The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #28
November, 2007
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starIn the Spotlight:

According to the article ‘Tis The Season Not To Be Jolly about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), watching movies that feature warm and sunny climates show demonstrable improvements in mood. This article also mentions research that shows how any film with clear blue cloudless skies and palm trees qualifies for movie therapy.

Cinema Therapy around the world: Movies are used for therapeutic purposes in different parts of India (here and here), Singapore, and Belgium. The Belgian Clinical Psychologist, Steve Van Herreweghe, is in charge of a therapeutic day clinic for psychiatric clients in Ghent, Belgium. He uses thematic movies as a kind of "therapeutic colleague" to evoke the mirroring of deeper levels of individual and group consciousness, and guides this process in several ways (semi-structured group reflection with individual follow-up). In his own practice, he combines the "books-on-prescription" concept with the "movies-on-prescription" concept to stimulate 'mindfood' instead of medication.

Marriage and Family Therapist Intern and Cinema Therapist, Lisa Bahar, from Irvine, California, describes here how she started to use Cinema Therapy and how she works with this method in her practice.

The article Discover The Healing Power Of Art considers movie therapy as a form of art therapy and points out that art therapy is a method that utilizes art media, images, and the creative art process to help a patient address concerns and conflicts.

Kristine Alvarez states in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Cinema Therapy that Cinema Therapy can be used to address OCD.

The article Cinematherapy: Is Watching Movies Beneficial to Your Mental Health? claims that movie watching helps the human brain maintain mental equilibrium because it combats emotional imbalance by awakening positive and negative emotions.


Michael Powell, LPC, created the website Cnematherapy 4 Kids which offers an abundance of information, including guidelines and a categorized movie list for therapy with children and adolescents.

The Web site Films Involving Disabilities presents a categorized list of over 2,500 feature films which involve in one way or another various  disabilities.

Ofer Zur, Ph.D., provides a list of movie titles that are categorized according to therapeutic themes here.

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:

For the Movie Lover:
A package of four online courses for CE credits that are based on popular movies

       Cinema Therapy
            Therapeutic Ethics in Movies
                Therapeutic Boundaries in Films
                        Learn About the DSM Through the Movies

20 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.
Films are particularly well-suited as an adjunct tool in therapy and at depicting  psychological phenomena and ethical dilemmas because:
* The combination of images, music, dialogue, lighting, camera angles, and sound effects in a film mimic thoughts and feelings that occur in our consciousness. The viewer experiences what a character sees and feels.
* Movies have become the great storehouse for the images that populate the collective unconscious.
* Many consider movies to be the most influential form of mass communication, because the spectator enters a form of trance, a state of absorption, concentration, and attention, engrossed in the story and the plight of the characters.
*   The camera carries viewers into each scene. Because they perceive events from the inside as if surrounded by the characters in the film, the characters do not have to describe their feelings.
* Absorbing information through film descriptions brings an entertaining element into the therapeutic or learning process. When we enjoy ourselves, we become emotionally engaged. We heal, grow, and learn more easily and effectively.
* The diagnosis of mental disorders and the discussion of ethical and legal themes is usually taught using written or oral techniques and material, although using this material can be dry and tedious. Our attention is more engaged when movies are used as a teaching tool, because of our affective response to the vicarious identification with movie characters.
* Because popular movies sometimes distort or exaggerate diagnostic symptoms or behaviors in therapeutic settings, they provide material for fruitful discussions and, at times, produce extra learning material.
* Without concerns about confidentiality, we become privy to a character’s inner thoughts, feelings, and motivations for illustrative “case discussions”.

Francine R. Goldberg

The new e-book article for continuing education Turn Box Office Movies into Mental Health Opportunities: A Literature Review and Resource Guide for Clinicians and Educators introduces the reader to an extensive body of literature from mental health professions, consumers, their families and the general public that addresses and supports both the theory and practice of the use of Hollywood films in the field of mental health for educational and therapeutic purposes, including guides for film selection, film use and film title recommendations.

Shoshanna April

December 2, 2007
Emotion Picture Circles - Where Reel Life is a Metaphore for Real Life
The Spiritual Cinema Circle exists in order to provide you with entertaining movies that will:
• Awaken your sense of joy and wonder
• Inspire love and add to insights
• Evoke a deeper connection with the universe around you
• Clarify values and are life affirming

Upcoming movie:
October 13, Saturday: Illusion

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

Matthew A. Portadin poses and answers the following questions in his recent dissertation with the title The Use of Popular Film in Psychotherapy - Is there a "Cinematherapy"? Does a formal psychotherapy as "cinematherapy' exist? and Is the term "cinematherapy" a valid term for the use of film in psychotherapy?

Uschi Edlinger's dissertation about "Media as therapy" combines film- and literature-theories with narrative structures and hypotheses from psychology and psychotherapy. This unique approach brings films and books as therapeutic media, the healing power of stories and the mythic structures of "the hero's journey" into focus. Because of missing empirical research (especially in the field of filmtherapy) she concentrates on the theoretical connections between books, films, narration and psychology. Some of the most important results of her accurate literature-analysis are: Mediatherapy ...

The assumption, that the highly effective therapeutic results of film- and bibliotherapy lie not only in the successful selection of the right medium (the proper film/book) and the good therapist-client connection but also in narrative and mythic structures as "the power of a story", proved to be true (according to the opinion of many therapists, psychologists and media and communication scientists). Edlinger not only puts psychology and film or books respectively in a new context, she also passionately pleads for a positive view of media in general. Unfortunately media-effect-theories are almost completely occupied from the "violence in the media" discussions around negative effects of violent representations in films and other media. It is time to discuss media, especially films, in an optimistic and positive way and focus on their many positive effects like evoking self esteem and empathy or comprehension for oneself and others. On the long journey of our life, an escapistic flight from the knowledge of our mortality should be more than welcome. Films and books can influence our search for happy and carefree moments positively, because they draw us in stories, which bring us back in a safe "mother-lap-like" origin. Good stories are strong enough to enlighten our hearts and souls independently from the transporting medium. They work through an ancient narrative and psychological process as a translator for subconcious contents in a current and healing language.

Uschi Edlinger studied Psychology, Media, Film and Communication at the University of Vienna, Austria. She works in private practice with mediatherapy and alternative therapies.


Therapeutic Movie Review Column
By Birgit Wolz

The Truman Show

Director: Peter Weir
Producers: Edward S. Feldman, Andrew Niccol, Scott Rudin, Adam Schroeder
Andrew Nicco

Cast: Jim Carrey, Laura Linney, Noah Emmerich, Natascha McElhone, Ed Harris
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 1998


Truman Burbank lives in Seahaven. He works as a sales executive at an insurance company, seems happily married to Meryl, and does not find it suspicious that she describes household products in the language of TV commercials. He lives an ideal life in an ideal, if limited, world. Truman accepts his reality, shrugging off the occasional odd moment that just does not seem to fit the picture. He is happy, more or less. And yet a subtle uneasiness seems to pervade his inner world.

We gradually learn that Truman's outer world is an elaborate hoax perpetrated on him by television producer and director Christof. Truman was adopted at birth by Christof's television company, and his life has been televised every second of every day from that moment on. For thirty years, he has been the unwitting star of the longest running, popular documentary-soap opera in history. Seahaven ("sea heaven") is actually a gigantic soundstage. Truman Burbank (Warner, Disney, NBC etc. are located in Burbank) lives under the gaze of 5,000 hidden TV cameras. Everyone around him is an actor: his mother, father, best friend, wife, coworkers, shopkeepers, street-sweepers, etc. And all the actors overact: the mother is too motherly, the best friend is awfully true blue, and the wife is ever so wifely.

This whole monstrous fabrication is paid for by corporate advertising. From his control room high in an artificial "sky," the god-like Christof and his minions work 24/7 to maintain Truman's complex illusion of reality and to prevent him from discovering the truth.

In a flashback, we learn that Truman had survived a boating accident as a boy in which his "father" drowned. Christof had staged a violent "storm" that swept Truman's dad off to sea. This traumatic experience prevented Truman from setting his foot into a boat ever again. Because Seahaven is surrounded by the ocean, his water phobia kept him from discovering the boundaries of this illusionary human-made paradise.

Truman secretly still loves his former college sweetheart, Lauren. Another flashback shows that they met in a library (symbol of the knowledge of good and evil). The actress, Sylvia, who played Lauren developed real feelings for Truman. She believed that he should know the truth about his existence and took him to the beach, where they could not be heard. They kissed with the pounding surf in the background (to scare Truman away). Before she was able to reveal anything, she was quickly rushed away and eventually banished from the show. When Truman heard that Lauren had moved to Fiji with her family, he agreed to marry Meryl, who now serves the show as a more reliable pro.

Several unexplainable events start to make Truman suspicious. A strange man leaps out of a Christmas present shouting incongruous protests and then is quickly wrestled out of the living room. Truman's dead father appears and is taken away too. When a studio light falls from the "sky", Truman suspects that he is somehow being watched. He feels that something is missing and thinks that he might find it in Fiji, with Lauren. But everybody, especially Meryl, tries very hard to prevent him from leaving. His attempts to cross a bridge are prevented by some cleverly staged events by Christof.

Truman's desire to find the truth as well as Lauren is a compelling force that ultimately drives him to face and conquer his great fear of the ocean. He charters a boat, enters the water that kept him contained, and is soon exposed to the anti-Christ, "Christ-off's", worst tempest. For Christof, the demands of the show take precedence over any other values. Into the manufactured deadly storm, he broadcasts his threatening voice down to Truman, "I AM the Creator...", while Lauren whispers a simple prayer as she is watching The Truman Show on TV. Soon Truman is knocked out by the storm and lies with his arms outstretched on the boat as though he died. Ropes form the sign of the cross on his chest, emphasizing his crucified-like body posture.

Suddenly the sea is calms down and the sun starts shining. Truman awakens and continues to sail fearlessly until he unexpectedly crashes into the "end of the world", the back wall of the gigantic sound studio in which he lives. He leaves the boat and walks on the ledge, as if walking on water, to a set of stairs leading up to a door. Christof warns him about the challenges that he will have to face if he enters real life through this door. But Truman becomes a true man as he steps through the door and escapes the cameras as well as the confines of his limited world and worldview.

The filmmakers devised a carefully crafted object lesson, full of metaphors and symbols, on the need to question our perceived reality, on self-determination, on truth seeking, and on overcoming fear.

Theoretical Contemplation

What we take to be real is, in fact, often a highly edited, thoroughly filtered version of reality. In perceiving the world, it is as if our eyes and ears were a camera and microphone. Instead of actually witnessing reality directly, we frequently watch what can be called an inner movie , on a screen inside our heads. And this screen is often unreliable. Our inner movie plays the story that we tell ourselves about the world around us and about who we are. Most of these stories and beliefs about reality are formed in childhood, as an adaptive response to our reality at that time. Later in life, these beliefs are not accurate reflections of the current reality any more.

Introducing the metaphor of the inner movie to clients in conjunction with recommending movies that play with our perception of reality, such as The Truman Show, helps them question distorted beliefs as well as projections. Other movie examples are Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004 ), Stay (2005), The Matrix (1999 ), Pleasantville (1998 ), Solaris (1972 and 2002 ), Thirteenth Floor (1999 ), Total Recall (1990) , and Vanilla Sky (2001).

Cinema Alchemy

Betsy came to see me because she wanted to work on herself to save her relationship with her boyfriend, Larry. He had told her that he loved Betsy very much, but her jealousy drove him crazy. Other relationships before him had ended for the same reason. Betsy's jealous thoughts seemed especially obsessive when Larry sporadically works as a disk jockey, because he meets young women during this work. He has become increasingly frustrated with my client, because she keeps interrogating him about his encounters with women.

Betsy felt helpless and out of control with this behavior. She is also embarrassed about the fact that she frequently secretly checks his computer for evidence of infidelity. When she feels upset, my client escapes these emotions by engaging in what she calls "retail therapy". She overspends on cloths, and her increasing credit card debt worries her.

After several sessions, she revealed to me that her dad had had several affairs when she grew up. Her mom knew about this and frequently complained to Betsy about his behavior and "men in general". But she didn't have the courage and resources to leave her marriage.

At one point Betsy said, "when I am with Larry, I know deep inside that he is not cheating on me. But when I don't see him, my doubts become really strong." As soon as she seemed ready to question her jealous beliefs, I told how the plot of an inner movie tells a story about ourselves and other people, which is based on early life experiences. Betsy loved films. She was very open to movie metaphors and excited about my suggestion to view Truman Show .

In our subsequent exploration she not only questioned more strongly what she had perceived as the "reality" of Larry's cheating. She also saw how her "escape" into overspending helped her feel better, but created a "false reality". I asked my client whether she can see herself - as Truman did - facing the challenge of leaving this false world behind. This way of thinking allowed her to break through her denial, attend Debtors Anonymous meetings, stop her spending habit, and face the more "real world" of some difficult emotions when they arose. During our sessions, she started working with these emotions and developed tools to process them successfully.

Review Guidelines for Work with Clients Who Understand Metaphors

Before the movie:

Watch how Truman goes through a transformation from an oblivious and fearful person into a man who courageously seeks authenticity and truth although this means to face the challenges of the real life.

After the movie:

•  Does a (mature or wise) part of you sometimes wonder whether certain beliefs that you hold about yourself and/or others are distorted or not "real"?

•  What would it take to question these beliefs and eventually, like Truman, "step through the door" toward authenticity and truth?

•  In case of an addiction: What would it take to let go of your denial and to bring up the courage to face the more "real world" of sometimes difficult emotions.

•  Would you be interested in learning tools to process such emotions successfully?


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