The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #34
May, 2009
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starIn the Spotlight:

Alma McClure Graham, the creator of The Movie Shrink blog site, is now a radio talk show host in San Francisco, where she reviews films for their therapeutic messages, and speaks with individuals about movies that have had a profound impact on them. Energy Talk Radio is a station that specializes in inspirational programming geared toward wellness and healing. Alma tells you about herself here and her first show is recorded here. She also interviewed me for one of her shows.


In his newsletter for parents, Cliff Crain presented Cinema Therapy with Children and Adolescents, summarizing one of my online courses.

Bernie Wooder's book, Movie Therapy – How It Changes Lives, receives increasingly more attention. Response Source wrote an article with the title: "New book explores the life-changing effects of Movie Therapy" on April 8. The article points to the fact that the way in which a skilled therapist uses movies in his counseling sessions is brought to life with these genuine and deeply moving case studies.

Earl Henslin Thomas Nelson describes in his new book, This Is Your Brain On Joy, five mood centers of the brain where he explains what ‘normal’ – joyful – functioning is like and then contrasts it with dysfunction. His treatment suggestions for dysfunctions include cinematherapy.

starWorkshops and Online Courses:

Birgit Wolz

Continuing Education Online Courses:

New: Positive Psychology and the Movies: Transformational Effects of Movies through Positive Cinema Therapy
Positive psychology is a recent branch of psychology that studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. Recently, researchers and practitioners in the field of positive psychotherapy have developed interventions for the clinical setting to treat psychological problems effectively, by building positive resources and buffer against their future reoccurrence. Because film characters frequently model the development of the desired virtues and strengths, movies can become natural vehicles for the processes of Positive Cinema Therapy.

5 CE credits can be earned.

For the Movie Lover:
A package of six online courses for CE credits that are based on popular movies:
- Cinema Therapy
- Cinema Therapy with Children and Adolescents

- Positive Psychology and the Movies
- Therapeutic Ethics in Movies
- Therapeutic Boundaries in Films
- Learn About the DSM Through the Movies

30 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.

Cinema Alchemy – A special evening for Southwest Medical Staff and their Guest:

The Southwest Washington Medical Center (SWMC) invited me to present at their Annual Physician Well-Being Grand Rounds on Thursday, April 30, 2009 at the exiting new Cinetopia theater in Vancouver, WA. Over 100 physicians showed up. After I introduced the audience to the concept of Cinema Therapy and watching movies with conscious awareness, we watched Don Juan DeMarco. Then we explored how the responses to the film and its main characters can be used for personal growth.

Transgender Night at the Movies:

4th Sunday of the month
6:00 - 9:00 pm
Popcorn included!
Pre-registration required
Scent-free site near El Cerrito, CA
Exact address and directions sent upon registration

The series schedule:
FTM Stories (Female to Male): May 31, 2009
MTF Stories (Male to Female): July 26, 2009

Facilitator: Valerie Igl, MFT
Contact: or 510-527-5662 x3
Audit rate: $25 each
CEU rate: $50 each

Canadian Mental Health Association

The Canadian Mental Health Association in Vancouver hosts a monthly movie night for psych ward patients and their families, if interested. Each night has a specific mental-health related theme.


Starting from 21 February, the Centre for Contemporary Art in Warsaw, Poland, in alliance with the Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities, start a series of film meetings called "Kinoterapia". The meetings combine advantages of an artistic event with the healing potential of cinematherapy.

The meetings comprise presentation of films grouped according to their content, discussions related to the given problem and personal development workshops. Every series comprises six screenings held every three weeks. The first two series will last throughout 2009. The former is called "Otherness" and is devoted to the theme of self, identity and its broader social context, with emphasis on intercultural dialogue and tolerance.

The project is intended to bring together film buffs and persons keen on personal development work. It features an original repertoire with films, which have never or rarely been shown in Poland ("Zelig", "Lars and the Real Girl", "Darling", "Together"). The panels following each screening will assemble academics and practitioners in the field of humanistic studies, psychology and psychotherapy. The workshops are developed on the basis of the process psychology, stemming from Taoism, C.G. Jung's theories, Gestalt therapy, NLP, system therapy, communication therapy and discoveries of various body work schools.

A PowerPoint presentation about this project is available upon request.

starNew Blogs and Websites:

Debbie Mandel writes in her Self Help Examine blog Great movie therapy for recession woes: "This year’s Oscar contenders share a golden thread which lifts the audience out of a “Dark Knight”- HOPE. The message: a slumdog can rise from rags to riches to live with a soul mate; from whatever point of time you live your life, you can experience love and dignity; you can fail and lose many times and then when the timing is right, you give wings to your dreams; can you be flexible and change your dreams if they no longer work for you? ... I hope that you watch them with a new perspective to help you see your life struggle more optimistically giving you the energy to cope."

Referring to Debbie Mandel's article Sophie Nicholls contemplates in her blog for personal development in the article Watching a film a kind of therapy?: "Healing power of stories is nothing new. Joseph Campbell studied common themes, characters in motifs in thousands of ancient myth and stories in order to distill his ideas about The Hero’s Journey. ... Film as self-hypnosis! Now that’s an interesting idea."

E. Gioacchini writes in on in the article Anxiety and Cinema Therapy: when "thriller" becomes healing! : "In my profession, I have often used films with my patients: a therapeutic use inside a methodological structure that made a movie, or some of its parts, the stirring element in the hypnodrama sessions I usually run. The modifications of the state of consciousness allowing the subject to observe their own story from different angles, just like light trance in hypnodrama, were stimulated further by the fiction of the screening which, at the same time, would stimulate identification and distance from the plot there of."

Sophie Rinaldie writes in her article Human mind, life and it's consequences: "Many of you felt intuitively the power the good cinema can have, that's why it is such a powerful industry: beside being a hope industry, it offers also the frame for individual reflection, identification or confrontation with similar issues you encounter in your life."

Zackary Adler describes his own experience with Cinema Therapy on Recovery Road Productions in the following way: "In my early sobriety I decided to make a short film about addiction, it was a subject I found interesting and compelling and I found a concept that I thought would be good for me to execute. ... The process of writing and then making the film somehow allowed me to explore and share thoughts, feelings, fears, confusions, doubts, resentments, angers, hopes and dreams in very clear and real way. ... I am now working with treatment centers, I do a weekly Cinema Therapy group and also work individually with the clients."

starCinema Therapy International

Psychology student Sanja Piplica wrote the thesis Filmtherapy - Der Film als therapeutisches Medium. Sanja discusses her approach using the movie As in Heaven.

The German professional magazine for physicians Das Aerzteblatt published an article about the protayal od dying and death in film: Sterben und Tod in den Medien: „Filme über das Sterben sind Filme über das gelungene Leben“ by Ulrike Hempel. In response to this article Wolfgang Ellenberger, a German physician, wrote to Das Aerzteblatt a letter to the editor in which he informs the magazine about the documentary about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Dem Tod ins Gesicht Sehen as well as my Cinema therapy presentation at his psychosomatic hospital Klinik Waldleiningen last year.

Karolina Giedrys informed me that the Polish website Kinoterapia is devoted to the above-mentioned project of "Kinoterapia" - film meetings combining advantages of an artistic event with the healing potential of cinematherapy: "By the occasion of this venture we attempt to introduce our audience to the approach of cinematherapy, exploring it via interviews with practitioners related to it, articles translated from English, and our own reflections concerning our own encounters with meaningful, deep and affirmative films."

The Polish psychological magazine Sens published my article Frida in March.


When I met Angela Zhe Wu at my Cinema Alchemy workshop at Esalen institute this February, she told me about her thesis Applying Cinema Therapy with Adolescents and a Cinema Therapy Workshop, a two part paper, presented to the faculty of the California State University, East Bay. I find her thesis very informative. Part II is extremely useful for anybody who uses movies when working with adolescents. Here are Part I and Part II.

starCinema Therapy Q&A:

I am thoroughly enjoying your book, E-Motion Picture Magic, and I am truly amazed and thrilled by the number of films that you have viewed and listed in your Film Index! I founded a non-profit organization called C.A.R.E. Counseling Center, providing services for Male Batterers Intervention, Female Batterers Intervention, Victims of Domestic Violence, Anger Control Training, Substance Abuse, and Parenting. Some clients are court-ordered and some are not. I am beginning to use films now as a result of your impressive work.
I have looked at your films under Anger and Forgiveness and already used Changing Lanes and The Upside of Anger. Do you have other films addressing Anger? We have Domestic Violence films but none on Anger--even though they are somewhat similar. I would appreciate hearing from you, and again, I am excited to be using more films, thanks to you!!!

I am happy that you are using movies in the way you described. When I think about anger Antwone Fisher and "relationship and divorce films" such as Kramer vs. Kramer or The Story of Us come to mind. I would be hesitant using The War of the Roses in most circumstances. For anger and forgiveness you might consider The Straight Story.

starTeaching with Movies:

A very useful film index categorized according to alphabetical index of Titles, subject matter, social-emotional learning, morals/ethical emphasis, appropriate age level, etc. is now available on This website also offers short film reviews and guidelines to create lesson plans based on movies.

Kimberly Candelaria from the University of Phoenix wrote: "I teach in the social and behavioral sciences to college students. One of our classes discusses movie analysis. The students choose a movie that has enough troubled characters in it that all learning team members can discuss a character. They identify the characters problems and suggest human resources organizations and services that might be helpful referrals to their "client." I refer clients also to your site for movies and your book about cinema therapy. I encourage students to begin their personal libraries and recommend books. I wanted you to know that I refer to your website."

starNew Film:

The Difference - The Movie is a world first, global self-improvement phenomenon. Jacqueline Bignell in association with 'Inspired Living Entertainment' is gathering 6,000 dynamic difference makers from around the world to share their knowledge, wisdom and experiences to co-create an film to inspire humanity to reach the fullest expression.


Therapeutic Movie Review Column
By Birgit Wolz

Rachel Getting Married

Director: Jonathan Demme
Producers: Neda Armian, Marc Platt, Jonathan Demme Screenwriter: Jenny Lumet
Cast: Anne Hathaway, Rosemarie DeWitt, Bill Irwin, Tunde Adebimpe, Anis George, Debra Winger
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2008


Kym, a recovering drug addict and the black sheep of an upper-middle-class family, is given a weekend pass to leave an alcohol and drug rehabilitation program in order to attend the wedding of her older sister, Rachel. After being in and out of rehab for 10 years, Kym is now several months into a treatment that seems to be working. Since she has long ago lost her family's confidence in her recovery, being around them makes her more vulnerable to backsliding.

Kym's family lives in a big old country house in Connecticut that is now filled with family, future in-laws, and friends of the bride and groom. Rachel's doting father, Paul, and his second wife, Carol, attempt to cheerlead the family and wish great happiness for the bride-to-be. But Kym, who is often seen through cigarette smoke, noisily attests, and the apprehensive attitude of their mother, Abby, quietly indicates that this family cannot brush aside its past and move into the future without a hitch. Although all the major characters in this movie have the best intentions, they can't keep from hurting each other.

Kym is like the "Pandora's Box" of Greek mythology: a repository of guilt, destructiveness, and general bad feeling. She anticipates and sometimes provokes the bad vibes emanating toward her from the family and others, especially Rachel's snappish, overprotective best friend, Emma. At the rehearsal dinner, when Kym rises to toast her older sister and rambles with forced good cheer about making amends, the guests go stone-faced. She longs to make things right, even if she doesn't know how.

We learn that Kym had been a child model whose mood swings frequently prompted her anxious dad to rush in and coddle her. Now she is a magnetic figure, drawing Paul's attention away from Rachel and pulling her family's center of gravity toward herself. Everybody both tries to accommodate the younger sister's need for recognition and struggles against it. Because Rachel is at long last fed up with being upstaged, she pulls out a trump card in the midst of a public screaming match that she would ordinarily never win: she announces she is pregnant. As relatives clamor around Rachel, Kym cries, "That's so unfair!"

While Kym is an irritant for the family, she is also a truth detector who can't help evaluating the honesty of others. Having looked ruthlessly within, she can sense when Rachel and Paul are not truthful with her or with each other. Rachel has not told her sister that she is moving to Hawaii and that she has asked Emma, not Kym, to be her maid of honor. When she tries to get to a 12-step meeting, Paul drives her crazy, because he refuses to let her drive his car. He needs to know her whereabouts every minute. Thinking of Kym behind the wheel summons memories of a car accident in which her younger brother had died when she was driving. The family continues to react to Kym as if she were an active addict. She feels constrained by her protective father and flashes into fearsome combat with her mother.

Rachel's adoring fiancé, Sidney, as well as her stepmother, Carol, are African-American. Some movie reviewers have praised that in this movie, races and traditions are gathered in a pleasing display of genteel multiculturalism. Viewing this as a naïve projection of a longed-for harmony that does not yet exist, others have criticized that no expressions of prejudice or social unease are displayed by anyone in the film. I believe that racial divisions are not made to disappear, but rather that, even in an imperfect world, on this particular weekend, the wedding is more important. It represents a symbolic as well as an actual union and an intimation of possible perfection in regards to multicultural harmony.

Kym succeeds in gaining inner balance through attending 12-step meetings during this weekend and through the support of a friend who she meets there. The sisters reconnect and express affection after they openly talk and empathize with the other's struggles. Together they feel more capable to deal with the dysfunctions in their family. Eventually, genuine love and good feeling buoys the wedding ceremony.

Theoretical Contemplation

Positive Psychology is a recent branch of psychology that studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. Using this approach, researchers and practitioners have developed Positive Psychotherapy for the clinical setting, to treat psychological problems effectively by building positive resources and buffer against their future reoccurrence.

Because film characters frequently model the development of desired virtues and strengths, Cinema Alchemy lends itself very well to be integrated into Positive Psychotherapy. When clients recognize their inner resources, they are more effective in coping with a crisis.

Films that are useful in this approach can be dark and intense, as they drive home important issues of the struggle of human suffering, and the painful acceptance of reality. Many movies follow the pattern of the mythological Hero's Journey. Despite initial resistance, the hero has to fight and overcome challenges, and experiences an inner transformation in the process.

Cinema Alchemy

Elaine, a 38-year-old Chinese stay-at-home mom of a young boy, was referred to me by her psychiatrist who prescribed antidepressants for her. She had carried out a pregnancy a couple of years before her son was born, although doctors had told her that her daughter was unlikely to live. The baby lived only for a couple of hours. After giving birth to her son, Elaine had experienced untreated post-partum depression and felt overwhelmed with her childcare duties. Instead, she started drinking at least one bottle of wine every day for several years. Her marriage and her care for her son suffered immensely. She continued to drink after she started taking antidepressants recently, although her psychiatrist advised strongly against it.

We first worked on Elaine's grief and trauma, associated with the loss of her first child, as well as on her resistance to enter an alcohol rehabilitation program. Who would take care of her son if she left for a while? But this was not the only reason for her resistance. Because she felt ashamed, Elaine had put much effort into keeping her excessive drinking a secret from her church community and her family of origin, although her siblings drank too. Rehab was inconceivable, because they might find out about it.

Following a day of drinking an excessive amount of hard liquor besides wine, she felt extremely sick from a hangover. This opened a window for her husband, Bob, and me to convince Elaine to start rehab. She entered a 14-day inpatient program followed by a 14-day part-time outpatient program.

I continued seeing her for weekly sessions as soon as she began the outpatient program. My client expressed pleasant surprise that her husband was capable of managing their household and taking care of their son during her absence. He also joined the recommended meetings for spouses of alcoholics.

Along with all her other mental health providers, I encouraged Elaine to share with her family that she was in rehab.   However, she only informed her oldest brother, whose wife was an alcoholic too. Even though he promised to keep her secret from the other family members, he broke his promise at a family reunion a few weeks later. The shock and shame of this unexpected exposure lead to a bout of depression and a temporary relapse. My client expressed doubt whether she was capable of staying sober, given the dysfunction of her family, her many weaknesses, and the bad luck in her life that always made her depressed.

Because Positive Psychotherapy exercises have proven successful for the treatment of depression, I suggested a Cinema Alchemy intervention in combination with Positive Psychotherapy. I asked Elaine to watch Rachel Getting Married and to focus on Rachel's strengths and honesty, as well as on what Rachel and family members did right in the movie.

During our following session, Elaine told me how impressed she was by Rachel's courage, persistence, and determination in spite of her dysfunctional family. Because of her own ethnic background, she loved that a multicultural family was portrayed. The movie and my viewing instructions enabled my client to access these strengths in herself.

Now Elaine was willing to practice several Positive Psychotherapy exercises. She especially liked the exercise: Three Good Things/Blessings: Every evening, right before you go to bed, write down three good things that happened (large or small) and why you think they happened. To introduce this exercise, I told her: "You tend to spend more time thinking about what has gone wrong than what has gone right. Ruminating on what goes wrong may lead to increased depression. Focusing on your positive experiences may increase them. It takes a voluntary effort not to just focus on the negative."

Elaine has not relapsed any more, feels less depressed, and attends AA meetings several times a week. She keeps more distance from her drinking family members and continues to practice positive psychotherapy exercises.

Guidelines for Questions and Suggestions

•  How did you feel when you observed Rachel's courage, persistence, and determination to be honest, make amends, and stay clean and sober in spite of inner struggles and problems with her family?

•  Imagine yourself with these strengths.

•  How would they affect your sense of fulfillment in life?

•  What positive thoughts and feelings are you experiencing as

you imagine this?

•  Practice one or more Positive Psychotherapy exercises as you focus on developing the above-mentioned strengths (see exercises in:

starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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