The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #39
August 2010
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starIn the Spotlight:

Wendy Dennis claims in her article Why Psychoanalysis Matters in The Walrus Magazine that thanks to Tony Soprano (and new neuro scientific research), the “talking cure” is sexy again: "The Sopranos offers an astonishingly nuanced depiction of the psychoanalytic process. It conveys how it works and why it’s so important. It illustrates why it’s so slippery to define and so tempting to dismiss. It demonstrates eloquently how valuable psychoanalysis can be."

I present a brief introduction to Cinema Therapy on YouTube.


Lisa Scherer writes in her article Father's Day Cinema Therapy: Ten Film Fathers Worse Than Yours (Or Mine): "Was your father a workaholic who never had time to play catch with you after dinner? ... For any readers for whom Pops isn't tops, here's a suggestion on how to deal: cinema therapy. Now, I'm not talking here about using movies as an escape from reality -- although I highly recommend doing that as needed, and then rinse and repeat -- but using movies to remind yourself that things could be worse." She lists ten movie "bad dads".

On the website Shine from Yahoo thousands of full-length movies available for instant download.

Several articles on Cinematherapy are available here.

Infibeam lists books that make the connection between philosophy as well as psychology and movies here.

Movie InterNet posted websites which are useful for cinematherapists on Cinema therapy / Films. One example is 100 Reviewed Places to Watch Free Movies Online.

Mike Scovel mentions in his article The Art Of Cinema Therapy - What I Learned From The Movies several movie quotes and how they supported his personal growth.

The Article 5 Movies That Will Make You Cry mentions "three reasons why people who are seemingly emotionless suddenly become crybabies: 1. Human Drama Unfolds Before our Eyes, 2. Emotional Magic of the Movie Musical Score, and 3. Cinematography Enhances Experience.

LaDonna writes in her article Cinema and Book Therapy: "A research study by the University of Michigan stated that certain types of movies change our mood and biology." She tells us how different movie genres and themes affect the viewer in different ways.


Debra Rawdin Fredricks from Santa Monica, CA is a graduate student in an MFT Program and soon to graduate. She co-facilitates a psycho-educational Life Skills class at a transitional shelter for formerly homeless individuals. The team likes to screen a film once a month. Thus far, they have shown: Pay It Forward, The Pursuit of Happiness, Patch Adams, The Great Debaters, Freedom Writers.

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.

August 22nd    -    Queer History
September 26th    -    Family Issues
October 24th    -    Bisexuality
November 28th    -    MTF Stories (Male to Female)
January 23rd - Lesbians
February 27th - Queer Weddings
March 27th - Queer Youth
April 24th - FTM Stories (Female to Male)
May 22nd - Queer Parents

Registration options:
- Online: QueerFilms
- Email:

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.

starNew Blogs and Websites:

Behavioral Health Central posts an article by Dorothy Halla-Poe, Cinema Therapy and “The Movie Making Process”©: "'The Movie Making Process'© begins with the problem to be addressed, then turns its focus to the desired outcome. The movie becomes the hero’s journey toward resolving the issue and demonstrating more positive behavior."

The article Art and its Healing Power on the webpage Therapeutic Recreation and on Blogs weblog emphasizes: "According to the American Art Therapy Association, art therapy is a method that utilizes art media, images, and the creative art process to help a patient to address concerns and conflicts. ... A variety of artistic methods are used in Art Therapy. These methods or professional areas include: music therapy, dance therapy, psychodrama, and movie therapy."

Michael Lister writes on his blog, Of Font and Film, in his article, Where Do Broken Hearts Go?: "If my broken heart wants not to feel unbroken, but commiserate with other broken hearts, I find “Brief Encounter” and “The End of the Affair” particularly appealing."

Daniel Mangin ends his article Cinema therapy - How some shrinks are using movies to help their clients cope with life and just feel better on saying: "If movies are capable of doing great harm, though, it stands to reason they possess the potential to heal as well."

The article Cinema Therapy: A Way To Relieve Obsessive Compulsive Disorder remarks: To clearly portray a person with OCD, one has to see movies such as As Good As It Gets and The Aviator where the characters with OCD are depicted by Jack Nicholson and Leonardo DiCaprio, respectively. ... By seeing other people on the screen exhibit failures and weaknesses, the patient recognizes that he too is human— and the realization of this fact is actually the first step to real therapy."

Kinstler posted the article Life at the Movies - The Art of Cinema Therapy: "As audience affix with assorted characters, they are able to analyze similarities to and differences from their own stories. This is generally a abundant arch from the reel to the real. Another version of this article was posted by Anthony Centore here, by Matthew May here, and by Healthcurrenteventstudents here, and Home Theater Review here saying: "One thing is clear: Movies address many of our common problems. Some very practical answers and life choices are provided in the 90 to 180 minute reel. Therefore, movies often give clients insight into their own lives."

The blog Popular Health and Fitness news published a segment of an article by Patti McMann in Solutions On The Screen – Is Movie Therapy For You?: "People often handle a situation better when they watch what someone else in the same position does. When a person is inside the situation, he often can’t see it from an objective standpoint."

The same blog refers to an article by Victor Jones in Hollywood Movie Clippings Deleted For Referring To Erectile Dysfunction! saying: "While browsing through the web and researching on the tidbits of erectile dysfunction to complete a few write-ups on the topic, I came across news that talked about the deletion of certain parts in a flick for depicting scenes on erectile dysfunction and oral sex related issues."


The new documentary Cinematherapy (Cinematerapie, Czech Republic, 2010, 108 min) shows eleven participants who underwent cinematherapy. The imdb writes about this film: "Enriched with dramatic sequences, this freely interwoven portrait presents individuals who decided to confide on camera their traumas, phobias, and feelings of loneliness in today's society."

John and Karen Louis present Schema Therapy based Movie Therapy in Kiev and Singapore.


The article Group Cinematherapy as a Treatment Modality for Adolescent Girls by Joseph S. Bierman, Alyssa R. Krieger, and Mindy Leifer was published in the journal Residential Treatment For Children & Youth (Volume 21, Issue 1 September 2003 , pages 1 - 15): "The commercial films that were shown monthly to the group of fifteen girls in one unit were chosen by the two co-therapists to promote discussion of relevant topics such as the mother-daughter relationship and the missing father. Gradually, the girls became able to discuss more of their observations about the films and bring in more of their own personal experiences."

Sciencia - Science News, References and Resources reports about the study Cinematherapy with Preadolescents Experiencing Parental Divorce: A Collective Case Study: A multiple-case study of the use of cinematherapy in six sessions of individual therapy each with three preadolescent aged children who were experiencing parental divorce was conducted. ... Multiple themes emerged across the cases including the usefulness of films to help children identify and express emotions, increased sharing, and increased coping. ... Through their expressive responses, children experienced catharsis and created therapeutically relevant metaphors."


The Joneses

Director: Derrick Borte
Producers: Doug Mankoff, Andrew Spaulding, Derrick Borte, Kristi Zea
Screenwriter: Derrick Borte
Cast: David Duchovny, Demi Moore, Amber Heard, Ben Hollingsworth, Gary Cole, Glenne Headly, Lauren Hutton, Christine Evangelista, Chris Williams
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2009


The Joneses, a seemingly picture-perfect family, move into a pristine residence in a posh suburban Atlanta neighborhood that is filled with "McMansions" and all the trappings of the upper middle class. When they set out to befriend their neighbors, they are instantly made to feel welcome, because they are good-looking, friendly, and affluent. Within a short period of time, they become the toast of the whole town.

This family always seems ahead of the curve when it comes to what they drive, wear, play and consume. Kate, the mom, is the ultimate trendsetter - beautiful, sexy, dressed head-to-toe in designer labels. She wears the most fragrant perfumes, and shows off glamorous jewelry. Her husband, Steve, is the admired successful businessman who has it all: a gorgeous wife, big house and an endless supply of high-tech toys. He walks the country club golf course sporting the latest clubs, making most members jealous. Their attractive teen-aged children, Jenn and Mick, are advanced for their age. With their charming personalities, they are instantly popular and rule their new school and neighborhood parties.

Although the family embodies all that is hip and trendy, they never boast because they don't have to. People want to be liked by them.

But almost from the beginning of this movie, viewers get the impression that something is not quite right. The Joneses don't seem to relate to one another as family members. The house they are moving into seems completely unfamiliar to all of them. Husband and wife sleep in separate bedrooms. One night their daughter gets undressed and tries to climb into bed with dad, but mom chases her out of his bedroom.

At this point we learn about the punch line of this story. The Joneses are not a family at all, but a marketing unit that works as professional "early adopters": People who influence a peer group by being the first to know about, use, wear or attend something. This "cell" is commissioned by a marketing company to introduce and stimulate sales of newly released luxury-level merchandise to their social circle, using undercover marketing techniques. (The end credits of the movie indicate that these exact techniques are used in the real world.) The Joneses show off Lacoste or Yves Saint Laurent fashions,Audi sports cars, Ethan Allen furnishings and every manner of flat-screen TV or earring known to American consumers. No dinner party in their mansion would be perfect without a plug for this beer, those heat-and-serve burritos, or flash-frozen bites of sushi.

Their job is to make everybody around them believe that happiness lies in keeping up with the Joneses. Their productivity is measured by their success in inducing others to keep up with them. The more tracksuits, cell phones and high-end prepared dinners are sold, the happier the Joneses' boss seems to be. And the "family" follows their supervisor's advice: "If people want you, they'll want what you've got." Soon, through the "ripple effect" of stealth-viral marketing, everybody in town is racing to keep up with this family to mitigate their suburban emptiness.

Kate is a corporate team player with no conscience. She loves to be paid to impersonate a family and consume her sponsors' best products ahead of the market, while never having to pay for them. Enjoying her comfortable existence, Kate embodies a sleek and seamless ideal of material comfort and aesthetic perfection with an aggression that is no less ruthless for being invisible.

Pretending to be a harmonious unit creates some dysfunctions. The Joneses fake pursuit of happiness runs into complications, when real emotions enter into the scene of smooth performance. When Jenn wants to sleep with her "father", it becomes obvious that he falls for his fake wife, who is essentially his boss. But Kate is initially far more interested in hitting her monthly quota. As the boss, she stays on task and is focused on getting the family's sales numbers up. After Steve keeps pursuing her romantically, she seems to fall in love with him but doesn't want to admit this to herself. Mick, who is gay, struggles with pretending to like girls in order to close a sale.

Steve is initially enthusiastic, but the former salesman is new to this business. Because he still has a conscience, he is bothered by the way the locals lap up their subtle showcasing of products. Jenn and Mick, working the high-school crowd, have even trickier ethics to ignore.

We get a clear look at the dark side of materialism when things turn sour. The family's gullible and envious next-door neighbors, Larry and Summer, spend money far beyond their means to try to play catch-up. Their effort is a doomed enterprise. By definition they can never take the lead, because the Joneses define the race. Steve makes an unsuccessful attempt to warn the couple by trying to let them know about the family's secret. Larry slithers from ridiculousness to tragedy and ends up committing suicide because he cannot keep up with the Joneses any more after falling into immense debt.

At this point, Steve cannot hold back any more and tells everybody in the neighborhood the truth. When the news spreads, the whole family flees town. Steve struggles with regret and longing for Kate after he gets fired. Kate, Jenn, and Mick start over in new "cells".

Many film critics call the ending of this movie cheesy, but it demonstrates the protagonists' inner transformation. Steve looks for and eventually finds Kate. He helps her understand what a more honest life and sharing their love with each other have to offer. After some hesitation, she works through her inner conflict. She leaves her "cell" to start a new life with Steve in which they can live authentically.  

Cinema Alchemy

Laura was a 42-year-old single client who struggled with feelings of anxiety, shame, and depression. She told me that she experienced these feelings since she had to borrow money because she was not able to pay her bills any more. When my client started having problems paying the rent for her luxurious apartment, she saw no choice but to approach her mother for help. Before her mom gave her the money, she asked Laura to create a budget, look for a cheaper place to live, and start therapy.

My client was a mid-level manager in a retail store in San Francisco. Tempted by the consumer goods in her own and the surrounding stores, she had spent money above her means for many years. Looking back, Laura recognized that she had frequently tried to avoid bad feelings with what she called "retail therapy". With the downturn of the economy, her salary and her yearly bonuses were cut, but her expenses continued. Several credit cards were now maxed out.

Because dealing with credit card bills made her very anxious, Laura avoided it. Therefore she felt very bad about herself. For a while, we worked with her self-attacking "Inner Critic". Learning to recognize and mitigate these "attacks" helped Laura to overcome her initial paralysis, and start making first steps to resolving her financial dilemma. She became more willing to actively search for constructive solution, and discussed a budget with her mom. Looking at the reality of her financial situation, Laura felt as if she woke up from a deep sleep.

Subsequently, we explored the history of her relationship to money. When she had received her first credit card at age eighteen, she had interpreted her credit limit as money in her pocket. Over the years, my client learned that this perspective was an illusion, but the buying habits that she had developed were very hard to give up. When I asked her to imagine how she would feel if she had to spend less for consumer goods, Laura told me that she would feel sad and empty. She became conscious of an inner void that she tried to fill through shopping.

At this point, I encouraged my client to watch "The Joneses". I asked her to pay attention to Steve and Kate's inner transformation toward the end. When she came back for her next session, Laura told me that the characters in the movie focus on consuming goods because they try to fill an inner void. She thought that Steve and Kate demonstrated an inner change at the end by starting a more authentic life with true emotions for each other.

I asked my client whether she could imagine a similar future for herself. Because she hesitated, I asked Laura whether she remembered a time in her life when she felt authentic or engaged in a truly fulfilling activity. She remembered engaging in artwork and deep conversations with friends. After this exploration, she started to integrate these and similar activities more into her life. She also joined Debtors Anonymous . Pretty soon she was able to let go of her previous spending habits. Her anxiety, shame, and depression dissipated.

Theoretical Contemplations

My Cinema Alchemy work with Laura drew from a form of hypnotherapy, where Teaching Tales are used in open-eye-trance: stories are told without formal induction. Listening to a story in a focused way creates a form of trance state. The tales contain indirect suggestions , in which subliminal commands are conveyed. They are often used to circumvent resistance to suggestions through unconscious learning. Clients enter this state, while listening, in which they are less involved with thoughts and issues. They accept suggestions with a reduced critical sense.

Being "drawn into" a movie while watching can be considered a trance state too. During this process, the viewer identifies with the characters. This process is useful for clients who go through life transitions. Experiencing a film character throughout a cycle of transition can help clients understand how the character resolves his or her dilemma first before they apply it to their own situation.

Guiding Question for Working with Clients

•  Which character in the movie you can you most relate to?

•  How did the characters' behaviors make you feel?

•  What did you learn from the story of the Joneses and the people around them?

•  Do you feel an inner void if you don't consume something like many of the characters appear to?

•  Can you remember periods of your life during which you felt more authentic and fulfilled?

•  What would it take to get back in touch with these qualities?


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