The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #24
November, 2006
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The American Film Institute (AFI) released a lists of the 100 most inspiring movies, the most romantic movies, the greatest movie musicals, greatest movie quotes, movie songs, movie laughs, movie thrills, movie heroes, movie villains, movie stars, and the greatest American movies of all time.

Check out the Web site by movie therapist, Bernie Wooder, from the UK. This site contains information about useful movies as well as movie therapy in general.

After discovering on the Web, the creator of a German Web site,, Wolfgang Ellenberger, featured my CT work on his site and his monthly newsletter where he wrote referring to me: "To my surprise she grew up just half an hour by car from where I live and where the vision of should grow." This was an amazing discovery for me too.

The GRID ® (Glycemic Response Inhibition Diet) Clinic at the Sharp Rehabilitation Center in San Diego, CA introduces Cinema Therapy as a new weight loss method by using contemporary film as a teaching tool. On their site the clinic explains: "Because movies elicit strong emotions, they can be a very effective tool for creating change. Everyone has experienced sadness, joy, fear, desire, guilt, or other emotions while watching a movie. Exploring why a particular movie scene elicits a particular emotion can help people learn quickly about their own emotional triggers that are related to overeating."


Jim Knickerbocker is a Ph.D. student at Fielding Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA is doing research on the use of film and stories for personal growth and healing, with a focus on the "matching problem," i.e., how to make it easier to find the right film for a specific person and personal growth challenge. The statement of direction for his dissertation can be found here.  
In essence, he would like to do for story-based therapy what search engines like Google have done for the Internet: make it significantly easier for therapists and clients to find the best films for the client's specific situation.   The challenge is that unlike a web page, you can't simply scan the text of a story to know what it's really about, and people can't easily translate their personal problems and personality into a few words of text they can type into a search engine.   Matching the right story to the person's situation will take a far more sophisticated approach, which is the focus of Jim's dissertation.   He has a brief concept paper describing his research, which he will send on request.
Since Jim is in the early stages of his research, there are many types of support that would be helpful:
•  Discussion: Jim would like to talk to both therapists and clients who have made use of film or stories as part of therapy or other personal growth processes, in particular to understand your experience of the "matching process" i.e., the process of finding the right film or story for a specific client situation, what works and what does not work.
•  Film reviewers: Once I determine the criteria that might improve the matching process, I will need help to review some films using these specific criteria so I can put them in my database and test it with people who are searching for films.
•  References: Any books or articles on the subject, especially beyond the ones that everyone knows about (e.g. Hesley, Solomon, Wolz).
Jim graduated from Princeton University cum laude with a Bachelor's degree in Economics, has a Master's Degree in Management from John F. Kennedy University (Orinda, CA), a Master's Degree in Human and Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate Institute (Santa Barbara, CA), and is doing dissertation research towards a Ph.D. in Human Development, also at Fielding.   He lives in the Santa Cruz mountains two hours outside San Francisco and is currently an Organization Effectiveness consultant for Hewlett-Packard.
Contact Info:
Jim can be reached at

Laurie Aldrich, MAC, Ph.D. Candidate is a doctorate student from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Her dissertation is an Analysis of Animation using both Jungian and post- modern techniques. The concept will examine non-fairy tale based films, such as Lilo and Stitch, Shriek, and a Japanese animated film called Spirited Away.
Laurie is seeking an external reader to help round out her dissertation team. She can be reached at


Birgit Wolz

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 helps us find our authentic self and essence.
See Page 17 of the Esalen catalog.

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

Shoshanna April

November 5th 2006 (Sunday), 7:00 p.m.
Spiritual Cinema Circle

Presenting: Indigo Evolution  and Baker's Men
"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)
How: Pre-registration required, space is limited to 12 participants

Cost: Love donation
Call Shoshanna April 510-502-4164 or write to to reserve your space.

star Cinema Therapy Around the World

Claudia Biris wrote from Rumania about her new Cinema Therapy (in Romanian: filmoterapie) group :
"The CT group started its activity in April this year and we're still continuing our activity. 
The group consists of 8 students on Psychology, 7 females and one male. They are between 21 and 24 years old.
They all love movies and want to know and develop themselves. After graduation they want to attend psychotherapy training courses because they want to practice psychotherapy after their graduation.
It is an experimental group. At this level, I was interested to study how the levels of empathy, intelligence, creativity and the strategy of problem solving are involved in the positive effects of therapeutic viewing.
We've been using 5 movies by now: Like Water for Chocolate, Gattaca, The Shawshank Redemption, Anger Management, Steel Magnolias and only two subjects (with obsessive-compulsive traits of personality) saw As Good As It Gets. I selected these movies due to subjects' personal problems. They viewed the movies by themselves, at home.
I taught them how to use your Film Matrix and the Self Matrix and we talk about the Growth Matrix. Actually, I adapted your matrices and CBT theory, methods and techniques.
Claudia can be reached at

HOPE worldwide Singapore © presented Movie Therapy™ as a breakthrough therapy approach that uses movies as a counseling tool to help people work through issues in their lives with a counsellor: "More than just a novel idea, will prove to be just as effective as (if not more effective than) traditional counseling tools when it comes to helping clients attain the self-awareness necessary in the healing process."
Suzanne Jung and Steven Chia of Channel NewsAsia recently interviewed Dr. Gary Solomon on this subject.


Therapeutic Movie Review Column
By Birgit Wolz

The Dogwalker

Director: Jacques Thelemaque
Producers: Hilary Six, Linda Miller, Diane Gaidry, Toni-Ann Parker, David Diaan
Screenwriter: Jacques Thelemaque
Cast: Diane Gaidry, Pam Gordon, Lyn Vaus, Lisa Jane Persky, Alan Gelfant, John Nielsen, Kerry Bishop, Alan DeSatti
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2002


Dogs have it better than some humans in this movie. The pets enjoy a pampered existence, while those who get paid to exercise them live marginally on the fringes of Los Angeles.

The Dogwalker follows the moving, transformational journey of Ellie Moore who crosses the continent from Buffalo, New York, to Los Angeles to escape from her abusive boyfriend. When she arrives, Ellie is promptly robbed of all her possessions and is reduced to living on the streets. After a failed attempt at prostitution, she wakes up in a public park and meets Betsy, an older, genuinely eccentric, misanthropic, but talented professional dog-walker. It turns out that Betsy needs some help as well, and Ellie becomes her apprentice.

The relationship between the cranky old dog-walker and her unstable new helper proves the catalyst for the emotional journey Ellie must undertake. In Betsy, she finds a mirror of herself - a lonely, angry, complex woman whose own troubled past proves disturbingly close to her own. The women slowly learn that they have more in common than they first realized. Ellie discovers that Betsy's demeanor hides a past more dark and damaged than her own. They bond by showing each other their scars, the results of being battered. Betsy had killed her abusive husband in his sleep. Because she was sentenced to many years in prison, she lost all contact with her children.

In walking the dogs, Ellie finds lost pieces of herself. She fumbles with the leash to her life - struggling to hold on as it pulls her toward a vision of brighter future before her past can catch up with her. Learning to walk the dogs becomes a metaphor for gaining control over her life.

Eventually, Ellie learns that Betsy is dying of cancer. She inherits the dog-walking business. During Betsy's final days, Ellie's former boyfriend returns. Now Ellie is forced to use the disciplinary strength she has had to learn as a dog-walker and becomes a newly independent woman.

Cinema Alchemy

Louise came to her first session because her best friend urged her to start therapy. My new client felt desperate and helpless because her husband, Harry, had been verbally abusive for several years, especially under the influence of alcohol. He refused to consider individual or couples therapy, and did not want to address his drinking problem. Louise revealed to me that she has never confronted him about his demeaning attacks because she was not sure whether she might deserve them. Besides, she feared that she might agitate him even more. Harry always apologizes and asks for forgiveness after he calms down from an outburst of rage. Then she gains hope that things will improve. Although my client understood the cyclical pattern of her husband's behavior, and became increasingly anxious and depressed during this marriage, she did not consider divorce. The couple has no children. During our first few sessions, Louise was wondering: What if I get even more depressed because I feel lonely and financially less secure after a separation? Besides, what if he is right, and I deserves to be yelled at?

Later, Louise remembered that she was frequently criticized by her father during her childhood. Since she was receptive to movie metaphors, I explained that this might have created a psychological imprint, which I call an "undesired inner movie". Our "inner movies" play the stories that we tell ourselves about the world around us and about who we are. The "plots" of these inner movies often tell stories about our world and ourselves that are based on early life experiences. Projecting a childhood "movie" on today's reality, Louise struggled with the conviction that there was something wrong with her, that she was not good enough and that therefore she did not have a right to speak up and free herself from an abusive situation. Slowly, Louise started to understand that her self doubts, her fear of separation, as well as her belief that standing up to Harry could lead to more conflict, made her stuck, resentful, anxious and depressed.

Because Louise loved movies, she was excited about my suggestion to view the film Dogwalker. I encouraged her to pay attention to Ellie's character development and to imagine herself in Ellie's role. Louise was fascinated and watched this movie several times while she paid close attention to Ellie's changes. The movie became a catalyst for my client's psychological development. In Cinema Alchemy language, I explained to her that, by observing Ellie's transformation, she "copied" the character's healing experience into her own "inner movie screen" and at the same time "erased" her old, undesired inner film.

Within a few weeks, Louise developed a more positive self-image that led to increased autonomy in most of her relationships. Eventually she felt strong enough to confront her husband about his abusive behavior and alcoholism. Harry's continued lack of receptivity started to make her angry now. It didn't take very long, and Louise expressed to me that she wanted to prepare herself for a divorce - internally and financially. From this point on, we have mostly worked toward this new goal in our sessions.   

Theoretical Contemplations

In this Cinema Alchemy approach, The Prescriptive Way , specific films are prescribed as a kind of "teaching tale" to model specific problem-solving behavior or to help our clients to access and develop their potential. They are guided to "become" a character in their imagination who models desired behaviors and skills. This is a way to help clients acquire the film character's attributes.

This approach is based on the understanding that watching a movie can put clients into a light trance state, similar to the state often achieved via guided visualizations. Like trance work, watching movies in this way guides them toward a mature or wise inner part. Subsequently, this part helps clients overcome problems and strengthen previously unfamiliar positive qualities.

Guidelines for questions and suggestions to clients

•  Did you see one or several characters who modeled behavior in certain parts of the film that you would like to emulate?

•  Did these character(s) develop certain strengths or other capacities that you would like to gain as well?

•  Imagine yourself as one of these characters when you watch the movie. Imagine yourself with the mature or wise aspects of the character's personality.

•  How would your life look like if you had the character's qualities or capacities?


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