The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #23
August, 2006
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The new book Rethinking Adolescence: Using Story to Navigate Life's Uncharted Years
by Jay D'Ambrosio, published by Rowman & Littlefield.
will be available on August 28, 2006
This book includes:
· Discussion topics and answers for use with adolescents
· Recommendations of movies and stories that are effective in dealing with various issues.
It is useful to parents, teachers, youth workers, counselors, clergy, and mentors.
Jay D'Ambrosio is an ancient history teacher, mentor, and conflict mediator at Seneca Valley Middle School in Harmony, Pennsylvania. He also serves as a youth mentor and family and relationship mediator at North Way Counseling Services in Wexford, Pennsylvania.

An Italian colleague, Cristina Miliacca, informed me that she has been carrying out research on using the movies in psychotherapy since 1992. She has applied movies in psychotherapy and in training since 1994 in Italy. Her Italian Web site can be found here.

Cinema Therapy in Singapore: On August 14, 2006, The Electric New Paper published Feeling Blue? Forget the Therapist Watch Movies - Movie Therapy uses films to help people work out their life issues by Sylvia Toh Paik Choo.
This article makes some useful movie suggestions. Toh Paik Choo states: "The reason movies work ... is, when a troubled person finds it difficult to express his problem, one less painful way is to project it through a character."

The article, Movie motivation: Films can play role in self-improvement scripts, in Currents (Wilmington Morning Star - Wilmington, NC) suggest many films that "motivate, inspire and encourage us to achieve our goals."

In Reel Dieting: Weight Loss at the Movies, published on Aug 3, 2006 on WBAY (Green Bay, WI) Charles Stuart Platkin writes: "We all know that movie food can be dangerous to your waistline, not to mention that simply sitting in the dark tends to give you the feeling that you can eat with immunity. But don't cancel your cinematic plans just yet. There are movies that can actually stimulate you to action."
Referring to Gary Solomon's books, Platkin suggests movies for the following subject areas: Motivation to Become Active, Body Makeovers, Trials and Tribulations of Dieting, Get Cooking and Enjoy Food, Overcoming Obstacles, Confidence Boosters, and Not Hungry?


Michael Lee Powell, Rebecca A. Newgent, and Sang Min Lee published Group cinematherapy: Using metaphor to enhance adolescent self-esteem in Arts in Psychotherapy, 33(3), 247-253. This study examines the effectiveness of a cinematherapy intervention at enhancing the perceived self-esteem of 16 youth with a serious emotional disturbance. An abstract of this article can be found on ScienceDirect.

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. She gives us an impession of her project by taking us on a quick journey through one viewer's response to a film, an example of cinematherapy in action.

Bagdad Café (aka Out of Rosenheim; 1987, MGM)

Heartwarming story of a German woman stranded in a small American town who transforms her own life and the lives of those around her.   This might be a useful film for people who find themselves having to start over, facing difficult situations or people, or feeling alone in the world.

Questions for discussion:
Which character are you most like?Which character would you most want to be like?
If there was a message in the film especially for you, what might it be?
If the Bagdad Café represented some particular area of your life, what might it be and why?
What "magic" would be needed to transform this area of your life; who could bring it?
The theme song for this movie was, "I am Calling You" sung by Jevetta Steele - what is calling you?

One Viewer's Response (shared with permission)
I most related to one of the main characters, a strong-willed, large-bodied German woman.   I, too, have a large physical build, enjoy a passion for music, and have no children.   I deal with many angry people in my work, people whose lives appear as desolate as the landscape into which the heroine walked at the opening of the film.   I have sometimes felt that I have been left by the side of the road of life, abandoned to start over in a strange place, with nothing but myself as a resource.   And I am in a particularly desolate period in my life right now, resonating with some of the dry harsh desert scenes of the movie.   This woman's journey, the way in which she unflinchingly dug in her heels, did whatever was needed, and also found time to discover and share her passion was quite inspiring to me.   She inspired those around her, as well, and they together created a better life.   Aside from the delightful characters and their evolving relationships, themes of misjudgment, trust, compassion, perseverance, and faith make this film a stirring one. In watching the film, I was reminded of the possibilities of life, and the gifts that I bring to those around me as well as to myself.   I was left feeling uplifted and just a bit more hopeful.

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.

Movies help in research: In the article Identifying Learning Problems,the Ivanhoe Broadcast News reported on February 17, 2006 about a new test, called BioMAP. New research shows about 30 percent of children with learning problems have trouble processing and understanding sound. But there hasn't been a real accurate way to diagnose the problem ... until this new test. Three electrodes are used to monitor the brain's response to a pattern of sounds that children hear while watching a movie.


Birgit Wolz

For mental health practitioners:

September 15, 2006, 6:00 - 7:30 PM
Cinema Therapy - Using the Power of Films for the Therapeutic Process
In recent years, the practice of using movies as tools in therapy--in conjunction with established therapeutic methods--is becoming more popular. Used thoughtfully and creatively, the emotional and cognitive impacts of films can become a powerful ally in our work.

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)

For everybody:

January 14 - January 19, 2007
Esalen Institute, Big Sur, California
Using the Power of Movies for Healing and Transformation
Inquiries into our emotional responses to movies open a window to our soul. How we relate to a film's archetypal motifs reveals our inner life. Together we build a bridge between our realizations in "reel" life and our experiences in real life. Watching films with conscious awareness makes us recognize aspects of our shadow self, and help us find our authentic self and essence.

Psychotherapists can earn 26 CEU
Fee: depends on choice of accomodation
Registration: 831-667-3005 or
General information about Esalen can be found here.

Shoshanna April

September 9th 2006 (Sunday), 6:00 p.m.- 11:00 p.m.
Spiritual Cinema Circle and Rumi Retreat
The movies shown are for those seeking a new form of spirituality that unifies humanity rather than divides us, hat 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)
How: Pre registration is required with a $34 deposit by September 3rd.
Call Shoshanna April 510-502-4164 or write to to reserve your space.
Fee: $68 includes all materials. No one turned away for lack of funds.  If for any reason retreat is cancelled, all money will be fully refunded.

star Cinema Therapy Q&A

Bjarne Eiby (from Denmark):
I often think: where can I ask somebody, when I could use an idea for a film with certain issues? Can you tell me that?
Right now I am looking for a film for a younger client (25). His mother suffers from cancer, but he does not want to face his fear and concerns. As he says: why get worse by talking? But he is getting more and more worse. I think a film – and a talk about that – could be an opener. Does anyone have any ideas about working with couples and films? I am thinking about this at the moment.

Birgit Wolz:
You can find about 2,500 categorized movie suggestions in my book E-Motion Picture Magic and almost as many in my Film Index on On the same site you can also find many "therapeutic" movie reviews.

For your younger client whose mother suffers from cancer you might use “Regarding Henry”, “One True Thing”, “Marvin’s Room” or “Terms of Endearment”. In my film indices you might look under “Grief” or “Overcoming Challenges”.


Therapeutic Movie Review Column
By Birgit Wolz

The Secret Lives of Dentists

Director: Alan Rudolph
Producers: Campbell Scott, George VanBuskirk
Screenwriter: Craig Lucas
Stars: Campbell Scott, Robin Tunney, Denis Leary, Hope Davis, Adele D'Man 
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2003


Based on a novella from Jane Smiley's book The Age of Grief , this movie tells the story about an apparently happy family. But we learn fast that there is more going on than what meets the eye.

David and his wife Dana are successful dentists who work in the same office. They have been married for ten years. David is the primary parent for their three daughters . He senses that his wife has grown more distant but he doesn't know what to do about it. He suspects that Dana may be having an affair with the musical director of the amateur opera troupe she sings in. Speaking a bit too loud to her, one can sense David studying her for evidence of sin. His eyes study her legs and the hem of her skirt, wondering what her sexual needs might be.

Eventually David secretly happens upon his wife and the director having an intimate moment. He is furious with her for betraying him but unwilling to confront her with what he knows, lest she leave him. To keep his family together, he demonstrates the well-meaning victim of circumstance who was wronged. As a metaphor for his inner world and analogy for his view of relationships he admires the resilience of teeth above all things: "Only life can kill teeth, because once you die, your teeth go right on living".

  At the same time his more alive inner world appears in the form of David's destructive shadow self. He sinks into a fantasy, which takes the form of the ghost-like Slater, an angered patient. David had filled a cavity of the real person, Slater, only to be confronted at the community opera by him, as he holds up a filling that had dropped out and informs the audience that David is a lousy dentist. Now Slater becomes a manifestation of David's repressed emotions by entering his consciousness as an alter ego who keeps pushing him to act out his darkest thoughts. He encourages David to ditch the wife, go on the road, chuck it all, and leave the kids. When his daughters act out, he tells David, "These kids ought to be struck. May I hit them?" David has to think for a moment before he says no.

When his wife tries to talk to David he is unavailable.   She says she wishes they were closer: "You scare me a little." At one point Dana tells him she is experiencing their marriage as getting smaller and smaller.

David's uptightness and the unhealthy dynamics between them send waves of tension throughout the household. A physician implies that their oldest daughter's stomach problems are related to arguments the parents are having in front of the children. The youngest daughter wants nothing but her daddy, even striking the mother when placed in her arms.

And then, a stomach virus mimics the sick relationship between the parties. David throws up first before the illness passes from one family member to the next, over the course of five wearying, nauseous days.   He cares for the family while coming apart inside. The physical purging and weakness seems to induce a process of emotional cleansing as well as increased vulnerability. As David and Dana let go of their defensive postures the whole family discovers a new potential for emotional intimacy. The couple stops taking each other for granted.   

Cinema Alchemy

I noticed that using systems-oriented therapy and communication training in combination with watching films that show family dynamics helps clients

•  to understand their problem as a function of being part of a larger system,

•  to identify by comparison how they had or had not satisfactorily adjusted in their system,

•  to retrieve or learn necessary attitudes, perceptions, behaviors, etc.

•  to communicate unfamiliar concepts to their partners through films that introduce readily grasped images,

•  and to meaningfully connect or reconnect through improved communication.

When one family member resists therapy, encouraging them to watch a movie where a characters struggles with similar issues often helps the resisting client to open up because they are less intimidated by the therapeutic process and less afraid of getting blamed.

A married couple in their thirties, Christine and Sean, came in telling me that they were close to getting divorced. Since the couple had gotten married a year ago they had reached an impasse in their relationship. They lived with Christine's eight year-old son, Mathew, whose grades at school have been declining for a while.   Mathew's biological father was not in the picture.

Sean complained that Christine is not affectionate any more and rarely wants to have sex.   He called her "cold and indifferent" and believed that their communication was compromised because for Christine, English was a second language.

Christine thought that her language skills were adequate. She had given up trying to explain to her husband that she doesn't feel attracted to him when she feels taken for granted because he "wedges out in front of the TV instead of engaging with her or helping with chores".

After several sessions into our work, when they were particularly hard to move out of their blaming game, I ask them to watch The Secret Lives of Dentists and gave them the handout that is mentioned below.

The couple came back shocked because they recognized the effect that their tension might have on Mathew. Both identified with David and Dana in different ways.   Suddenly our work started to move forward again. The film served them as a metaphor that represented the feelings they couldn't put into words before without attacking the other person.

Guidelines for working with couples

Handout given before the movie:

Keep the following questions in mind while you watch:

• What parts of the movie touch you most?

• What character do you most identify with and when?

• How does Dana's and David's relationship affect their children?

• How could they improve their communication?

• What helped them improve their relationship?  

Questions after the movie:

• How does Dana and David's relationship compare to yours?

• What can you learn from them?

• What can you do better?

• The fact that you were touched by parts of the movie might indicate that there is a message that guides you toward healing and wholeness for yourself and your family. What is this message?

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