The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #36
November, 2009
Unsubscribe info at the end of the issue


The new book, The Cinematic Mirror for Psychology and Life Coaching, will be released on Nov 27, 2009. Mary Banks Gregerson is the editor of this collectively authored book, which will bring professionals involved in healing, coaching, counseling, education, and mentoring not only new applications but new appreciation for the transformative power of film. I contributed with the chapter Cinema Alchemy Using the Power of Films In Psychotherapy and Coaching.

Movie Yoga: How Every Film Can Change Your Life by Tav Sparks encourages readers to watch movies as a practice to connect with something larger than themselves, whether an inspiration, a cause, the cosmos, God, or humanity.

The 3rd., revised and expanded edition of Danny Wedding's Movies and Mental Illness is due to be released towards the end of 2009. This new edition has more practical features and expanded contents: a full film index, “Authors’ Picks”, sample syllabus, and more international films. Wedding is the Director of the Missouri Institute for Mental Health and 2009 President of the American Psychological Association's Division of Media Psychology.

The website, Cinema Psychologia, provides a list of film recommendations, organized by themes. Some of these movies are linked to a full review.


Birgit Wolz

Sunday, March 14 through Friday, March 19, 2010 (please note: Esalen had to change the dates from February to March)
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.

Additional teaching materials are available on CD's for clinicians who want to incorporate these methods into their practice.

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

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

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.

November 22nd, 2009 - FTM Stories (Female to Male)
January 24th, 2010 - Lesbians
February 28th, 2010 - Other Genders
Future dates and topics to be announced.

Registration options:
- Online:
- Email:

John and Karen Louis are offering Movie Therapy Training Programs ( both in LA and Singapore in February 2010. This Training focuses on learning to help married couples and parents in churches and in communities through Movie Therapy.

starOnline Courses:

In response to multiple requests, I developed two Cinema Therapy certification programs.

1. One is designed for mental health professionals - click here.
2. Another, shorter, certification course can be taken by anybody (no prerequisites required) - click here.

- Upon completion of a program, students will receive a ready to be framed certificate of completion for their course of study, "Cinema Therapy."
- These programs can be completed in more than one session over a three-year period.
- Continuing education credits can be earned with either program.

The certificate programs are composed of individual courses, which can also be taken separately.

Continuing education credits are available for all courses for Psychologists (APA), MFTs & LCSWs (CA-BBS), Social Workers (ASWB) and counselors in California and other states. Click here for more information.


Stairways Group Movie Therapy Mini Workshop Series: Dr. Fuat Ulus, the Forensic Behavioral Health Program Clinical Coordinator, oversees the Mental Health Courts based Behavioral Health Forensic Psychiatry Services operated by Stairways Behavioral Health, at the Pennsylvania Erie County Prison and Forensic Outpatient Program. Dr. Ulus and his team started group movie therapy sessions on September 29, 2009 at the Erie County Prison (not a private practice endeavor). To teach problem solving skills, for example, they showed a clip from the movie What's Cooking? (2000). To teach assertive instead of aggressive methods, they showed clips from Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), The Kingdom (2007), and Wild Iris (2001). Forgiving self and others was taught through clips from The Quarrel (1991) and Immortal Beloved (1994). During subsequent sessions, the subjects "Psychiatry vs. Organized Religion, Mutually Complicating Adversaries" and "Behavioral Health vs. Spirituality" were introduced through vignettes from The Song of Bernadette (1943), and The Omen (1976). Protocols of these sessions are available upon request.

Michael Kahn, LPC, JD in Charlotte, NC offered two Reel To Real Movie Groups. One focused on relationships and one on grief. Mainstream and independent movies with themes related to the groups' topic were selected. Participants watched some movies together and some for homework. There was a focused group discussion following each film.

Michael also uses movies in his other workshops:
Reel Therapy: Ethical and Professional Issues for Therapists
Reel Therapy Too: Ethical and Professional Challenges in Small Communities
Reel Grief: Using Film and Visual Arts with Grieving Clients
Put Your Oxygen Mask on First: Therapist Self-Care.

starNew Blogs and Websites:

The Arts & Entertainment website posted the article: Counselors Are Now Using Movies for Patient Therapy and for Self Improvement, You Can Too! by Tammy Kane. This article emphasizes that Cinema Therapy works because people have the ability to learn from watching others: vicarious learning.

The website Cinema Psychologia discusses the subject of films and mental illness in the context of the movies, Fatal Attraction, Gone Baby Gone (substance abuse), and Requiem for a Dream. This site also lists films that depict therapists in cinema.


The article, Obama’s Favorite Films & Policies on The Arts quotes President Obama saying that he liked The Godfather movies. Our colleague Dr. Fuat Ulus commented, "The Godfather Part II has shown in research to raise the male hormone testosterone 30 percent".

starQuestions and Answers:

Ursula (on the listserv Cinema Therapy Forum):

I do have a question to the ones working with CT in private practice: how do you handle the "film-rights" problem? Do you send your clients home with: "please buy the film XX, watch it at home and then come back" or do you "buy" rights to show (at least) parts of a film in your practice to your client? Or has anybody even a business-license for DVD rental and is renting a recommended film to the client?


Because of time constraints and because I want my clients to see the whole movie in most cases, I send my clients home with: "please rent the film XX, watch it at home and then come back".

Educational institutions can show whole movies without any licensing constraints. This is not about a business license, but about copyright laws which are regulated in a pretty complicated fashion.

For exact information about this you need to contact MPLC (Motion Picture Licensing Corporation) regarding an Umbrella License. I am not a lawyer, but I believe that they wouldn't ask you to pay for such a license if you just show a few movie clips to a couple of individual clients. It's best to get their approval though.


You know, it's quite difficult to get information on this subject in Austria, where I live. According to my experience, sending clients home to buy and watch a movie doesn't work well here (in America it is different for sure), because people have problems with getting the movie even when they have access to internet shopping and paying for it AND for my counseling.
Sometimes they are suspicious that the recommended movie may not be proper for them, and don't want to buy some more films, and always come back to me to talk about ...
So having "the permission" of showing them a short key-scene of a film, right in my practice - when they are in a certain emotion while talking with me about a problem AND analyzing their reaction right after, may be the solution.
Also: the time between counseling, watching movie at home, and subsequent counseling is often too long and so the client forgets or misinterprets his feelings ... He isn't "connected" to the movie anymore, even if he made notes while watching.


Sorry, I forgot that you live in Austria. In the US people use Netflix or go to the video store to rent a movie. Clients don't need to buy the DVD. Regarding copyright law you might have to contact the Austrian regulatory agencies.

Here are my thoughts about the use of a film clip versus using the movie as a whole:
The length of the therapeutic hour doesn’t allow showing a whole movie. Therapists who use movies in their work are divided in their opinion on whether to show movie clips in session or to let clients watch a whole film at home. Showing a clip during a session has the advantage for clients that they have a more immediate experience, and for therapists that they have more control over the message they want to convey. Some therapists believe that other parts of a movie could deviate from the intended goal.
Asking a client to watch a whole movie at home has the following advantages:
1. Because of equipment limitations and time constraints during a session, this approach is usually more practical.
2. The experience of a whole movie allows the viewer to get “pulled” into the experience more and therefore identify more with the characters, which is important for Cinema Therapy.
3. Using movies in therapy is often useful for clients who go through life transitions. Experiencing a movie character throughout an entire cycle of transition is usually helpful. For many clients it is easier to understand how to resolve a movie character’s dilemma first before they apply it to their own situation. Often, only the whole movie can provide this experience.



Director: Pete Doctor
Producers: John Lasseter, Jonas Rivera
Screenwriter: Bob Peterson
Cast: Ed Asner, Jordan Nagai, Christopher Plummer, Bob Peterson, John Ratzenberger
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2009


Carl Fredricksen, a shy 8 year-old boy, and Ellie, an outgoing and rather eccentric girl, meet and discover they share the same dream of someday being explorers. Their hero is a daring adventurer named Charles Muntz, who explores a plateau in Venezuela and brings back the bones of fantastic creatures previously unknown to man. When his discoveries are accused of being faked, he gets enraged and flies off to South America, vowing to bring back living creatures to prove his claims. Hearing about this, Ellie asks Carl to promise her to have a real adventure and move the ramshackle old house, in which they often play, to Paradise Falls in South America.

The two children grow up, have a courtship, marry, buy the old house, turn it into their dream home, are happy together, and grow old. Carl makes a living as a toy balloon vendor and Ellie as a zookeeper. Unable to have children, they save their loose change in a gallon jug for the trip to Paradise Falls . But financial obligations get in the way: flat tires, home repairs, and medical bills. Just as they seem to finally be able to take their trip, Ellie dies of old age, leaving the grieving Carl behind. He becomes a recluse and talks to the absent Ellie. As the years pass, the city grows with construction around Carl's house, but the 78-year-old man refuses to move. After a tussle with a construction worker over Carl's broken mailbox, the court orders the old man to move into Shady Oaks Retirement Home.

Carl comes up with a scheme to keep his promise to Elli. Having worked all his life as a balloon man, he has the equipment on hand to create a makeshift airship using 10,000 helium-filled balloons, which lift his house off its foundations and fly to Paradise Falls . What he wasn't counting on was an inadvertent stowaway, Russell, a dutiful Wilderness Explorer Scout trying to earn his final merit badge for "Assisting the Elderly". The boy had been sent on a snipe hunt by Carl the day before to get him out of the way.

After a storm throws them off course, Russell steers the house with the help of his GPS navigator, and they find themselves on the opposite side of the valley from Paradise Falls. With their body weight providing ballast allowing Carl and Russell to pull the floating house, the two begin to walk across, hoping to reach the falls while there is still enough helium in the balloons to keep the house afloat. During the journey, Russell finds a colorful tropical bird, which he names Kevin, not realizing that the bird is actually female.

They later discover Charles Muntz. In order to restore his reputation, he had explored the terrain for many decades trying to bring back a large species of bird, which turns out to be Kevin's species. Carl is initially thrilled to meet his hero, but when he realizes that Muntz is after Kevin and would kill remorselessly in order to capture her alive, Carl rescues the meanwhile injured bird from Muntz.

While Carl and Russell try to assist Kevin to reunite with her chicks, Muntz sets Carl's house on fire. Because Carl chooses saving his house over joining Russell to help Kevin, Muntz is able to quickly capture the bird and fly off in his airship. Though Carl is finally able to successfully position the house on the ground overlooking Paradise Falls per Ellie's wish, he has lost Russell's favor and trust.

When the old man settles down in his house, he finds Ellie's scrapbook and discovers notes and mementos of her life with Carl. In a final note she thanks her husband for the adventure of their marriage and encourages him to go on an adventure of his own. Invigorated by Ellie's last wish, he lightens the weight of his house by dumping all his furniture and possessions, allowing him to chase after Muntz and help Russell save Kevin. After some fighting, Carl manages to trick Muntz to go inside the house while saving Russell and Kevin. The house drifts off into the clouds -- a loss he gracefully accepts as being for the best.

Now Carl returns Kevin to her chicks and Russell back to the city. When Russell's father snubs his son's Senior Explorer ceremony, Carl fulfills that role himself to proudly present Russell with his final badge, the grape soda badge that Ellie presented to Carl when they first met.

Afterward, Carl, reinvigorated in both spirit and body from his adventure, becomes a cheerfully active community volunteer and develops a strong father-like relationship with Russell and develops friendships with the other Wilderness Explorers Scouts.

Cinema Alchemy

Leslie, a young mother, brought her five-year old son Luke to therapy because he had nightmares and threw temper tantrums for about two months. She had already tried behavioral modification techniques for the temper tantrums unsuccessfully. I alternated between seeing Luke for play therapy and sand tray work, seeing Leslie to discuss parenting issues, and meeting with both of them together.

During a joint session, I asked the boy whether he has a favorite movie. He spontaneously told me about Up. Leslie added that he expressed a desire to watch this film again and again. At the same time, I learned that Luke doesn't know his father because he had left Leslie before Luke was born. Leslie's dad, who had lived with them, took on a father role before mother and son had relocated from another state a couple of months ago. Luke was very attached to his grandpa. Right before they moved, the grandfather had been angry with his grandson for a prank that the boy had played on him. They rarely were able to talk on the phone because grandpa suffered from a hearing loss.

During our next individual session, I asked Luke to choose figures from my sand tray figure collection and "play" something that he remembered from the movie. He picked the figures of an old man and a young boy. I noticed that Luke primarily focused on the sequence of the film in which Carl chooses saving his house over supporting Russell to help Kevin. In spite of his young age, my client was able to tell me how bad Russell felt in this scene.

Luke's response made me wonder whether the boy might believe that he is responsible for the fact that grandpa is not in his daily life any more. Therefore I asked Luke whether he thinks that it was Russell's fault that Carl didn't help him at first. He responded with, "not really". I told him that he was exactly right and that it's not his fault either that his grandpa doesn't live with them any more. Luke looked at me as if he didn't believe what I said. When I asked him whether he missed his grandpa, he nodded with a sad look on his face.

During the subsequent session with Leslie, I told her about Luke's responses and encouraged her to keep telling him that he is not responsible for the separation from his grandfather. She agreed to encourage Luke's grandfather let her son know that he is not angry at him any more, to buy a hearing aid that allows him to talk to his grandson on the phone, and to plan a visit.

After a while, they were able to arrange such a visit as well as set up phone calls on a regular basis. When I asked her son to "play" Up again, he focused on the last part of the story, the "happy end". Not much later, his nightmares and temper tantrums disappeared.

Theoretical Contemplations

Because young children are usually not able to talk about conflicts or other problems directly, using film characters gives them an opportunity to work through unresolved psychological material. Instead of direct communication, a film offers understanding through readily grasped images. It serves as a metaphor and therefore represents more accurately feelings and ideas that a child had trouble putting into words. Therefore movies are useful as an adjunct to traditional therapeutic methods when working with young clients.

Many children want to repeatedly watch the same movie. They become focused on certain characters because they are playing out significant concerns or developmental tasks, such as figuring out how to overcome the fear of a challenging situation.

Guidelines for Work with Children

• First determine the child's abilities. Choose movies according to the child's developmental capacities and the treatment plan.

• Young children's developmental limitations can reduce the effectiveness of assigning movies between sessions because of the time lapse between their viewing of the film at home and the discussion in session. This is different when a discussion follows immediately after a movie clip is shown in session, or when families watch movies together at home in the context of family therapy. The desire for repetition and recurrent focus on a particular film can prompt children to come to therapy ready to play out or to describe the movie they have been watching.

• When children don't talk about their responses to a movie, puppets, figures, and drawings can be used to recreate scenes that are relevant for the child. The characters in these scenes can represent family members, care takers, teachers or friends.

starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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