The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #38
May 2010
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starIn the Spotlight:

Fred Miller, a psychiatrist and Chair of Psychiatry at North Shore University Health System, as well as a teaching affiliate of the University of Chicago, founded The Academy for Film and Psychiatry: "The AFP is dedicated to bringing together mental health professionals with an interest in film, be that film analysis, film as therapy, the cognitive neuroscience of film or filmmaking. We are just getting started and open to suggestions for how best to serve members. Membership is free. Just send a note to and describe yourself and area of interest. Then start sending in review or short essays that you would like to see posted."

Barbara Trainin Blank interviewed Michael Kahn and me about Cinema Therapy for her article Theater Processes Therapeutic in Drama Therapy that appeared in The New Social Worker Online. She sees Cinema Therapy as a "newer modality of Drama Therapy".


On her blog, The Movie Shrink - A Rebel with a Cause, the Movie Shrink pays homage to Freud by introducing my new rating system, which describes the level of therapeutic merit in films. All movies reviewed on her blog are rated with one to four "Siggy’s".

Movies that depict psychological disorders are listed here.

The Center for Leader Development recommends Cinema Therapy for leadership development. "Stories of great leaders have been told on film since the medium’s inception. This section examines a number of films that display aspects of leadership theory. Movies are listed here.

Cinema Therapy With Children and their Families was presented by Michelle L. Byrd, Bill Forisha, and Cathlene Ramsdell at the Minnesota Association of Children’s Mental Health Child & Adolescent Mental Health Conference. Their study "seeks to demonstrate that Cinetherapy 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."

Cathie Glenn Jennings, formerly Sturdevant, recently updated her Laugh & Cry Movie Guide. The new edition focuses on Romantic Comedies and their power to entertain, to make you feel good, and perhaps transform how you evolve on your life path. She has also launched a website. On her blog targeted at movie-loving women over 30, "Chick Flicks versus Dick Flicks", she invites women to join a conversation about how their favorite movies make them feel. Besides an emotional rating system, she also suggests 10 Fun Ways to Stimulate After Movie Discussions.

Best Movies By Farr was created by John Farr and offers a searchable 2000+ movie database on the site. He focuses on action-oriented timeless movies. You can sign up for his monthly newsletter on the site.

If you are looking about movies that portray father-child relationships, check out's list on Movies and Films about Fathers or on 11 great movies about fatherhood

For a monthly fee of $39.95 allows you to download 600 movies per month or 20 movies each 24 hours. Their offer includes very recently released feature films.

Cinema Psychologia lists many recourses that describe how therapists are depicted in cinema: "... psychology was thought to arrive from Europe at the same time as the movie industry. Filmmakers often use psychology to quickly provide the viewer with access into the hidden motives of their characters. It was suggested that the link between both disciplines may have to do with their respective concern with the intricacies of human emotions, thoughts, motivations, and experiences." The site emphasizes the fact that movies became great source of misinformation.

The same website also explores mirrors in films. What makes them so effective at scaring us? "Visually, it is jarring: the camera angle is usually such that an unexpected figure in the mirror distorts our sense of reality, for we only see one person in front of the camera."

Several informative articles about Cinema Therapy can be downloaded from PDF Sense and Demas Web ID.

Self Magazine made some Valentines Day movie suggestions.

The journal, Recovering The Self: Volume II, Number 1, which contains my article about Cinema Therapy, is now available on


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.

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:

Christina Glarakis

Cinematherapy - Using Movies to Enhance Recovery

This workshop will discuss and demonstrate how movies can be used for self-enrichment and as skill-building tools in all settings – inpatient, outpatient and in private lives.

WHEN: Saturday, May 8, 2010, 10 a.m. - Noon
COST: Free
WHERE: Austin Recovery, 8402 Cross Park Drive, Austin, TX 78754

Rob Forrest and Erica Brandl

Movie Therapy Mondays

Each night begins with a "movie that moves", and is followed up by a guided discussion that will unlock your questions and insights; concerns and victories; fears and power.

DATE: Monday, May 3
TIME: 7:00 - 10:00 pm
COST: $10.00 per person

starOnline Courses:

Cinema Therapy Certification Programs

Birgit Wolz

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.

An introduction to the courses of this program is available on the Zur Institute's Clinical Update, Cinema Therapy at Oscar Time - Using the Power of Movies in the Therapeutic Process. This Clinical Update was picked up by different blogs, such as David Hill's.

Courses by Other Authors

A new website offers several film-based continuing education classes for California MFTs and LCSWs.

starNew Blogs and Websites:

In her article Cinema Therapy - How Movies Stir Up Emotions - Crying at the Movies is Good for the Soul, Eve Visconti writes: "Seeing a drama played out on a theater-sized screen in front of us is an extremely powerful experience. The Greeks called this phenomenon catharsis, or emotional cleansing." posts on Self Improvement Features an article about Cinema Therapy: "Movies like Rocky are very inspirational to those who may feel that there is no use or that odds are stacked against them. The Bucket List is a helpful one for someone who feels that their life has no meaning or feels like giving up."

Diane Garrett remarks in her article, Infidelity scores Oscar noms - Four of 10 pic contenders deal with cheating on "Nearly every other movie released in the past six months, it seemed, dealt with cheating, whether it was a womanizing director in "Nine," a 1960s British schoolgirl learning a painful lesson about the glamorous life in "An Education" or ex-spouses reigniting in the modern screwball comedy "It's Complicated." Four of the year's best picture nominees -- "Education," "A Serious Man," "Up in the Air" and "Precious" -- grapple with infidelity of one form or another."

Gifted Childrens posted the article Solutions on the screen - the movie is therapy for you? with a few useful thoughts about the application of Cinema Therapy.

Cathryn Heyman offers Cinema Therapy in Texas. She describes her version of this approach in a concise fashion.

Elham Shoja offers Cinema Therapy in Tustin, California. She describes her approach on her website.

About. com invites readers to share what movies they consider emotionally healing.

Anne Wollenburg interviewed the English movie therapist, Bernie Wooder for and wrote the article, In Search of My Very Own Happy Ending: "Wooder explains that movie therapy is not a quick fix. It may involve bringing difficult feelings to the surface and as a result can be upsetting."

Health Nutrition writes in their article Self Help Stories about using movies therapeutically: "When used properly as a prescription, this therapy can sometimes help more than months of therapy by taking down some of the barriers of defenses in a counselor's office and letting the mind explore through watching others.

Cindy S. Swartz writes in Self-Development and Personal Growth While Watching Movies: "If we take the time to listen to our emotions we can learn about ourselves while watching movies."


In a previous issue of this newsletter I reported about the book Movie Yoga . The author, Tav Sparks, offers a short introduction of his book on YouTube now.

starFamily Cinema Therapy:

Open Salon discusses Family Cinema Therapy: "Yesterday I watched Parenthood (again) and was blown away by how tight it is, moment to moment, about family dynamics. ..."


In a previous issue, I reported about James F. Knickerbocker dissertation with the title Toward Improving the Film Selection Process in Cinematherapy. The text of this dissertation can now be found here (download to your computer before viewing), the corresponding PPT presentation here, the oral dissertation presentation here, and the handout that goes with his dissertation presentation here.

Psychiatrist Fuat Ulus from Millcreek Community Hospital, Erie, PA, wrote: "There has been an article, Promoting Creative Engagement in the Elderly, published in Clinical Psychiatry News,, current April 2010, pp. 19 reflective of several studies regarding visual arts and the elderly patients, leading to some hope that creative engagement in general and visual arts in particular may indeed be helping the seniors in keeping up with their social, psychological, behavioral and spiritual well being." Fuat is interested "in using movies for cognitive deficits demonstrated by the geriatric population. These patients, while they have problems with immediate & recent memory, are able to remember their youth and easily connect them with the movies they recall."

Research studies have confirmed the calming, stress-reducing effects of communing with nature and that even views of natural settings, such as pictures or paintings, produced effects similar to actually being outdoors. Peaceful Walks, an online startup, has translated these findings into a therapeutic resource. Offering a library of professionally crafted, 3-minute nature videos, the new service employs the stress-reducing benefits of nature. The website provides free previewing of their entire collection of videos online.

The New York Times reported in their Science section on March 1, 2010 in their article, Bringing New Understanding to the Director’s Cut about new research by James E. Cutting of Cornell University: "Hollywood filmmakers, whether they know it or not, have become steadily more adroit at shaping basic movie structure to match the pulsatile, half-smooth, half-raggedy way we attend to the world around us." This research was originally reported in the journal Psychological Science.

Uri Hasson, Ohad Landesman, Barbara Knappmeyer, Ignacio Vallines, Nava Rubin, and David J. Heeger describe in Neurocinematics: The Neuroscience of Film: "a new method for assessing the effect of a given film on viewers’ brain activity. Brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during free viewing of films, and inter-subject correlation analysis (ISC) was used to assess similarities in the spatiotemporal responses across viewers’ brains during movie watching. Our results demonstrate that some films can exert considerable control over brain activity and eye movements." (Published in "Projections: The Journal for Movies and Mind," pp1, Volume II, Issue I, 2008, Center for Neural Science and Department of Psychology at New York University)

Liam Lacey writes in his article Movies that make you love them: " ... filmmakers will be able to track precisely which sequences/scenes excite, emotionally engage or lose the viewer’s interest based on what regions of the brain are activated. From that info, a director can edit, re-shoot an actor’s bad performance, adjust a score, pump up visual effects and apply any other changes to improve or replace the least compelling scenes.”

The research of the The Society for Cognitive Studies of the Moving Image (SCSMI) "seeks to explain the power of movies over audiences, what popular films tell us about the ways our minds work, and how documentaries and avant-garde films engage us."

star International

HOPE worldwide in Singapore offers Movie Therapy. This approach is demonstrated on a YouTube video.

Ermanno Gioacchini practices Cinema Therapy in Italy and maintains a blog. As part of the new Dramatherapy for Resources Training, he starts a module on cinematherapy.

A commercial aired on Czech Television invited viewers to attend a casting and tell their stories. Eleven of those then underwent cinematherapy – provided by the camera as an intermediary between them and the outside world.


Up in the Air

Director: Jason Reitman
Producers: Jeffrey Clifford, Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman
Screenwriters: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner
Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2009


Ryan Bingham makes his living traveling around the country as a "Termination Facilitator", doing the dirty work for corporations by conducting employee layoffs. Heads of firms sometimes need to downsize quickly but hate the "mess". Bingham gives the newly fired a pat speech with a smile and listens calmly to their uncomfortably direct soliloquies pleading, "What am I going to do now?" (The film characters were played by former employees, who had just been laid off in their real life. Without a script, some of them spoke the way they had really expressed themselves during this process. Others talked how they would have like to have responded.)

Bingham loves his interstitial living because he relishes anonymity, constantly flitting from airline courtesy lounge to hotel hospitality suite to office park conference rooms. "To know me is to fly with me," he says. The most important goal for his life is to achieve 10 million frequent flyer miles. "Last year", he says, "three hundred and twenty-two days were spent traveling", leaving "forty-three miserable days at home," in Omaha. His apartment looks like an impersonal hotel suite.

Bingham sees neither purpose nor profit in being at rest. "The slower we move, the faster we die," he says to a business gathering. "We are not swans. We're sharks." Sometimes he delivers motivational lectures in a friendly cadence, using the " unpacking your backpack" analogy on happiness through getting rid of life's "clutter", such as family, houses, or relationships. Through a form of superficial "Buddhism" (detachment), a life free of things is perfectly calibrated for the age of reduced benefits, job insecurity and outsourcing.

Along the way, Bingham meets one more of his occasional, see-you-when-I-see-you romances. Alex Goran is a woman who appears to be his gender-opposite equal. They meet in dreary hotels sharing meals and making love. From separate cities, they have "text sex", though neither of them actually bothers with self-pleasure. Alex confides, "I am the woman you don't have to worry about. Just think of me as yourself, only with a vagina."

When Bingham is called back to his company's headquarters in Omaha, Nebraska, he is introduced to an ambitious young Stanford grad and human resources expert, Natalie Keener. Having come of age in front of computers, she suggests cutting costs by having employees grounded and conducting layoffs over the Internet. Natalie had taken her job with this company because her boyfriend moved to Omaha.

Because the isolation of his treasured lifestyle is threatened by the introduction of firing via web cast, Bingham protests. He argues that Natalie knows nothing about the process of laying off people. Consequently, his boss assigns him to take her on his upcoming trips to show her what it is like. As they travel together, he emphasizes his experience with car-rental brands, elite mileage programs, and the best ways for swiftly navigating airport security. Natalie questions Bingham's philosophies and expresses concerns when an employee threatens to kill herself after being laid off. Natalie's boyfriend dumps her - ironically via text message - leaving her devastated.

Because he starts feeling attached to Alex, Ryan Bingham invites her to accompany him to his younger sister Julie's wedding in northern Wisconsin. She is surprised but accepts. Before the wedding, Ryan shows Alex his old high school, which makes him feel even closer to her. Their date is cut short when his older sister, Kara, calls with urgent news. The groom, Jim, has cold feet, and Ryan must use his motivational skills to convince him to go through with the wedding. Although this runs counter to all of his personal ideals, he successfully argues that the important moments in life are seldom alone. Jim apologizes to Julie and the wedding proceeds as planned. After Ryan and Alex enjoyed the wedding together, he feels lonely when she departs back to her own life. Back in Omaha, he is less than thrilled to learn more about the new implementation of the online firing program.

At a prestigious convention, Ryan abandons his "What's In Your Backpack?" lecture midway through and flies to visit Alex in Chicago. When she opens the door, it becomes instantly apparent that she is married with young children. He leaves disappointed and speechless. Later, on the phone, Alex explains that her family is her real life and Ryan was just a sideline.

On his flight home, the crew announces that Ryan Bingham has just crossed his 10-million-mile mark, the youngest ever to do so. The airline's chief pilot comes out of the cockpit to meet him. Ryan notices that meeting his goal is less exciting than he had imagined.

Back in Omaha, Ryan learns that the employee who had threatened to kill herself earlier indeed committed suicide. In the aftermath, Natalie quit the company. Ryan's boss sends him back onto the road, putting the remote-layoff program on indefinite hold.

As the film concludes, we see documentary-like interviews with various people fired by Ryan earlier in the film. The "non-actors" tell the viewer about their real life. All of them say they were able to survive unemployment and rebuild their lives thanks to the help and inspiration of their families and friends.

Ryan appears to go through a transformation, as he starts caring for others. He writes a glowing letter of recommendation for Natalie that earns her a new job, and he transfers enough miles to his sister and her new husband so that they are able to fly around the world. In the final moments of the movie, as Ryan stares at an airport departures board, he bears the lagged blankness of someone who seems to wonder about the meaning or purpose in his life.

Cinema Alchemy

My client Bob, a single, frequently traveling 40-year-old salesman, was recently laid off from his job. This triggered a phase of self-doubt, anxiety, and mild depression. Initially, we had worked with cognitive therapy interventions. During the course of his treatment, Bob saw Up in the Air . He became curious about the movie, because he heard that the protagonist traveled a lot for work as he had.

In response to my inquiry, Bob told me that watching the scenes with the employees who were laid off moved him most. My client felt sad when he heard them talk about the support of their friends and family at the end of the movie, because he did not experience this kind of support in his life. The pain around his own lay-off as well as regrets about missed opportunities to develop supportive relationships surfaced. Bob had almost exclusively focused on his career and making money for a couple of decades. It was easy for him to attract women for casual relationships. As soon they brought in a question of commitment, he became scared.

In several ways, my client saw himself in Ryan. But, in contrast to the movie character, he had questioned his isolating lifestyle for several years. Bob said, "I have absolutely no idea how to change this". He found himself at a very similar crossroad as Ryan at the end of the film. The very last scene had touched him deeply too.

At this point, I instructed Bob to close his eyes, take several deep breaths, relax, and imagine himself as Ryan at the end of the film. Then I guided him through a visualization process during which he explored "as Ryan Bingham" how to create a more fulfilling life. As the character, Bob encountered an increasing desire to develop more intimate and lasting relationships. He was able to imagine that Ran would succeed in his metamorphosis since the character had left his "backpack" seminar to possibly start a new life with Alex. Imagining himself as the protagonist, Bob imagined a caring and committed relationship in his life as well as close connections to friends and family.

In "Ryan's shoes", it seemed easy for him to explore new options and feel hopeful about the future in a way Bob was originally not able to imagine his own future. Now I asked him how he feels (as the character) after this transformation. When Bob told me that he feels a little scared, but also happy and joyful, I instructed him to stay in touch with these feelings as he shifts back to his real self as Bob.

After I guided my client back to his normal waking consciousness, we discussed his experiences. He understood that his "inner Ryan" helped him get in touch with relational capacities that he had not previously acknowledged to himself. I encouraged him to re-visit the imagery that I had introduced him to at home on a daily basis. This process helped Bob shift his priorities. Pretty soon his original presenting problems disappeared. Even when he found work again, he became increasingly more able not to let his career ambitions interfere with his relationships any more.

Theoretical Contemplations

My Cinema Alchemy work with Bob drew from techniques, which are frequently used hypnotherapy or Interactive Guided Imagery work:

•  "Film Re-entry" (similar to "Dream Re-entry"):

In trance, clients enter the story of a movie in a certain scene as a specific character or in relation to one that is important to them. The clients let their own story unfold, with guidance from the therapists. Frequently unconscious material gets revealed.

•  "Skill Mastery":

In trance, clients are guided to "become'" a character who modeled desired behaviors and skills. This is a way to help them acquire the film character's attributes or imagined skills.

Guidelines for Questions and Suggestions for Clients who Struggle with Trauma

•  Did anything in this movie touch you?

•  What does the fact that this moved you reveal about yourself and/or about your current life situation?  

•  Was there a character in the movie who went through a transformation that you would like to experience too? (This can refer to a real transformation of a character or a metamorphosis that the client imagines.)  

•  Did a character develop certain strengths or other capacities that you would like to develop as well?


starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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