The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #35
August, 2009
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starIn the Spotlight:

The article, Health Notes: The Healing Powers of Hollywood, summarizes the approach that the British movie therapist and author of Movie Therapy: How it Changes Lives , Bernie Wooder, takes to Cinematherapy.


The new book, The Cinematic Mirror For Psychology And Life Coaching, (Editor: Mary Gregerson) will be published by Springer on November 27, 2009. From the Publisher: "Cinema both reflects life and contours life-that is its psychological power. And for decades, clinicians and educators have recognized the value of this power, using it to respectively heal in therapy and educate in the classroom. The Cinematic Mirror for Psychology and Life Coaching mines the illustrative value of cinema, offering therapists and life coaches access to ideas that can motivate and enlighten clients."

Another book, Movie Therapy for Law Students, surveys about 35 movies that focus on areas of the law. The book includes statutory material, court cases, ethical rules, evidence rules, civil and criminal procedure rules, and law school and bar exam tips.

NOOMA is a project that offers a series of spiritual short films which are especially useful for churches. Each NOOMA DVD is approximately 10-13 minutes long and is accompanied by a 32 page discussion guide. This project was created by the author and pastor, Rob Bell.

10StarMovies provides a large collection of online movies and documentaries. The website enables users to watch films without downloading any software by streaming video files online for free. Registration is optional.

Another site,, offers unlimited online movie downloads after signing up for a membership.

starWorkshops and Online Courses:

Birgit Wolz

Sunday, February 14 through Friday, February 19, 2010
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 helps us find our authentic self and essence.

Clinical training material will be provided on CDs.

Psychologists, Counselors, other Psychotherapists, Nurses, and Teachers earn 26 CEU.

Fee: depends on choice of accommodation
Registration: 831-667-3005 or
General information about Esalen can be found here.

Continuing Education Online Courses:

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
(useful also for parents and teachers)
- 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.

These courses can also be taken separately.

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.

Valerie Igl

Queer Night at the Movies: A Monthly Film and Discussion Series
Sunday evenings, 6:00 - 9:00 pm
3 CEU's available for MFTs and LCSWs
In El Cerrito, California. Exact address and directions sent upon registration.

Participants enjoy distinctive, informative videos, especially chosen to educate you about the diversity of experiences in the queer communities. It's a fun and easy way to learn. Everyone in the community is welcome - including LGBT people and their family members, therapists and other helping professionals, and church members who want to create a more welcoming congregation.

August 23rd, 2009 - Queer Parents
September 27th, 2009 - Queer Youth
October 25th, 2009 - Family Issues
November 22nd, 2009 - FTM Stories (Female to Male)
January 24th, 2010 - Lesbians
February 28th, 2010 - Other Genders
Future dates and topics to be announced.

Audit rate: $25 each, 3 for $70, or 5 for $115
CEU rate: $50 each, 3 for $140, or 5 for $230.

starNew Blogs and Websites:

Dan Dennick suggests 5 “Must Watch” Movies For Guys Going Through A Break Up on his blog, Getting Over Your Ex-Girlfriend. He lists and describes five films that are relevant to this subject. For every movie he mentions "scenes to watch for" and "takeways".

Dr. Kersey lists his favorite quotes from great movies he has seen and what he learned from them in his article The Art Of CinemaTherapy - What I Learned
From The Movies
. He is a licensed psychologist in Indiana.

starCinema Therapy Q&A:

Mike Machosky, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, asked me several questions about the attraction of sad movies. His questions and my answers can be read here.

starCinema Therapy International

Jaime Burque ( wrote: "I am a psychotherapist from La Coruña (Spain) and I opened my cinematherapy web page one month ago ( After countless therapy sessions, I´ve realized the undeniable power of the audiovisual work to help ourselves. Many of the therapy sessions I do are supplemented with films that always help patients. From the collaboration of film experts, psychologists and psychotherapists, I have developed a therapy based on the movies (and series), from a wide selection of films. I focus all my efforts on the benefits of films movies for a psychological recovery or as a complement to personal growth."

The Polish psychological magazine Sens published my article My Big Fat Greek Wedding Part I and Part II in May, 2009.


Jim Knickerbocker, Ph.D. studied how cinematherapists select films for clients as part of his dissertation research. Interviewing 38 experienced cinematherapy practitioners in 11 countries, he identified 46 attributes cited by the practitioner group as part of their film selection process, and determined the most commonly used attributes. You can download the entire dissertation by clicking here.   Jim is writing an article summarizing his dissertation research; if you have suggestions for appropriate journals or would like to review a draft of the article, you can contact Jim at

Christopher Courtright ( is a doctoral student at Argosy University in Spirituality and Psychology. He also works at St. Joseph's Addiction Treatment Center in upstate NY as the spiritual director and pastoral counselor. Therefore, he is contemplating a doctoral dissertation with the following topics: movies as spiritual growth for the recovering addict, movies as healing of internalized homophobia for addicted men, or movies as spiritual and professional growth of the therapist. Christopher is very interested in getting feedback concerning these ideas.


Last Chance Harvey

Director: Joel Hopkins
Producer: Frank Yablans
Screenwriter: Joel Hopkins
Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, Eileen Atkins, James Brolin, Liane Balaban, Kathy Baker, Richard Schiff
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2008


The frustrated New Yorker, Harvey Shine, is a serious musician at heart, but has compromised his creative ambitions. After he failed as a jazz pianist, he found some success writing jingles for TV ads. But Harvey is now on the verge of losing his job. Warned by his boss that he has just one more chance to deliver, he flies to London for a weekend to attend his daughter Susan's wedding. He promises to be back on Monday morning to make an important meeting. Harvey knows that this is the absolute worst time to have to take a trip out of the country.

Father and daughter have a strained relationship. She is marrying into a family that seems to have a greater affinity for his ex-wife's new husband than himself. Harvey feels like the odd man out at the rehearsal dinner. W hen he tells Susan that he can not stay for the wedding reception because of work, she informs him that she has chosen to have her stepfather walk her down the aisle. Harvey tries to hide his devastation, attends the ceremony, and then attempts to return to New York. But he misses his plane at Heathrow Airport. When he calls his boss to explain, he gets fired on the spot.

In a parallel story, Kate is introduced to the viewer as a sensitive, single, 40-something airport interviewer for the British Office of National Statistics. She is always "on the go", rushing to work, taking care of her lonely and smothering mother, attending literature courses, and, ultimately, never slowing down long enough to allow herself to feel her vulnerability. Her mom is a recent cancer survivor, who is convinced that her new neighbor is a likely serial killer. She is obsessed with Kate's virtually non-existent love life and calls her constantly.

Sometimes Kate is pushed into dates by co-workers who worry about her. But she is sick of being disappointed and would rather stick with a good book and give love a pass. We watch her making clumsy attempts at dating and getting ignored on a particularly humiliating blind date.  

Harvey had been rude to Kate when they met briefly at his arrival at Heathrow where she tried to snare deplaned passengers with a weary smile, a clipboard, and a questionnaire. Later they almost meet again when he exits a cab that she climbs into.

Now both are deep in misery and their parallel lives finally converge. Frustrated with their circumstances, they find themselves the only two people in an airport bar. Harvey tries to drown his sorrows in alcohol, recognizes Kate, apologizes, and, out of desperation, tries to start a conversation. She initially resists, but eventually a spark ignites amid several glasses of booze and teasing chatter. They have lunch together and consequently set off on a peripatetic flirtation that takes them on a stroll alongside the river Thames. Kate feels touched by Harvey, who finds himself energized by her intelligence and compassion.

As they grow closer, Harvey starts sharing with Kate why his relationship with his daughter failed. She responds by telling him that he must attend Susan's wedding reception. Harvey agrees, but only if she'll come with him. After buying Kate a dress, at the reception he delivers a speech about love and forgiveness. Harvey redeems himself with his daughter and Kate begins to fall for him.

After the reception, they walk and talk until sunrise and then make a date to meet again at noon. But Harvey is not able to show up because he collapses as a result of his arrhythmia and is taken to a hospital. But he is determined to find Kate.

In the last scene of the movie, Harvey apologizes to Kate, and says, " Kate, I want this. I want you". She responds: "It's pathetic. I expected you not to show, for God's sake. I think I even wanted you not to be there. It's easier that way. ... I'm not going to do it because it will hurt. Not right now, maybe, but soon - there will be an 'it's not quite working' or an 'I need some space' or whatever it is and it'll end and it'll hurt. ... I think it's actually easier for me to be disappointed. I think I'm actually angry at you for trying to take that away."

After Harvey gives Kate some space, they both display their vulnerability. He also makes her laugh. At this crossroads in their lives, t hey are now able to deeply connect.

Cinema Alchemy

Using films that show couples' dynamics in the context of couples therapy can help clients learn necessary attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors. Movies that introduce readily grasped images can teach couples to communicate unfamiliar concepts to their partners.

Films can also be used as cautionary tales: Couples learn "by proxy" how not to do something or not to behave because they see the negative consequences of a character's behavior in a relationship.

When one partner resists therapy, encouraging them to watch a movie where a characters struggles with similar issues often helps the resisting client to open up because they are less intimidated by the therapeutic process and less afraid of getting blamed. Watching a film with subsequent discussion helps couples to see their situation from a bird's eye perspective. Resistance often results from a feeling of helplessness. Many movies demonstrate behavior change, and couples start to envision how their own problems might be solved.

Theoretical Contemplations

Film critics have called Mommie Dearest a "depressive" movie. Depressive and violent films should be used carefully in therapy because they can be re-traumatizing if they reactivate previous psychological trauma.

On the other hand, using movies in therapy that can trigger fear, anger, or sadness might help clients become more conscious of these emotions if they have been repressed. In work with psychological trauma, this is one of several treatment methods that help clients process trauma within a so-called "therapeutic window". Interventions are done within this "window" when they create enough therapeutic challenge but don't lead to an overwhelming internal experience. Emotional overwhelm needs to be avoided because it can create an avoidance response, like dissociation, etc.

When characters are portrayed who seem depressed, a film can - almost like a support group - help clients feel less isolated with their challenging experiences or they can serve as a psycho-educational tool in cognitive work. If the character's depression is a result of grief, this kind of movie helps normalize grief.

Guidelines for Questions and Suggestions

Keep the following questions in mind while you watch:

•  What parts of the movie touch you most?

•  What character do you most identify with and why?

•  What enables Kate show their vulnerability, let go of her fear of emotional intimacy, and eventually start trusting Harvey?

Questions after the movie:

•  What did you like and what did you not like about Kate's and Harvey's communication?

•  How are your communication patterns similar or different?

•  What makes you afraid of emotional intimacy (explore history)?

•  What can you learn from Kate and Harvey?

•  What do you want to do differently than Kate and Harvey?

•  Can you imagine yourself with the courage to express the truth about your hurt and/or your love, although you feel scared?

•  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