The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #26
May, 2007
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starIn the Spotlight:

Life at the Movies: The Art of Cinema Therapy by Sabrina D. Black, M.A., L.L.P.C., C.A.C.-I, was published on This Individual and Family Therapist in Michigan describes how she uses uses movies consistently as an adjunctive form of service when planning treatment. She mentions several categories that may be used as catalysts to get the person thinking about his or her own issues.

In the issue of issue of 2007-02-19 in the New Yorker, Adam Green wrote about the work of Glen O. Gabbard, a psychoanalyst and a professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, in Houston. The article The Pictures: Analysts Unspooled emphasizes his work describing unflattering portraits of mental-health professionals on film. In 1999 Gabbard published his book Psychiatry and the Cinema.

Brooke Holgerson wrote Film Therapy: Comedic Ode to Depression in The on February 23, 2007. She emphasizes that the movie The Good Girl darkly depicts what it’s like to be depressed in middle America today.

Noah H. Kersey Ph.D. described in his article The Art Of CinemaTherapy - What I Learned From The Movies (published on March 29, 2007) how profoundly films affected his life, and how much movie quotes inspired him.

For our German readers: A brief description of some basic principles of CT are mentioned in Filme nicht nur für Stadtneurotiker.


Eric Jaffe interviewed Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D., (founder of the Journal of Media Psychology, who in 2003 retired from the psychology department at California State University, Los Angeles), Dolf Zillmann (University of Alabama), Ira Konigsberg (Professor Emeritus of Film and Video Studies at the University of Michigan), APS Charter Member John V. Flowers (Chapman University), and myself for his article Reel to Real: Psychology Goes to the Movies - Grab some popcorn, find a seat, and watch as psychologists uncover the behavioral impact of film. This article appeared in the APS (Association for Psychological Science) Observer in March 2007. It mentions the new journal, Projections, which will publish its first issue this summer. That issue will reflect the full spectrum of interdisciplinary science and cinema: Cognitive psychologist Patrick Hogan will write on the way the mind processes a movie; Norman Holland will discuss the relationship between neuroscience and film; Torben Grodal will touch on the silver screen’s emotional impact.

Life Coach and Licensed Professional Counselor, Michal Kahn, L.P.C., J.D., offers a coaching program, Reel to Real, for individuals and groups in Charlotte, NC.

Doug Manning, a former school counselor, has put up a site featuring inspirational and thought-provoking quotes from the movies: Reel Life Wisdom.

Sean Wolf Hill, M.S., L.P.C.C., makes specific recommendations how use movies in Cinema Therapy.

Beverly West (co-author of the "Cinematherapy" series) and Jason Bergund team up to help gay men find comfort, humor, and inspiration by watching movies. They celebrate the release of their new book Gay Cinematherapy: The Queer Guy's Guide to Finding Your Rainbow One Movie at a Time.

In a previous issue of this newsletter Bjarne Eiby from Denmamark, who works with cancer patients, asked our readers whether anybody has movie suggestions about a film in which a cancer patient survives his/her illness. Now Bjarne found such a movie. He wrote: "Do you know the movie 'Beatiful Joe'? It is about a man with a brain tumor. The doctors say that he won’t live very long. But after an operation (in the end of the movie) it seems like he actually survives! Until then he is living as if he has just very little time left – and that is what the movie is about in its own special way. "

The ChristianAnswers.Net pubwrites: "Movies can be more than entertainment; they can be therapeutic--helping people see themselves, others or issues in a new light. They can open up productive dialogue. This list on 53 topics has been compiled from suggestions received from various Christians. It includes both secular and Christian films. Hollywood films are easier to obtain, but require more discernment.

starWorkshops and Online Courses:

Birgit Wolz and Ofer Zur

Ofer Zur, Ph. D., and I co-developed the new continuing education on-line course Boundaries and the Movies: Learning about Therapeutic Boundaries through the Movies.
6 CEU Credits
Continuing education credits are available for Psychologists (APA), MFTs & LCSWs (CA-BBS), Social Workers (ASWB) and counselors in California and other states.
Click here for more information.

Francine Goldberg

Francine Goldberg, Ph.D., uses movies to illustrate the symptoms and behaviors of certain psychiatric disorders, providing a clear picture for those first learning about the illnesses. Her Web site, Beneficial Film Guides, offers e-books an online continuing education courses for both professional and non-professional audiences. These introductory level courses have been approved for continuing education.

Francis and Brother David

Esalen Film Seminar July 27-August 3, 2007, Big Sur, CA
Families in Film: Now and Forever

A family is that warm ‘familiar circle’ where we learn about life and laughter and, most important, love. Yet that love we feel for our families can lead to loss and pain. Through family life, we experience a full cycle from birth through childhood and adolescence to adulthood, old age, and death of those closest to us. The life cycle lived uniquely in one family reflects the experience of families from eons past and future in a remarkably consistent way across cultures. The films of our seminar will awaken the memories of all our families and so evoke and develop our compassion through contemplation and self-reflection. During this 7-day seminar, we will show great films from India, Sweden, Japan, Taiwan, Italy, and the United States.
For further information, contact Francis Lu, M.D., at For a description of their 2002 Esalen film seminar on gratefulness, go to

Mark your calender: Every March a large group of Joseph Campbell followers, mostly artists and analysts from around the world, assemble at the Esalen Institute on occasion of Campbell's birthweek to explore and celebrate his work there. Discussions involve deep psychology in dance, music, and all other arts, but quite a few seminarians are very interested in Jung and film; one in Brazil actually wrote a post grad analytical paper on "Pleasantville" and its director.

Shoshanna April

June 10, July 21, August 11, September 9, October 13, 2007
Spiritual Cinema Circle
The Spiritual Cinema Circle exists in order to provide you with entertaining movies. The circle has been really enjoying the inspiring films and the open, fun discussions that follow over the past two years. Keeping the company of those who are seeking truth and eager to explore  expanded realms of consciousness is an excellent way to participate as a spiritual being, having a human experience.

Upcoming movies:
June 10, Sunday: Humanity Ascending
July 21, Saturday: Rumi - Poet of The Heart
August 11, Saturday: Arctic Dance: The Mardy Murie Story
September 9, Sunday: Introducing Abraham, The Secret Behind "The Secret" (part 1)
October 13, Saturday: Introducing Abraham, The Secret Behind "The Secret" (part 2)

Place: Richmond, CA (directions given at registration)
Time: 7:00 PM
Cost: Love donation gratefully appreciated
Directions: Given at time of Confirmation
RSVP: Pre-registration required, space is limited to 12
Call Shoshanna April 510-502-4164 or write to to reserve your space.

Cinema Therapy gets increasingly more presented at universities. On April 13 Lisa Bahar, M.A., spoke at Pepperdine University, Graduate School of Education and Psychology, West Los Angeles Campus, about her use of Cinema Therapy as a form of collaboration with clients to create empowerment and understanding of their committed relationships.

starMovie Recommendation

The Academy Award for best foreign-language film was given to an extraordinary movie, The Lives of Others. The main character, Hauptmann Wiesler, an agent for the Stasi (East Germany's secret police), goes through an amazing transformation while he is assigned to spy on a successful dramatist, Georg Dreyman, not because Dreyman was suspected of being a radical, but because the Minister of Culture had taken an interest in Christa-Maria, a prominent actress, who also happens to be Dreyman's girlfriend. This movie exemplifies what profound changes humans are capable of.

star Cinema Therapy Q&A

Frankie Perez:
Birgit, do you have a movie recommendation for a client who is emotionally disconnected? Even though he has close friendships and is in a relationship, he is uncomfortable with hugs and never says "I love you". He is very conscious that this is an issue and has linked expressing love to humiliation and weakness. He is a perfect candidate for cinematherapy since a lot of his associations come from movies (he told me he identified with the kid who didn't want to speak in "Little Miss Sunshine").

Birgit Wolz:
I usually hesitate giving movie recommendations for a client I have not seen and worked with for several sessions.
In general, I guess that this client could benefit from a movie that shows a character who initially mirrors his hesitancy to express emotions and eventually moves beyond it. Because of his need for mirroring, he responded to the kid who didn't want to speak in "Little Miss Sunshine". Maybe the movie “The Kid” could be helpful because it demonstrates the potential for emotional development and authentic self- expression. “Finding Forrester” demonstrates the possibility for developing self expression through writing. You need to make this judgment call depending on what you know about the client.

I thought I might see a little blurb sharing how your workshop went at Esalen last month - how did it go?

Thanks for the review on Lorenzo's Oil - this had come recommended to me when I first joined the Omidyar Network and it's completely come full circle thanks to you!

My Cinema Alchemy workshop at Esalen Institute was well received and went very well. Consequently, I was invited to offer another week-long workshop in 2008. Several of the participants of my workshop in January (3 of them from Korea) are currently working on research projects with themes related to CT. I hope that I will be able to report about their results soon. The translated my book, Emotion Picture Magic, into Korean and use it as a textbook at their university.


Therapeutic Movie Review Column
By Birgit Wolz

Changing Lanes

Director: Roger Michell
Producer: Scott Rudin
Screenwriter: Chap Taylor, Michael Tolkin

Cast: Samuel L Jackson, Ben Affleck, Toni Collette, Sydney Pollack, William Hurt, Amanda Peet
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2002


As he is rushing off to court from a fender bender, attorney Gavin, hands the other man involved in this accident, Doyle, his card and says "Better luck next time!" then accidentally drops a signed form that means millions to his firm. Although Doyle is stuck with a flat tire, Gavin refuses to give him a ride. Doyle, who is a recovering alcoholic, finds the attorney's form. When Gavin shows up at court without it, the judge gives him until the end of the day to produce it or his firm forfeits the money.

Meanwhile, Doyle wants to convince his ex-wife not to move with their kids to Oregon. He hopes that by keeping his family nearby he might save his failing marriage. To accomplish that, he needs to prove to a divorce judge that he is solvent and stable and plans to do so by showing him that the bank has approved his home loan. But because he shows up twenty minutes late, he finds the case has been decided without him. Blaming Gavin, he takes out his rage by taunting him with a page faxed from the form that he found. Gavin retaliates by getting a hacker friend to artificially ruin Doyle's credit rating.

A spiraling series of attacks and counterattacks eventually leads both men to see that their worst enemy is their own anger. Gavin and Doyle keep trying to demonstrate their individual power by acting out their anger at the other person. For one whole day they do not have the awareness or the inner containment that would help them with their destructive emotions.

The two characters hit an emotional bottom. But they learn from their experience. By the end of the day, each man's own anger scares him more than the other person. After reacting only to the actions of the other in unconscious ways for a long time, both became aware of themselves, their own behavior, and the subsequent consequences. This enabled both men to start taking responsibility for their actions, develop empathy for the other, and find inner peace again.

Cinema Alchemy

Nancy came to see me to work on her sudden outbreaks of anger. She was afraid that her uncontrolled outbursts might damage her marriage. Things became more manageable when she learned to become aware of the very first onset of rage toward her husband, Rob. Exploring the origins of her rage also lead to enlightening insights. But Nancy's real breakthrough happened after I asked her to watch Changing Lanes with conscious awareness according to the guidelines below.

Nancy watched this video together with Rob. In our next session she told me that at first she completely identified with Doyle and his anger when Gavin said: "Better luck next time!" She started yelling at Gavin on the TV screen. "How can you do this!" She almost got into a fight with her husband who had a more removed perspective and questioned Doyle's response to the insult. Nancy felt angry about the indifference she thought she had perceived in Rob. In her already upset state she could not clearly hear what he said. But she remembered my suggestion about conscious awareness and noticed what had just happened inside her. The couple turned off the video and talked.

Having just seen on the screen almost exactly what she experienced inside, it was much easier for Nancy to step back and reflect on what happened as her anger rose inside her. Normally, when she would feel herself being drawn into her rage, it was impossible to take this conscious internal step back. Now, with the support of the distancing effect of the movie, plus her effort to become more aware of her emotional responses, Nancy suddenly saw how she had been caught in a very familiar pattern. She was surprised how absurd her previous angry reaction looked to her now and clearly recognized the process in which she tended to fall into blind rages over and over in the past. After they talked, the couple finished watching the rest of the movie. Nancy had a more detached and clearer perspective during this part of the film .

My client told me, "I really get it now. When I'm angry I do not hear what he really says." With more conscious awareness her perspective opened up to what he tried to communicate. Now she understood what Rob really meant and that he was including both characters' perspective. From this new angle she thought that his comments about the movie characters just reflected his way of seeing things in general, which now seemed acceptable to her. Nancy felt as if she had awaked from a bad dream. For the first time, she understood on a deep level how her anger- induced blinding mechanism had completely distorted her perspective of reality and how it robbed her of her capacity to see things more objectively.

The movie also provided a voice for her to communicate something she was unable to explain before. Previously, Rob never took seriously her efforts to work on her rage in therapy. Now, during their discussion, he saw his wife struggling and conquering her inner "demon" right in front of him. Rob saw two "movies": Changing Lanes and Nancy's process. He was able recognize Nancy's efforts as well as her level of awareness and became very impressed with the progress she had made in her inner work.

Weeks later Nancy told me she had experienced only one small episode of rage, which ended almost immediately when her husband mention the character Doyle's name in a lighthearted way. As she was able to become centered and rational again, Nancy now could address more clearly the real reason for her anger. Rob was able to listen calmly and hear what she had to say.

Guidelines for watching movies with conscious awareness

Handout given before the movie:

•  While watching the movie, sit comfortably and relax.

•  Pay attention to the film and to yourself.

•  Observe how the movie's images, ideas, conversations, and characters affect your emotions, physical sensations, or your breathing.

•  Notice what happens when these throw you off balance because they trigger undesired emotions. In all likelihood, whatever unbalances you in response to a movie character or scene is similar to what unbalances you in daily life.

•  You might let yourself get completely absorbed by the movie for a while. Notice your sensations when you come back to awareness of yourself.

Questions after the movie:

•  Do you remember your feelings and sensations, or whether your breathing changed throughout the movie?

•  Notice what you liked and what you did not like or even hated about the movie.

•  Did you identify with one or several characters?

•  Did a character develop certain capacities that you would like to develop as well?


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