The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #27
August, 2007
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starIn the Spotlight:

The website LifeTips published an article about Cinema Therapy for youth with ADHD: "Since AD/HD youth are so visual and creative, learning about social interactions, cliques, and peer pressure from films on these very topics can be very helpful. It helps them identify with others facing similar social and academic challenges. ... "

Dr. Gaetano Giordano, Rome, Italy, practices The Video Movie Therapy - or Videotape Therapy. He writes: "The patient is an actor playing the patient's role.The actor/patient creates the character of the 'patient' so he is able to understand how he can 'create' himself (or better his character in life). Through humor and irony everyone can see that their current 'person' is not the only person/'character' he can be for the rest of his life."

Marshall Sponder's article Watch, Learn - even do Therapy with OnlineVideos -- better than Reading Books (or going to Therapists)? points out that "a quartet of Italian management consultants have decided that there's more that business executives can learn from films than from traditional business books."


Laurie Helgoe, Ph.D. offers a Movie Therapy Group in in Charleston, West Virginia. On her website Waking Desire she gives Tips for Viewing Your Life Cinematically, such as "Know Your Desired Ending(s)! Storyboard it, See it, Let it be BIG. Every good character has a motivation. ALWAYS feel free to edit. Be open to twists, turns and surprises. Practice being the director and the audience." or "When a crisis comes up, when you are thwarted in some way, remind yourself that this is 'plot thickener'.”

Jaki Eisman is in the process of putting together a grant proposal for establishing a Cinematherapy Library at our NFP agency (the Canadian Mental Health Association). He welcomes information about any resources to print and distribute to the public.

S. Fenella Das Gupta PhD offers Cinema Therapy in Petaluma, California. Her article A Night at the Movies was published in Women's Voices Magazine in the August 2007 issue: "... we develop a sense of connectedness to the characters, our internal experience starts to resonate with theirs. At this point, we are no longer feeling vicariously, we start connecting to our own internal experience and selves. Our own feelings push through into reality, our defenses drop for a while making room for a cathartic experience."

Bjarne Eiby from Denmark works with cancer patients. He had asked me whether
I know of a movie where a person gets cancer and SURVIVES (Cinema Therapy Newsletter #27). Recently he found a movie: The Miracle of the Cards (2001) (TV). It is based on the true story of Marion Shergold and her son, Craig, an eight-year-old English boy who survived a brain tumor because of a miraculous cure.

Cinema Therapy in the Middle East: Elif Senem Demir, 4th year psychology student at METU (Middle East Technical University is the leading technical university in Turkey) gives a comprehensive overview of Cinema Therapy in his article Cinema Therapy.

starWorkshops and Online Courses:

Birgit Wolz

Sunday, Febuary 17 through Friday, Febuary 22, 2008
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.

Continuing Education Online Course for Mental Health Professionals:

I developed the new continuing education online course DSM: Diagnoses Seen in Movies: Using Movies to Understand Common DSM Diagnoses.
Movies are particularly well suited to depict psychological phenomena. Since characters in many popular films portray persons who live with mental disorders, these depictions offer a unique learning opportunity.
This innovative course makes use of movie vignettes to teach common DSM diagnoses. The portrayal of the mathematician, John Forbes Nash, in A Beautiful Mind offers a powerful opportunity to understand Schizophrenia. As Good As it Gets demonstrates almost every possible symptom of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Analyze This introduces Panic Disorder and Annie Hall illustrates General Anxiety Disorder in a humorous fashion. Major Depression and the complexities of differential diagnosis (Major Depression vs. Borderline Personality Disorder) are discussed using Girl Interrupted . Mr. Jones offers the opportunity to learn about many aspects of Bipolar Disorder as well as about the differences between this disorder and Schizophrenia.

4 CE credits can be earned.
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.

Shoshanna April

September 9 and 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:
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.

star Research

Elena-Claudia Rusu wrote to me about her fascinating research project in Bucharest, Rumania:

I started the first Romanian Cinema Therapy (CT) group in Bucharest in April 2006. The people who attended the group were young psychology students who enrolled in this experimental group. I selected them due to their results at 6 tests and responses to a questionnaire. The group was composed of 8 students with different test results.
One test measures emotional empathy. I'm talking about a "classic", the Mehrabian-Epstein test that establishes the empathy levels. I suspected that they have good empathy levels because they were students of psychology. This hypothesis was confirmed. They all had medium and good levels of empathy.
One of my objectives was to observe if the therapeutic viewing modifies (improves) the level of empathy. The subjects were taught what therapeutic viewing is. I adapted the Film Matrix and Self Matrix from Birgit Wolz's book "E-Motion Picture Magic" to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I explained to them how to complete a Matrix and I also explained CBT (to identify and modify cognitive distortions, for e.g.). We know that identification (e.g. with a movie character) is a type of empathy, its extremity. Empathy means more than identification.
They watched 6 movies in 6 months. Then we talked about their inner findings, solve problems, strengthened their good qualities, etc. So, after a while I reached my experimental goals and continued some pure therapeutic goals. I worked with this group for 11 months.
It was very interesting to notice that as long as they were watching films therapeutically, they became more and more interested in characters who were very different from them, who were even antagonistic to them. They worked a lot with the third and forth Quadrants of the Film Matrix and the Self Matrix. Empathizing with these antagonistic types of film characters, they began to understand (cognitive) them, "to be in their shoes" and to improve or even change their emotion (e.g. the intensity of the negative emotion, anger, was decreased or the type of emotion was changed with a positive one: compassion).
It happened to a 23rd year old female subject who has an ill, despotic mother. She (and the rest of the group) watched "Like Water for Chocolate" at home. During the film she had strong negative feelings about the character Elena, a despotic mother. But in a session working with the therapist, a co-therapist, and her group members, she became to understand the attitude, the behavior and the cognitive patterns of Elena, and finally of her own mother. She felt compassion both for Elena and for her own mother. She also felt compassion for herself after many years of frustration, self-accusation, and anger. Then she continued the process of changing her way of thinking about her mother, her attitude and behaviors related to her mother and to gain a sense of personal maturation. This young female is just one example.
Observing the evolution of all the group members, I finally concluded that watching
films therapeutically improves the level of empathy. This improvement was measured. At the end of group activity I tested them again and I noticed that the levels of empathy changed, improved. The improvement looks like this: the subjects with a medium level of empathy at the beginning of the CT group received good levels of empathy at the end (at the upper limit between good and high empathy !). The subjects with good empathy received high scores of empathy. Two subjects were medium at the beginning and high at the end.
Of course, I was interested not only in the quantitative aspect of the empathy, but in the qualitative one, too. They worked very hard and very well. They and I are very content with our work.
My next group will be formed by subjects with more heterogeneous scores on the empathy test. I'm very interested to find out if and how therapeutic viewing works with the subjects with a low level of empathy.
Anyway, even when there are quantitative and qualitative differences between subjects with different empathy levels, I noticed that the therapeutic viewing is
working for all of them, and I think this is an important conclusion for our work with movies in therapy. Even more, as we have seen before, the therapeutic viewing improves the level of empathy! Much more, these things happened even if I used foreign movies (American and Mexican translated in Romanian), even ifthe movie action happened in a different time, society and culture than those of my subjects.
Movies offer us a universal language, universal themes. Movies are keys that open the doors to our collective unconscious. Movies help us to identify and change our dysfunctional cognitive and behavioral patterns and to understand and accept those of our family, friends, colleagues, etc. via movies characters. Movies give us the opportunity to solve our problems, to gain cognitive and emotional insights, to make good decisions... and more.
So, I am encouraging my Romanian colleagues and all therapists to use films in their practice. Movies work great with CBT. The therapeutic viewing works amazingly on many levels.
I am very interested to know you opinion and other therapists' and researchers' opinions.

Elena-Claudia Rusu is a senior lecturer at "Spiru Haret" University, Faculty of Sociology and Psychology in Bucharest, Romania. This university is the largest private university in in the South-Eastern Europe. Here she is teaching Cognitive Psychology and Psychodiagnosis. She is a CBT psychoterapist and began a new training in Transactional Analysis since June this year.


Therapeutic Movie Review Column
By Birgit Wolz

Bridge to Terabithia

Director: Gabor Csupo
Lauren Levine, Hal Liberman, David Paterson
Jeff Stockwell, David Paterson
Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel, Robert
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2007


The big-screen adaptation of Katherine Paterson's award-winning 1977 children's book captures its powerful and bittersweet spirit.

In 1976, Katherine Paterson's son, David, who co-wrote the script for this movie, was eight years old when his friend, Lisa Hill, was struck by lightning and killed. His mother drew upon his personal tragedy to create the story of a boy, Jesse Aarons, and a girl, Leslie Burke, fifth graders in rural Virginia, who become the best of friends. 

Jesse is the ignored middle child and only son of a reticent father, who struggles to earn a living. Of his four children, dad favors his youngest daughter, May Belle. He works all the time, and reprimands his son frequently. Jesse is an artist, although none of his family members and schoolmates see much value in his aptitude with pencil and paint. Leslie is the new kid in the Jesse's class. She is the only child of two wealthy, successful, self-involved writers who barely notice when she is not there. They have moved to the country, next door to the Aarons. Despite being lively and energetic, Leslie is scorned as readily as Jesse because her parents don't want her to watch TV, and because she is an artist too. Her particular discipline is writing.

Jesse and Leslie are picked on by bullies and need to cope with a tyrannical teacher named Mrs. Meyers. The connection between the two kids is hesitant at first, particularly after Leslie usurps Jesse's title as the fastest runner in their class at Lark Creek Elementary. Jesse is nearly as hostile toward the girl as his classmates. But eventually they are drawn together because they both feel "different", share a love of imagination, and come to respect and support each other's unique talents. As viewers we sense that Jesse and Leslie are special, eager, bright-eyed, and a bit beyond their years in the way smart kids can be.

Soon, the two friends are doing everything together. As a means of escape they spend their days after school out back in a deep patch of woods near their houses, reachable only by a rope swing over a creek. To combat boredom and rise above their depressing surroundings, Leslie creates an imaginary kingdom called Terabithia where they rule as queen and king. This land is filled with magical creatures, a Dark Lord, ferocious monsters, goblins, and mythical beings. There are occasional battles with the forces of evil. The girl shakes up Jesse's little world by showing him that dreaming is OK. In magical Terabithia tree houses become fortresses, trees become giant trolls, and squirrels are vicious man-eaters. From the top of a tree they can see a beautiful waterfall and endless snow-capped fantasy mountains. In this marvelous fantasy kingdom Leslie tells her stories and Jesse is free to draw as much as he likes. When they're in their mythical land, the world behind them fades away, they can relish each other's company, and enjoy the adventures they script along the way.

The complexion of their real world brightens. They take revenge on the mean kids who taunt them at school, and eventually find a way to befriend one of them. Leslie's parents finish writing their book and pay more attention to her. A music teacher, Ms. Edmonds, discovers Jesse's artistic ability and helps him to nurture it. "Don't let those other kids stand in your way," she says to the boy. For the first time, Jesse dares to feel good about himself.

On one day, an ugly reality intrudes upon their idyllic world. Suddenly, Jesse plunges into the most difficult experience of his young life as he is forced to deal with Leslie's tragic death. He isolates and displays hostility because he feels guilty after he learns that his friend drowned in the turbulent creek trying to swing over it while he visited an art museum with Ms. Edmonds. The ten-year-old goes through a painful process of deep grief, loss of innocence, and eventually renewal. His relationships with his dad, with May Belle, and even with Mrs. Meyers are profoundly transformed in this process. After a touching good-bye ritual, Jesse's grieving soul heals, he builds a wooden bridge over the creek, and guides his little sister as a princess into his magical kingdom.

Cinema Alchemy

My eleven-year-old client, Amber, came to therapy about two months after her friend, Jasmine, had died from an injury as a result of a bicycle accident. Because they lived close to each other and played in the same soccer team, they had recently become best friends and hung out together frequently. After Jasmine's death, Amber spent most of her time in her room listening to music. During our first couple of sessions, Amber refused to talk about her grief.

For our third session, I invited Amber's parents to come with her daughter. The parents seemed supportive and concerned. In order to protect Amber, they avoided talking about her loss. I learned that Amber frequently snaps at her eight-year-old sister, Emily, and that she hates school now. Amber had been an excellent student. Recently her grades started slipping. I first provided some grief education. In a language that was accessible to the girl, I explained that grief is a natural response to loss. Although everybody's journey toward acceptance and healing is different, some of the basic elements usually are shock, emotional upheaval, guilt, hostility, depression, and finally hope and the reaffirmation of life. It is important that each individual's pattern is respected, allowing them to move to each phase at their own pace.   I also recommended that they watch Bridge to Terabithia together.

During our subsequent individual session, Amber began to talk about Jasmine. First she told me how much fun they had together. When I asked her whether she could relate to Jesse, the girl started crying and saying that she knows exactly how Jesse feels. She also told me that she hates school now because she feels so different from her classmates. She is not cool or fun to be around any more, because she always feels like crying. Amber let me know that Jesse's story helped her understand that she is not crazy -- just grieving like Jesse. The movie also gave her hope that her feelings will change with time.  

In subsequent sessions we discussed how Amber could support her healing process. She decided to write notes to Jasmine whenever she felt like she wanted to tell her something. Soon she started feeling better, spent more time with her friends again, and became increasingly more able to focus on her school work. 

Theoretical Contemplations

Bridge to Terabithia shows Jesse going through the stages of grief. Watching the movie can support grief therapy with a child or adolescent because it helps normalizing the grief process. By sending a drawing of Leslie on a small wooden raft down the creek where she drowned, he says a final good-bye to his friend. Jesse also symbolically builds a "bridge" to a new phase of his life by building a bridge over the creek to Terabithia. In the last scene of the movie, his renewal is shown, when the boy crosses over this bridge with his sister and is able to see an even more spectacular magical kingdom than ever before.

Guidelines and questions for children or adolescents who experience grief

•  Is there any similarity between what Jesse feels after Leslie's death and how you are feeling right now?

•  Was he really responsible for Leslie's death? Do you feel guilty for something you are not really responsible for?

•  What do you think about the people who helped him cope with his loss? Do you have people in your life who are there for you?

•  What can you do that might help you cope with your loss similarly to what Jesse did when he sent his little raft down the creek?


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