The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #29
February, 2008
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starIn the Spotlight:

Before Valentines Day, I usually get several calls from newspaper reporters who request an interview about Cinema Therapy and romance. This year Tom Feran wrote on February 12, 2008 in the Plain Dealer Reporter in Cleveland, Ohio: Cinema Therapy: Movies for every stage of a relationship. On February 14, Susan Reimer wrote in the Baltimore Sun: When words fail, try movies.

In the Republic of Turkey, Faruk Gençöz publishes the Cinema Therapy newsletter Psinema. He is trying to find funding for the English version of this publication.

Grammamusicreviews published the article Solutions On The Screen - Is Movie Therapy For You? by Patti McMann on December 4th, 2007. Toward the end of her article, Patti wrote "By combining the at-home movie therapy with my people skills and my desire to provide information to my audience, I was able to control my fear of public speaking."

Adrian Yuen teaches students through movies: Why Do You Want to Be a Leader? "I use the movies that have psychological storylines to help me to spur discussions among my students."

We have a new entry in the Professional CT Directory. Elliott Isenberg is a psychologist in San Francisco, CA. He wrote the folowing about his use of movies:
I regularly assign ALL my clients to see a current film -- the most recent one has been Into the Wild -- I used this film to look at the issues of abandonment & entrapment.
I also have a film library -- common films that I have assigned are A Beautiful Mind, Touching the Void, Rashomon, Hedwig & the Angry Inch, and most recently Pan's Labyrinth. With Pan's Labyrinth, I am planning to take out the violent Spanish civil war scenes and only leave the dream sequences.
I once lived behind Good Vibrations and the the quite informative staff informed me that there has only been one artistic pornographic film of unusual merit. I have not assigned this film to clients -- and yet I have found that I did like Alice in Wonderland (XXX) with Kristine de Bell as Alice and both her acting and the themes are quite inventive.

Please send me your profile here and let me know about your work with Cinema Therapy if you want to appear in this directory.

On the Tell us Yor Story page, you can submit a story about movies that impacted your life here.

Henry from San Antonio, Texas, (Big Fish) and Dr. Craig Shifrin from Springfield, Missouri, submitted the most recent stories. Dr. Shifrin mentioned that he is a psychologist. "I once had a 13-year-old adolescent male who refused to discuss much with me. He had a severe anger problem and was in behaviorally disordered special education. As he would not talk to me much, I hit upon a discovery. He loved to watch the TV show The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. This show always involved Ralph making an impulsive decision, not listening to others, and his wife always trying to get him to think before he acted. It was very fruitful to process the previous nights episode with this adolescent. We would 1) talk about the plot, 2) discuss the roles each main character had in the episode, 3) how Ralph's would not make a good decision, 4) Alice's reaction 5) how did Ralph's anger impacted his ability to be relate to his wife and best friend, and 6) what could have Ralph done differently if given the same situation or what could he do in the future? ... I also am going to utilize a scene from The Prince of Tides - the scene where Nick Nolte reveals the family secret of being anally raped by prisoners - for my sex offenders group under "Victim Empathy." This scene shows the profound pain that the character experienced."

Jack and Michelle Kochel wrote that they have been helping the homeless and some other less fortunate groups and one day came up with the idea to do a movie night. "We would bring the surround sound system, projector, movie, popcorn, candy, drinks, and volunteers. The first one was a success with 30 homeless. After that we decided to see if we could take the movie night idea to kids. We knew of a children's home. So we contacted them and did our first movie night there a couple weeks ago and are going back for a second showing. We have also been back to the homeless, where about 90 showed up this time. We have done a show for an adult apartment complex, the VA and an assisted living facility. We hope to be in the Levine's Childrens Hospital soon and maybe another children's home if we can work it in. One of the workers from the children's home approached us and asked if we did any Cinema Therapy. We had never heard of it, we just looked at what we were doing as an escape from their life for about 2 hours and that's it. We talked to the people there and said we would look into it but that if they wanted to talk to the therapists there about us teaming up with them to do it, we'd be all for it. Any ideas, help, or guidance is great appreciated."
Please respond to Jack and Michelle with guiding ideas.


The classic Albert Bandura experiment with a Bobo doll showed how imitation on a screen is powerful in changing behavior. 88% of the children who watched a video where a model would aggressively hit a doll, subsequently imitated the aggressive behavior. Eight months later, 40% of the same children reproduced the violent behavior observed in this experiment.
The article This Is Your Brain On Violent Media in Science Daily (Dec. 10, 2007) expands/updates the work of Bandura about the relationship between social learning and aggression: "... after repeated viewings of violence, an area of the brain associated with planning behaviors became more active. This lends further support to the idea that exposure to violence diminishes the brain’s ability to inhibit behavior-related processing. None of these changes in brain activity occurred when subjects watched non-violent but equally engaging movies depicting scenes of horror or physical activity."

starWorkshops and Online Courses:

Birgit Wolz

I had a wonderful time at my workshop during my Cinema Alchemy workshop at Esalen, Big Sur (Feb 17 - 22). The movies in combination with the individual and group processes were transformational for many participants, who came from England, Canada, India, and the US. The group bonded strongly during the workshop sessions, during meal times, and in the hot tubs. Several group members plan to come back next year for another week of Cinema Alchemy at Esalen. They believe that they will not watch movies as before.

April 28, 2008
Psychosomatische Klinik Schloß Waldleiningen, Germany
For the first time, I will teach Cinema Therapy to mental health practitioners and pysicians in a psychosomatic Hospitasl in Germany: Kino - Vergnügen UND Therapie.

Continuing Education Online Course for Mental Health Professionals, Parents, and Teachers:

Cinema Therapy with Children and Adolescents
Most children and adolescents find it difficult to eloquently express themselves. Movies provide a common ground for discussions about problems related to family, friendship, school, anxiety, self-esteem, love, and more.
This course includes many age-appropriate movie suggestions. 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.

5 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.

For the Movie Lover:
A package of four online courses for CE credits that are based on popular movies
- Cinema Therapy
- Cinema Therapy with Children and Adolescents
- Therapeutic Ethics in Movies
- Therapeutic Boundaries in Films
- Learn About the DSM Through the Movies

25 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

March 8, 2008
Emotion Picture Circles - Where Reel Life is a Metaphore for Real Life
Emotion Picture Circles 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:
March 8, Saturday: Waking Life

Place: El Cerrito/Richmond, CA (directions given at registration)
Time: 7:00 PM
Cost: Love donation of $10 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.

starCinema Therapy Q&A

Birgit, could you please direct me in my search for information? My son has been a patient on the acute unit of a psychiatric hospital suffering from severe depression and psychosis for the past three months. When I visited him yesterday I found him alone in the day room wearing his hooded sweatshirt watching the movie The Lord of the Rings. I asked if he was cold and he said, "A little," without taking his eyes of the television. My eyes were drawn to the TV where I saw the hooded/dark figure on the screen. He then said, "I've seen this movie five times." I asked if he owned a copy. (My son is a married adult.) He said no, that he had watched the movie while in the hospital and then added, "They don't have many movies to select from." My son is on Lithium and atypical antipsychotics. He recently started having seizure-like activity, states that he has terrible demonic nightmares and has been on a religious guild theme that he is damned and going to hell. He also stated that in order to fall asleep at night he envisions himself in an underground cave with people on top of the ground searching for him. (I noticed in the movie that people lived "underground." I've never seen the movie, Lord of the Rings, as you can tell, but the little I saw last night troubled me. Isn't this type of movie detrimental to an individual with a psychotic disorder?
Please give me your opinion and refer me to literature on this topic.
With sincere appreciation,
A trouble mother.

Birgit Wolz:
You are right. Certain movies can be detrimental to an individual with a psychotic disorder when they are watched without supervision. But movies can also help a patient process unprocessed psychological material. Patients gravitate to certain movies unconsciously for this benefit. The mythological themes in The Lord or the Rings are powerful. This film can trigger strong responses as well as make patients access a lot of unconscious material for good or bad results.

There is no way for me to evaluate the situation from the distance, and I am not sure whether the staff at the hospital is able to clarify this question. Nevertheless, I would definitely talk to the responsible physicians and therapists about your observation.
To my knowledge there is no literature on this topic available. I wrote an article about my work with this movie with a woman who was high functioning and had a relatively light depression here. This client watched a segment of the The Lord or the Rings Trilogy every day for a long time and was able to process unprocessed psychological material with my guidance and through watching these movies successfully. Your son seems to be in a very different situation.
Best regards,



Therapeutic Movie Review Column
By Birgit Wolz

Lars and the Real Girl

Director: Craig Gillespie
Producers: Sarah Aubrey, John Cameron, Sidney Kimmel
Nancy Oliver

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Emily Mortimer, Paul Schneider, Kelli Garner, Patricia Clarkson
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2007


In this fable-style movie, Lars Lindstrom, a painfully shy 27-year-old man, lives in a frosty rural Wisconsin town. He works at a boring office job and attends weekly church services. His mother had died at his birth and Lars was chronically traumatized growing up with his depressive, emotionally abusive father. Since his dad died recently, the family home has been occupied by his brother Gus and his pregnant sister-in-law Karin. She tries hard to invite Lars over for an occasional dinner to share their lives. But he recoils from human contact and sits in his cabin behind the big house, alone in the dark.

Margo, an awkward but sincere and sweet-natured co-worker, is more interested than other colleagues to get to know Lars, who avoids her. But he shows interest when a male co-worker makes him aware of anatomically correct, vinyl love dolls on the Internet. They can be ordered customized to specifications. Not much later, an enormous crate is delivered to Lars' cabin.

That evening, Lars knocks at Gus and Karin's door. "I have a visitor ... this is Bianca," he says, proudly, introducing a life-size plastic woman in a wheelchair, "She's not from here." He looks very happy when he explains that Bianca is a shy, paraplegic missionary of Brazilian and Danish blood he met online. Because she is as religious as Lars is, she will have to sleep in the big house.

Because Gus and Karin are very concerned, they arrange for Lars and Bianca to start seeing Dagmar, the town's family doctor, who has been trained in psychotherapy. She advises them to allow Lars to go along with his fantasy by saying, "There's nothing to gain, and much to lose, from telling a delusional patient that his mind's creation is not real. Bianca is in town for a reason, and everyone who cares about Lars is going to have to deal with that".

When she first arrived, Bianca looked like a typical sex toy, but a thorough makeover makes her look perfectly "local". Lars has an explanation for everything, including why she does not talk or eat. She turns out to be the only kind of companion he can tolerate, not least because she can not physically touch him. He shares his deepest thoughts and feelings with Bianca. Their conversations range from loving exchanges to intense arguments. She is as real as anyone in his life can possibly be, at this point of his psychological and social development.

Gus, who is very much a guy's guy, is mortified because he is worried about what people will think about his family. But guilt makes him try to tolerate Bianca. Years ago, he had left the unpleasant family home and now suspects that Lars would be less damaged if he had stuck around. For Karin it is easier to accept Bianca because she believes that, for Lars, any change is progress.

The people of their community start treating Bianca with the same courtesy that Lars does. They have sadly watched Lars closing into himself and are moved by his attempt to break free. Only when he takes the doll to the local church, folks worry that Lars has crossed a line. But they decide not to judge since some of them have their own idiosyncrasies. Some church members own inanimate objects of their own that they treasure. They reconsider their own lives and begin to value what really matters. They give Bianca jobs and involve her in social activities that conveniently give Lars time away from her.

Once a week Dagmar pretends to   "treat" Bianca who has to undergo "special tests." Simultaneously, the doctor treats Lars' trauma in the next room. Among other things, he gradually learns to tolerate physical touch, which initially literally hurts him.

After several weeks of treatment, Lars begins to notice Margo. Consequently, Bianca "gets sick and dies". He is ready to shed his buxom psychological crutch. The doll has served her purpose by eliciting the healing support from his family, the community, and a therapist that he needed as well as by providing him with "romantic training wheels". Now Lars appears to overcome his delusion and eventually opens up to Margo.

Cinema Alchemy

I had worked with my 53 year-old client Alex on his dysthymic disorder and on his chronic anxiety for several weeks. He was gay and regretted that he had only been in short term romantic relationships all his life. My client was a charming and kind man who had many friends and warm relationships with his colleagues at work.

Alex's told me in one of his sessions that he loved Lars and Real Girl , which he had seen in a movie theater. When I asked him what he loved about this film, he responded that he enjoyed the humor of the movie as well as the main character's transformation. Upon further inquiry, my client revealed to me that he felt especially affected by the scenes, which showed how Lars was not able to connect romantically with a real person and those, which showed his reaction to physical touch.

I asked Alex whether these scenes remind him of his own life. He wondered whether he might have a part in his psychological make-up that resembles the main character, his "Inner Lars". This part is afraid of the vulnerability, which he would feel if he opened up to dating somebody. Alex said, "I would have to go the extra mile to visit clubs or respond to dating ads on Internet Web sites. Most people on these sites are looking for younger partners. I am too old and overweight."

We continued our dialog by using the metaphors that this movie had presented. Alex recognized that - as Lars hurt when he was physically touched - my client's "Inner Lars" was afraid to get hurt by emotional touch. "Allowing myself to be touched could end up in feeling rejected or me having to reject someone," he said. Both possibilities seemed equally scary.

Further exploration revealed that Alex had been deeply traumatized by an alcoholic and abusive father and a highly conflictual divorce of his parents when he was a child. He loved his mom and hated his father after he had learned, at a young age, that his dad had an affair with a married woman in their hometown and conceived a child with him. Consequently, Alex developed doubts and fears about romantic relationships early in his life.

Based on this new understanding of his history, I developed a treatment plan for my client's trauma. Several EMDR sessions were successful. He was able to overcome much of his fear and started to thing about dating again. The transformation that Alex had watched Lars go through in the movie provided him with hope, motivation, and strength that he needed throughout the emotionally demanding EMDR procedure.

Theoretical Contemplation

Films can be seen as the "collective dreams" of our times. Therefore, the Evocative Way of Cinema Alchemy utilizes movies in a therapeutic manner by borrowing from dream work. As it is possible to gain insights from dreams, emotional responses to movie scenes or characters can help clients to understand themselves better. When certain movies resonate with clients, they touch into an preconscious or unconscious part of their psyche. A film may move them deeply. A character or a scene might also upset them intensely. Understanding their emotional responses to movies, just as understanding their nighttime dreams, can serve as a window to their unconscious. Both dream work and The Evocative Way are ways to bring their unconscious inner world to a conscious level.

There is no need to recommend specific movies to clients in The Evocative Way . For this approach, it usually doesn't matter whether or not the therapist has seen the movies, which clients might bring up in their sessions. Sometimes being unfamiliar with a film can even be an advantage because the therapist is forced to see the movie through their clients' eyes, like their dreams. When clients see themselves as experts in knowing certain movies, greater rapport is possible, and there is an increased likelihood for more independence in the relationship.  

Guidelines for Questions and Interventions

•  What scene and/or character affected you most?

•  Does this remind you of an experience in your current life or your past?

•  Are you aware of a part inside yourself that could be called your "Inner (name of character)"?

•  What function does this part have in your life? How does it serve or hurt you?

•  Initiate dialog between "Inner (name of character)" and "True or Higher Self" and/or other parts.


starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT.,
Canyon, CA, USA