The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #30
May, 2008
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starIn the Spotlight:

A Cinema Therapy Course is now offered at Canyon College. Mary Blankenship, MSW, teaches this course at the department for Social and Behavioral Sciences.
Course Purpose:
"This course is to give professionals/students an additional methodology which can be used with most clients in a way to teach and demonstrate problems/behaviors in a non-threatening manner. Cinema Therapy can be used in the therapy office or have the clients watch the movie at home. This therapy is apt to appeal to the client in a way that is healthy and safe, enabling them to be actively involved with the learning, or identifying behaviors and consequences."

Film therapy helps Alzheimer's patients: the Barchester Healthcare News reports that residents from the Essex Park Rehabilitation Centre, Spectrum Adult Day Centre, Brooksby Village and the Hearthstone Foundation in Salem are all partaking in a new trial which sees them watching old movie clips in an attempt to jog their memories. One participant said that he had benefited from watching films such as the Sound of Music and clips from the Three Stooges as they helped him remember earlier parts of his life - such as flying a plane in North Korea.

Young Seop Sim, a university professor from Korea, notified me that she and some of her colleagues founded The Korea Visual Cinematherapy Society. In 2004 they had also created a Cinema Therapy Institute (KIFA). This institute offers classes and work. They select ten movies that have the most healing power from the movies that were released in Korea from all over the world. In 2006 the founders translated my book E-Motion Picture Magic - A Movie Lover's Guide to Healing and Transformation into Korean and called it Cinema Therapy. They use this book now as a textbook. The ten best movies of 2007, the institute KIFA's activites, and information about the founding of the Cinematherapy Society can be found here.

The Cinematherapy Professional Directory has a couple of new additions:
Claudia Rusu (Biris) is a psychotherapist and university lecturer in Bucharest, Romania. She teaches cognitive psychology and psychopathology with movies from all over the world and is currently writing her doctoral dissertation on Cinema Therapy and CBT. Her publications include the article Using feature films in psychotherapy: changing cognitive distortions.

Bjarne Eiby is a psychologist in Aabenraa, Denmark. He uses cinematherapy with individual clients who have cancer, with their relatives, and also when he facilitates groups.

Dr. Fran describes Cinema Therapy in a podcast on Mental Health Missives #49. Referring to E-Motion Picture Magic she says: "I stumbled on an book review about using movies to increase self-awareness, I was hooked."


The Article Cinema Therapy With Children and their Families summarizes the presentation that the Minnesota Association of Children’s Mental Health gave at the Child & Adolescent Mental Health Conference May 2, 2006 in Duluth MN. The authors are Michelle L. Byrd, MA, LMHC, Bill Forisha, Ph.D., LMFT (WA), LP (MN), and Cathlene Ramsdell, MA.
Cinematherapy has emerged as an efficacious intervention for adults and adolescents. By viewing and discussing films, clients and therapists can access meaningful metaphorical content for the work in progress. However, this intervention has not been readily utilized with younger children and their families. This study seeks to demonstrate that Cinematherapy for children provides an opportunity to utilize thematic material that is of personal concern to many child clients. By referencing fascinating film characters and familiar dramatic vignettes, a child may reveal his own internal process while having the opportunity to keep an emotional distance from stressful or frightening topics.

Monica Padman writes in her article Film Therapy: Selections For Every Mood: "A good movie can change your mood in an instant. It can scare you, inspire you and even make you fall in love." She compiled and categorized a list of popular movies while adding short reviews. created a website that lists movies for therapeutic use.

Chrys Siddha Malilan calls Cinema Therapy "a kind of therapy that I will never refuse" in his blog Mockingbird Journal. He presented a summary of several articles in this field.

In another blog Sandhya Ramachandran claims in his article The Feel-Good Factor that "medical research has proven that cinema therapy is one effective tool to cure depression."

starWorkshops and Online Courses:

Birgit Wolz

Continuing Education Online Courses 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
- 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

May 30, 2008
E-Motion 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: Birth As We Know It
When: May 30, Friday

Place: El Cerrito/Richmond, CA (directions given at registration)
Time: 7:30 PM
Cost: $15
Directions: Given at time of Confirmation
RSVP: Pre-registration required, space is limited to 12
Call Shoshanna April 510-502-4164 or write at to reserve your space.

starCinema Therapy Q&A

I looked at the list of movies for abuse, but I need a recommendation for a client. This client is male, father of 2, drug addict, married (she uses too) kids are removed. He's very dependent and passive. He revealed to me that his father beat him. Needs to be able to tap into inner strengths that he has but has hidden. Can you suggest something?

Birgit Wolz:
I have used Affliction (1997), a movie about alcoholism, childhood abuse, and the serious consequences on the life of the survivors of this kind of trauma. After watching this film, a client of mine was able to acknowledge the impact of his father's alcoholism and physical abuse on his emotional development and alcoholism for the first time. The movie, in combination with client-centered therapeutic work, helped him to break through his denial safely, and he started working on his recovery. With another client I began using EMDR after the movie brought up memories of abuse.

Derrick Linton:
My name is Derrick Linton and I am currently doing my MSc in Electronic Imaging at Dundee University in Scotland. As part of my course work I am collaborating with local artists at the arts project Art Angel investigating the link between the arts and mental health as a therapeutic value. I have been working with the groups to make a series of films which they have produced from start to finish with a little help from myself through having workshops about filming, editing, effects etc. I will be using the artists' short films to break up a series of interviews I shot with the group regarding the benefits from the project. This will all be submitted for assessment and exhibition at the end of term. I have been researching cinematherapy and found this to very useful in my own practice of filmmaking and editing. I would be interested on what you thought about the benefit of using film production as a therapy e.g. making a film production from original concepts to final conclusions with the artists who made the film watch and watching it at the end.

Birgit Wolz:
This is a wonderful idea. Unfortunately I don't have any experience with using film production as a therapy. I assume that most therapists don't know much about filmmaking.


Therapeutic Movie Review Column
By Birgit Wolz

28 Days

Director: Betty Thomas
Producers: Jenno Topping
Susannah Grant

Cast: Sandra Bullock, Viggo Mortensen, Dominic West, Diane Ladd, Elizabeth Perkins, Steve Buscemi, Azura Skye, Alan Tudyk, Michael O'Malley
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2000


Gwen Cummings, a New York writer, parties all night with her boyfriend Jasper. She is constantly high on either alcohol or some form of barbiturates. Jasper believes that the meaning of life is to minimize the pain that it is in it. This view dictates their lifestyle. After the clubs, the drinks and designer drugs, they try to have sex. But they are hardly able to stay awake long enough. When a candle starts a fire, they extinguish it with champagne.

One Saturday morning begins with a beer as Gwen hurries to her sister Lily's wedding. "Gwen, you make it impossible to love you," says Lily when Gwen arrives late and drunk. At the reception, she drinks even more and delivers an insulting toast. Gwen collapses into the wedding cake while dancing. She takes the bridal limousine to go buy another cake in her underwear and drives it onto someone's suburban front porch.

A judge gives Gwen a choice between prison and a rehabilitation center. She grudgingly chooses Serenity Glen, a rehab center for the mind, body, and spirit, and spends 28 days there. All she knows when she enters treatment is that she wants out. Because Gwen doesn't believe she has a problem, she tries to find a way to beat the system. With an attitude of superiority over the other patients, she resists taking part in the treatment programs.

The other patients appear to make desperate attempts to overcome their problems. They include Daniel, a doctor who pumped his own stomach to control his drinking and gave himself an emergency tracheotomy when the hose got stuck in his throat, Eddie Boone, a prominent baseball star with a drug and a sex addiction, and Gerhardt, an angry and critical German dancer. The cocaine-addicted Andrea, Gwen's 17-year-old roommate, dies on their bathroom floor from an overdose when she learns about her upcoming discharge date.

Gwen's counselor, Cornell Shaw, is amused when she says exactly the wrong things to him before discovering his role at the center. He patiently gives her enough rope to "hang herself". When she realizes that she is not able to just stop drinking any time she wants, he points her in the right direction.

Jasper represents temptation. At his visits on weekends, he brings along concealed booze and drugs. But after Gwen experiences serious withdrawal symptoms, she throws the bottle of contraband pills out of a high-story window. Soon she regrets this impulse and sprains an ankle while desperately climbing to retrieve the bottle. When other patients in a therapy group challenge Gwen, she realizes that she does have a serious problem that requires help. Gradually, she opens up and wins the love and admiration of her fellow patients.

During therapy with her sister, Gwen begins to understand the link between her past behavior and the abuse both had suffered as children. Their mother, who believed that life was about "fun", raised her children in the same excesses that Gwen found herself in later. Her mom had died from alcoholism when the sisters were young children.

After a fight with Jasper on one of his visits, Gwen and Eddie begin a tentative and unstated courtship. They feel as if they were in a lifeboat in which they have only each other to cling to. They are both struggling to let go of a self-centered and irresponsible way of life. By emphasizing the foibles and vulnerabilities of these characters, the movie draws the viewer into their valiant efforts to change their behavior and become new people. Eventually, Gwen leaves both men and reconciles with her sister.

Cinema Alchemy

The 21-year-old high college student, Lindsey, came to see me because her best friend urged her to start therapy. About one year ago, Lindsey became involved with Daniel. He has been verbally abusive with her, especially under the influence of alcohol. My client felt very attached to him although he refused to address his anger problem. Daniel was her first serious boyfriend. She did not want to confront him about his demeaning attacks because he always asked for forgiveness after he calmed down from an outburst of rage. Then she always gained hope that things will improve. Besides, she feared that she might agitate Daniel even more if she confronted him.

In order to please her boyfriend, Lindsey joined him during his alcohol binges. After a while, she started drinking alone at home when she was upset about their relationship and felt increasingly anxious. Her ability to focus and her grades at college suffered significantly.

During our initial sessions, I taught my client about the cyclical pattern of Daniel's abusive behavior. This reminded her of her alcoholic mother's abuse when she was a child. Lindsey told me that she held on to the relationship with Daniel, because she was afraid that she might get even more anxious if she left him. When I addressed her drinking, she claimed that she was able to quit any time she wanted.

Eventually, Lindsey admitted that she was not able to stop drinking. Although she understood that her problem was more serious than she had originally thought, my client refused to join a recovery support group because this seemed foreign and intimidating to her.

Lindsey was open to watching 28 Days. She first responded to the movie with shock. Seeing possible long-term consequences of drinking alcohol scared her. Gwen appeared like a mirror to my client that she did not want to look at. But she was willing to follow my suggestion and watch the movie again. I asked her to pay close attention to Gwen's transformation this time. Following this second viewing, the movie became a catalyst for Lindsey's psychological development. Watching how Gwen breaks through her denial, Lindsey was able to do the same. The group interactions in the movie made recovery support groups seem less intimidating to her, and she decided to join one.

I explained to Lindsey that her mom's abuse created a psychological imprint, which I call an undesired inner movie. The plots of our inner movies tell us stories about our world and ourselves that are based on early life experiences. We tend to recreate them in our real world unconsciously in order to heal our childhood wounds or master a problem that we were not able to overcome as a child. Her mom's modeling of drinking behavior became another early imprint.

When she observed Gwen's transformation, my client gained the courage to start her recovery by "copying" the character's healing experience into her own "inner movie screen" and at the same time "erased" her old, undesired inner movie . Eventually she felt strong enough to confront her boyfriend about his abusive behavior. His continued lack of receptivity started to make her angry. It did not take very long until Lindsey broke up with Daniel. As we continued to work on her alcohol dependency, we focused also on mourning her relationship and on getting back on track with her college aspirations. Lindsey was now able to quit drinking.

Theoretical Contemplation

28 Days has been criticized for taking the easy way out by showing only the excesses of indulging in alcohol and drugs and trivializing how addiction can be overcome. I found this movie helpful for several of my clients though, because it shows characters who work through their denial, have greater insight, and develop skills to deal with their addiction through the process of treatment. It also shows the risk addicts take to get alcohol and drugs, the craving for candy and cigarettes, as well as serious physical withdrawal symptoms. The movie also demonstrates that not everything turns out well for everybody, but that treatment at its best can be a life-changing experience. Romance between recovering addicts is strongly discouraged, although it surfaces in this movie as well as in real-life treatment centers.

One form of The Prescriptive Way of Cinema Alchemy teaches clients "by proxy" how not to do something or not to behave because they see the negative consequences of a character's action. Projecting a childhood "movie" on today's reality, my client Lindsey had "self-medicated" by drinking alcohol instead of freeing herself from an abusive situation. Reflecting on this movie metaphor and watching 28 Days in conjunction with our subsequent exploration lead to therapeutic success.

Guidelines for Questions and Interventions

•  Did you see one or several characters experience consequences of their addictive behavior that you want to avoid in your life?

•  Did a character develop certain strengths or other capacities that helped him or her overcome the addiction?

•  Imagine yourself with the mature and strong aspects of this character's behavior and personality.

•  Imagine yourself using these qualities or capacities in your life. How would your life change?


starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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