The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #37
February 2010
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The Cinematic Mirror for Psychology and Life Coaching is now in the bookstores. This collectively authored book brings 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.

The website introduces Cinematherapy Coaching and Cinema Coaching Guidelines. provides useful listings and reviews of films that portray psychiatric themes. "Themes include portrayals of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals at work; people suffering from various mental disorders, alcohol and drug problems, interpersonal conflicts and life crises; treatment of these problems; and contemporary psychological, social, ethical and moral issues." The information is organized by film titles and themes. The site also lists many articles.

Another useful resource about the Cinema Portrayal of Mental Health can be found here.

Psychology Today published on January 28, 2010 Movie Therapy for Mindless Eaters by Susan Albers, PsyD: "If you are a mindless eater who is in need of motivation to change your ways, movie therapy might just be what you are looking for. ... Every now and then a good flick can teach you something important and transform your feelings and actions." The article lists 5 "Movies to Help You End Mindless Eating" and 4 "Movies to Motivate Mindful Eating". The same article appeared in the Huffington Post.

Bill Johnson, a client of Gary Solomon, talks about his cinema therapy experience and Solomon's book Reel Therapy on YouTube.

In her article, Cinema Therapy: Crying at the Movies is Good for the Soul, Eve Visconti asks: "Do you ever wonder why it's so easy to cry at movies and so hard to cry in real life?" She explores why films evoke powerful emotions and lists seven classic tearjerkers.

Advanced Cinematherapy by Beverly West and Cinematherapy for the Soul by Beverly West and Nancy Peske are now available as iPhone Apps.


Birgit Wolz

Sunday, March 14 through Friday, March 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.

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.

February 28th, 2010 - Other Genders
March 28th     -    Queer Youth
April 25th     -     Queer Parents
May 23rd    -    FTM Stories (Female to Male)
July 25th    -    Gay Men
August 22nd    -    Queer History
September 26th    -    Family Issues
October 24th    -    Bisexuality
November 28th    -    MTF Stories (Male to Female)

Registration options:
- Online: QueerFilms
- Email:

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.


Fuat Ulus, M.D. and Michael M. Kalm, had a very inspiring exchange of thoughts about the expression of evil in movies and literature here.

starNew Blogs and Websites:

On the site One Word at a Time the article Multi-Genre Research Paper: Movies as Therapy emphasizes: "Movies have the specific means of operating that makes it easy for the audience to identify with what’s going on in them in order to confront ourselves with our own reality. If a movie has that purpose the achievement of that purpose will result in the audience’s reactions to it even days after they have seen it."

On Salon, Daniel Mangin writes in his article, Cinema therapy - How some shrinks are using movies to help their clients cope with life and just feel better: "Lawsuits against "Natural Born Killers" and "The Basketball Diaries" accuse their creators of providing road maps to killers. The issues are more complex than the suits suggest, but that a court is hearing the cases at all is recognition that there is some interplay between film messages and the conscious and unconscious mind. If movies are capable of doing great harm, though, it stands to reason they possess the potential to heal as well."

On the, a website for social workers, Alyson Mischel, LCSW writes under Issues & Answers – Media, Technology, and Psychotherapy: "Cinematherapy works best in the tradition of Systems Theory and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which are the treatment modalities used by most social workers. Films may help clients become aware of their irrational beliefs and poor coping mechanisms.

On Psychology Today's site Cathy Malchiodi, an art therapist and visual artist, writes in the article Cinematherapy: Reel Therapy During the Holidays: "Holiday films are particularly evocative, not only because of their content, but also because they air at a time of year when we are taking stock of our lives and relationships, reflecting on endings, and imagining new beginnings. But their messages reach beyond the season to more universal themes."

In her response to this article, Judy Weiser, R.Psych A.T.R. points to several resources, including an interest group for movie therapy, which annually discusses movies that members suggest as having made a difference in their work as a clinician and is organized by the American Family Therapy Academy.


Mehmet Fuat Ulus, M.D. Erie, PA wrote in his Letter to the Editor, Situation Worsening to Psychiatric News on July 3, 2009, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association: "I founded group cinema therapy sessions. Such services are not or rarely reimbursable."


Michael Fleming and Ericka Bohnel published the article Use of Feature Film as Part of Psychological Assessment in APA's journal Professional Psychology: Research and Practice (Vol 40(6), Dec 2009, 641-647). The article describes the possible benefits of a clinical assessment technique that uses patients’ choices of feature film during the initial inpatient psychological mental status exam.

Joshua Emarico Antonio, a graduating psychology student from the University of Santo Tomas, Philippines and his colleagues completed their undergraduate thesis entitled, The Effect of Cinematherapy on the Anxiety of Male Prisoners from the National Bilibid Prison.

Freddy Roy wrote in his article How You Can Be Happy During The Holidays Without Breaking The Bank on the website "Watching movies that feature warm, sunny, summery climates show demonstrable improvements in mood. Research shows that any film with clear blue cloudless skies, palm trees and an absence of snow should qualify for a movie therapy." This research is also mentioned on Public Healthcare Promotion.

La Frugalista wrote in their article Cinema Therapy: "A study by the University of Michigan found that watching a romantic movie raises levels of progesterone by 10%. This calming hormone can reduce anxiety and boost well-being. The effects can last for 2 hours after the film has ended."

The Times of India published the article, Cinema Therapy, Aruna Jethwani, saying: "Cinema therapy is perhaps one of the earliest therapies for stress-ridden, mentally troubled and neurotic human beings. We have it on record, that as early as 1938, a research study was conducted in Moscow, to find the effect of cinema on ‘certain type’ of patients. Consequently, a special cinema studio was built at the psychiatric hospital in Podolsk, near Moscow. Experiments carried out on patients showed that under the influence of the quiet rhythm of a film, epileptics became calm and felt better for some days after seeing the film. Violent mental cases behaved well after seeing a light comedy."


Shaka posted the article AD-HD Tweens And Teens Tips: Cinema Therapy, saying, "Since AD/HD youth are so visual and creative, learning about social interactions, cliques, and peer pressure from films on these very topics can be very helpful. ... “Napoleon Dynamite” is a good example of a film that gives the movie goer a close-up glimpse of the dynamic tension often found in their own high school when it comes down to cliques, clubs, and student elections."

star International

Kay Allen from the UK wrote in her article Film Therapy: "Movies connect our world to the film’s characters and plots—furnishing role models, providing inspiration and hope, and offering creative solutions to problems. They assure us that we are not alone and that others have experienced similar problems and triumphed."

Disability on screen: On 12 December 2009, writer, artist and cultural critic Dr. Paul Darke lead a panel discussion and screenings as we take a different look at disability in London. With a showing of Paul Darke and Simon McKeown’s film, Motion Disabled, and a new selection of shorts taken from The Magic Hour short film scheme, many questions were asked in this thought-provoking event.

Murtaza Bootwala in Pune, India writes on his new website: "More than just a novel idea, Cinema Therapy will prove to be just as effective as (if not more effective than) traditional counseling tools when it comes to helping clients attain the self-awareness necessary in the healing process."

In the site Screenindia, Dr P.V. Vaidyanathan M.D. wrote in his article Filmi fundas for good health: "Cinema makes us aware of our deeper layers of consciousness, helps us move toward new perspectives or behavior. By using a lot of symbolism, films allow us to rationalise issues and come to terms with the world around us, with ourselves."


In Country

Director: Norman Jewison
Producers: Jewison and Richard Roth
Screenwriters: Frank Pierson and Cynthia Cidre, based on the novel by Bobbie Ann Mason
Cast: Bruce Willis, Emily Lloyd, Joan Allen, Kevin Anderson, John Terry, Peggy Rea, Judith Iveys
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1989


Both Emmett Smith, a veteran, and his sister's 17-year-old daughter, Samantha, have been affected by the Vietnam War. Samantha's father, Dwayne, died in Vietnam at age 21   - ''in country,'' in the soldiers' slang - before his baby girl was born. The family lives in Hopewell, Kentucky, a small town, which the girl's best friend says, is "dead without a mall". The effects of the war have reached this ordinary area of the country many years ago.

After Samantha's mother, Irene, remarried and moved to Lexington with her second husband, she wants her daughter to follow them. But the teenager would rather stay with Emmett and try to find out more about her dad. Irene agrees to the living arrangement and allows the girl to complete high school with her friends.

Watching her uncle, Samantha develops an increasing curiosity about her father's life and wartime experiences. She has been told very little about her dad. Her mother was not helpful. She only told her daughter, "Honey, I married him a month before he left for the war. He was 19. I hardly even remember him".

When Samantha finds some old photographs and letters of her father, she becomes obsessed with learning more about him. The pictures show a very young soldier, barely older than she is now, in a private's uniform. Sometimes she talks to a photograph, telling her dad about some of the things he missed by being killed in Vietnam, things like listening to Bruce Springsteen. Now Samantha becomes even more determined not to move away to live with her mother and she begins to ask her uncle questions.

Emmett initially does not respond. He has spent the years since the war watching a lot of television and smoking marijuana all day. The veteran very likely suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder and the effects of exposure to Agent Orange. Even though he has headaches, irritability, and skin problems, a doctor brushes his complaints aside. After fighting in Vietnam, he has spent the years in a sort of detached silence. Besides socializing with three other vets Tom, Pete, and Earl, who also have symptoms of PTSD, Emmett disappears into his own passivity. He seems content to let his life slip through his fingers.

Unsatisfied with her uncle's lack of responsiveness, Samantha tries to awaken him with more questions, and even through organizing a dance that the local people sponsor in "belated appreciation to honor the boys who fought the war". When Anita, a nurse with an interest in Emmett, tries to get him to dance, he initially resists because he feels detached and estranged from her like from anybody else. At this event Emmett's friend, Earl, gets irritable and has an outburst of anger and picks a fight with Pete.

The movie ends with Emmett, Samantha, and the girl's grandmother going to visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. Finding her father's name in the memorial releases cathartic emotions for all three. Emotional healing can finally happen.

Cinema Alchemy

Peter was a 28-year-old Iraq veteran. He came to see me because of disturbing nightmares and frequent fights with his girlfriend, Mary. Peter doubted that his war experiences triggered symptoms of posttraumatic stress. He also told me that he did not want to receive any services from support organizations for veterans. Peter felt angry at big institutions in general, especially the American government. He hardly had any friends. His girlfriend, a nurse, referred him to me after giving him an ultimatum. She threatened to leave him if he did not try EMDR treatment because she believed that he suffered from PTSD and had heard that it has frequently shown to be successful in the treatment of this disorder.  

Although it was hard for Peter to talk to me, I learned upon further inquiry that his conflicts with Mary resulted mostly from his need to spend long periods of time by himself. When she asks for more attention or closeness, he reacted irritated and felt helpless. He seemed ashamed about his problems and did not like the idea of therapy. He thought that he should be able to "tough this out like everybody else". Toward the end of our first session, he was not sure whether he wanted come back, even if his girlfriend might leave him.

Peter looked very surprised when I did not try to convince him about the benefits of trauma therapy but instead asked him whether he was up for watching a movie. After that we could decide about our work together. I suggested In Country and asked him to notice whether there were any similarities between what the protagonist seems to feel and his own emotions.

In our second session Peter seemed much more open and curious about the therapeutic process. He said, "if this is as easy as watching movies, I might keep coming". He was amazed about the many similarities that he recognized between Emmett and himself. Much more talkative than before, my client said that he was very moved by the climax of the film in the last scene. He told me that he even got a little teary for the first time since he was discharged from the army. Because it happened in response to a movie scene and not about himself, he hardly felt ashamed about tearing up.

I let Peter know that he was welcome to watch the move repeatedly if he felt inclined to do so. I also pointed out that Emmett's visit of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington with two of his family members seemed to be cathartic and therefore healing for him. I shared with my client that I believed that a veteran like Emmett would not have suffered as long from the psychological consequences of his traumatizing war experiences if he had received trauma treatment.

This seemed to convince Peter. He started asking me what EMDR was about. After I explained it to him, he told me that he would be willing to try it. Over the course of a few months, I treated him for his trauma symptoms using different modalities, followed by a short period of couples' therapy. Today he does not have any symptoms of PTSD any more, and his relationship has improved significantly.

Theoretical Contemplations

The ancient Greeks used drama in their visual and performance arts to deal with their emotions and heal the emotional wounds caused by war. Tragedy was performed to heal trauma through catharsis. Aristotle theorized "tragic plays have the capacity to purify the spirit and aid us in coping with aspects of life that cannot be reconciled by rational thought". Movies can be used in a similar way since they are modern version of ancient theater plays.

Motion pictures are a significant part of our evolving mythology. The individual is linked to the past of the whole species and the long stretch of evolution of the organism. The patterns of myths are used in many screenplays for movies. Therefore our responses to certain movies demonstrate recognition of these deep layers of our unconscious. Films, like myths, tap into patterns of the collective unconscious. Their stories can have such a powerful effect on us because they speak directly to the heart and spirit, avoiding the resistance of the conscious mind. In doing so they help us in our personal process of healing and transformation.

Other reasons why resistance often dissolves as a result of using movies as an adjunct to traditional therapy are:

•  Clients become curious when the therapist suggests that they watch a film, especially if they don't expect this kind of intervention.

•  Rapport develops faster and stronger because movies speak a language they are familiar with; this is less intimidating than psychological terms.

•  Watching a film with subsequent discussion helps clients to see their situation from a bird's eye perspective. Resistance often results from a feeling of helplessness. Many movies demonstrate behavior change, and clients start to envision how their own problems might be solved.

Guidelines for Questions and Suggestions for Clients who Struggle with Trauma

•  Do you think that one or several characters in the movie experienced a similar trauma as you did?

•  If so, how are the psychological consequences of their traumatic experiences similar or different from yours?

•  How did these experiences impact the characters' life later? Do you see any similarities to your life?

•  Did a film character(s) eventually develop certain strengths or other capacities that show that they were able to heal?

•  Imagine yourself starting to heal and being able to experience these strengths or other positive qualities. How would your life change?


starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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