spiritual Cinema Circle
The movies shown are for those seeking a new form of spirituality that unifies humanity rather than divides us, that recognizes the organic divinity of all of us, and that is committed to discovering what heights we can reach when we are at our best.
Discussion from the heart to follow film.
Place: Richmond, CA (directions given at registration)
Cost: Love donation gratefully received
Registration: please e-mail or call Shoshanna April

starReader Feedback:

About the CT review of the movie Brokeback Mountain (2006) in CT newsletter #21:

Thanks for the review. I've not seen the movie, and i'm not sure if I can ever bear to watch it (I'm too invested in the characters as I imagine them and wow-too painful). I'm a big fan of Annie Proulx, and read the story a couple of years ago in a collection of her short strories about Wyoming, way before I'd heard about the movie being made. I'm glad they made the movie so non-readers could experience something of this story.

I can tell you, that this is probably the most powerful story I've ever read, and it certainly did not seem like a short story - more like a novel when I was done. I have to admit that I was simply stunned by it and hardly able to think of anything else for weeks. I'm not gay, but I think most of us have inner secrets that we struggle with and have a hard time accepting our "shadow side" leading to rejection of ourselves and our loved ones. I'm certain this movie will have therapeutic uses for many.


starA Cinema Therapy Q&A:

Paula asked: Could you suggest a movie for a 21 year old struggling from being overweight and bullied throughout grade school and high school? As a coping mechanism, she induces self-harm. She spends much of her time watching movies. So, I viewed your wonderful website. Please help. I am an LPC and NCC. I just explored your site and am certainly interested in learning more.

Birgit's response: I believe that this young woman needs to find a way to gain self-esteem. I would suggest you check out the section about self-esteem and/or overcoming challenges in my film index on or my book:

Movies like Real Women have Curves (2002) and My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) might be helpful. I believe that some professional counseling is needed in conjunction with watching these movies.


Therapeutic Movie Review Column
By Birgit Wolz Ph.D.

Sliding Doors

Director: Peter Horwitt
Producers: Philippa Braithwaite, William Horberg, Sydney Pollack
Screenwriter: Peter Howitt
Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, John Hannah, John Lynch, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Zara Turner, Douglas McFerran

MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1998


The story begins with Londoner Helen being fired from her job in a public relations firm for 'borrowing' the last four bottles of beer. Shocked at her sudden dismissal, she makes her way back home via the Tube. In a metaphysical twist, Helen's life splits into two divergent paths, the outcome of the train's sliding doors. In one reality, Helen makes a last minute dash and manages to slip through these doors before they close, and in the other, the doors slide shut and she misses the train.

From this point on, the film distinguishes between the two possible paths of Helen's life. The one that catches the train (Helen A) returns home early to find her live-in writer boyfriend Gerry in bed with Lydia, an old flame. In a parallel reality, the one that missed the train (Helen B) , gets mugged, goes to the hospital, and eventually arrives home to find Gerry looking as if he got a late start on his day, because Lydia had left already.

In an intricate cross-referencing braid the film continues, juxtaposing the changes arising from one insignificant event. Helen A moves in with her supportive best friend, dumps Gerry, and builds her own successful PR business. When her emotional pain eventually heals, she becomes enamored with James, a genuinely caring, witty, and talkative man. Meanwhile, Helen B's life is all downhill as she -- hopeless and depressed -- takes on two menial jobs in order to support herself and Gerry while he shams finishing his novel and instead continues his affair.

 Even though Helen A has more of a 'fairy tale' experience compared to her less fortunate counterpart, her path is also uneven and tumultuous. For example, a couple of misunderstandings between James and Helen challenge their relationship.

At the film's close, when Helen's divergent paths re-converge and another metaphysical twist leaves the viewer with a thought-provoking conclusion, Helen B, surprisingly, ends up being the luckier one.

Cinema Alchemy:

Sliding Doors is a favorite in my Cinema Alchemy groups and workshops. The main theme in our explorations circles around the insight that sometimes when the worst happens, it sets us on a better path than the one we were on -- even when we have no idea there is a better alternative.   When I introduce this movie in conjunction with reflective exercises, workshop participants often develop more patience and acceptance with the ups and downs in their lives.

I observed the greatest impact of this movie with my client Sally. She responded especially to one sequence of this film. Sally arrived at one of our sessions confused and worried. The previous night she had yelled at her boyfriend Jim, which led to a big fight. My client felt bad because she saw that the small mistake he had made when they cooked dinner didn't justify her acting out in this way. Now Sally understood that the real reason for her reaction was her hurt about his plans to leave for a fishing trip with friends. This made her feel excluded and abandoned.

As we explored her reaction, Sally came to understand that her anger was a way for her to push him away while defending against her vulnerability and fear of abandonment. She sensed that it would help both of them if she apologized, but was afraid that this would make her look stupid and needy. She told me: "Jim might take advantage of my vulnerability, criticize me, and push me away. Then I would feel even worse."

As we worked with her concern, Sally started to suspect that her beliefs might be based on a father projection. But a significant shift didn't happen until I suggested that she viewed Sliding Doors . I asked her to focus specifically on two scenes. In the first scene her fear of rejection keeps Helen (A) from calling James after a separation that was based on a misunderstanding. In the subsequent scene she displays a combination of strength and vulnerability when she runs into him on the street. Now Helen expresses her interest in James even though she is nervous and not sure whether he is still interested in her.

When Sally came back for her next session, she told me that she felt inspired by the movie. I suggested parts work with chairs, while using the character Helen. I asked my client to sit in chair one and sense Helen's fear and vulnerability as it was displayed in the first scene -- the vulnerable-and-afraid-Helen-chair. This way Sally's vulnerability received a voice through her identification with the character. When I asked my client whether this was a familiar experience and invited her to speak from this inner place, she uncovered the deeper source of these feelings. There was, in fact, a connection to her father, who had frequently told her that she should stop crying, otherwise he would give her a reason to cry. After she seemed to have reached sufficient clarity about this object relation, I asked Sally to change to chair number two -- the courageous-and-strong-vulnerable-Helen-chair. Now my client "became" the Helen that she had seen in the second scene. Sally was able to sense Helen's courage to faced her fear. When I asked her about her physical sensations, she discovered a solid, strong quality in her belly. I pointed out that, although she was sitting in "Helen's chair", she felt her own strength. Once she owned this experience, I asked Sally to imagine apologizing to her boyfriend. Immediately her vulnerability arose again, but she did not push it away. For the first time, my client experienced a strength that allowed her to tolerate her vulnerability.

Consequently her perception of Jim changed as well. Sally was able to understand more clearly how she had projected her father on him. Remembering now how good-hearted her boyfriend actually is, she realized that they will have an opportunity to experience more emotional intimacy, when she expresses the truth about the hurt she had felt beneath her anger and apologizes for her yelling.

Theoretical contemplations:

Movie characters, with their distinct personalities and behaviors, become place-holders for the parts the client works with, either through chair work or imagery work.

Attributing film characters to inner parts helps

•  identify and distinguish parts,

•  understand their relationship to each other,

•  adopt an attitude of respectful attention to parts,

•  accept disowned parts,

•  reassign new roles to parts,

•  mediate between parts and resolving conflicts,

because they make the experience of inner parts more concrete.

In times of emotional stress, clients are usually not in touch with their strength and courage and the means by which they can access them. Through parts work, by identifying with different characters or different aspects of one character, clients can recognize that these qualities are latent and available to them, as Sally's case demonstrated. I believe that, without the aid of the movie experience, it would have been much harder for my client to recognize these capacities in herself.


Questions and statements during parts work:

•  What movie character(s) or different aspects of one character do you identify with?

•  Let yourself "be" one character or aspect.

•  What do you sense in your body?

•  Do you experience a part of yourself sometimes this way?

•  What function does this part have in your life? How does it serve or hinder you?

•  Repeat these steps with different parts

When working with a part that represents a desired quality: How do you feel emotionally and physically when you sense this inner resource? Picture your life as you live this quality more fully.


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