The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #41
February 2011

starIn the Spotlight:

In his article,Tangled Up in a Heartfelt Story, Jonathan Young explains how reflecting on a movie can sometimes be good therapy: "Tangled is example of a popular movie that manages to be astute about our journeys. We will be more than entertained if we pay attention to the mythic images, and what they show us about the inner life."

Gaetano Giordano reports on his VMT – Video Movie Therapy blog that he treats "panic syndrome, obsessive disorders, phobia, anxiety, and the main depressive disorders through therapy groups made of 5-8 people who have weekly meeting of 3 hours and a half. The aim is the creation of a single 90 minute or 120 minute film or 2-3 episodes of 60 minutes. Each participant plays himself and the story told is the group’s one."

Stephen Simon, the founder of The Spiritual Cinema Circle reviews his ten favorite films of 2010 here. He invites you to share your favorite movies here.


Renee Baker introduces on her site Movie Therapy an updated list of books about Movie Therapy, Lists of Therapeutics Films and Films on Mental Illness, Film Database Online, Free Movies to Watch Online, and Movie Rentals.

UnderSunBreak Roundtable: Best Movies for Girls, SunBreak discusses Gary Solomon's recommendations of 11 films for parents to watch with their daughters. These movies "offer healing themes, life lessons, and empowering role models". Subsequently SunBreak brainstorms a list of their own best movies for girls.

"Cinema Therapy can be an effective assessment tool since it allows children to express feelings that may be too threatening to express directly. ... The Movie Making Process becomes the concrete tool for behavior change.” Linda Flanders and Dorothy Halla-Poe, the creators of this process say, "Cinema Therapy can offer insight, role models, and options for more positive behaviors, but its limit is in its vicarious nature."

The law firm Partners in Law and Accountability mentions Cinema-Therapy and National Popcorn Day on January 19th. Their site lists the top ten “divorce themed” movies. They selected these "based on reviews and ratings from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) as well as what other divorcées and divorcés have recommended that helped them."

A new resource for DVD rentals in different locations is now provided by Red Box DVD Rentals, a type of vending machine.

In her article Holistic Drug Rehab - What's the Difference? Melissa McKee writes that Cinema Therapy is now part of drug rehabilitation.

starWorkshops and Groups:

Birgit Wolz

Sunday, Feb 20 through Friday, Feb 25, 2011
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.
February 27th - Queer Weddings
March 27th - Queer Youth
April 24th - FTM Stories (Female to Male)
May 22nd - Queer Parents
July 24th - Other Genders
August 28th - MTF Stories (Male to Female)
September 25th - Bisexuality
October 23rd - Family Issues
November 27th - Queer Marriage

Registration options:
- Online: QueerFilms
- Email:

Lisa Bahar

Cinema Therapy groups in Dana Point, California. She says, "I enjoy facilitating group process utilizing Cinema-Therapy which is the process of using film stories as a way to create therapeutic discussion about problems clients may be facing."

Sertoma Centre

Cinema Therapy Group for personal and spiritual growth: Using movies to help yourself through life's changes
Monday Evening Group (6:30 to 8:00 p.m.)
4343 W. 123rd Street, Alsip, IL 60803
Call to inquire: (708) 748-5129

Michelle Boone and Nichole Hart

Cinematherapy Group: Developing Inner Resources
Saturday, February 05, 2011 through Saturday, March 26, 2011 and

Saturday, February 12, 2011 through Saturday, April 02, 2011
Location: 15901 Central Commerce Drive, Suite 301, Pflugerville, TX 78669
Contact: Michelle Boone, LMFTA (512) 467-1376 or Nichole Hart, LPC (512) 431-4558

starOnline Courses:

Cinema Therapy Certification Programs

Birgit Wolz

1. One certification program 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.

Francine R Goldberg

Beneficial Film Guides continues to turn box office movies into educational opportunities, including CEU's, with the launch of its latest e-book, Schizotypal Personality Disorder: A Case Study of the Movie Classic TAXI DRIVER starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, and Harvey Keitel.


The Cinema Therapy video Art Exhibition started Saturday, January 15, 2011. This exhibition addresses the overlap of film and art therapy in three ways; finding ways cinema can fit within the art therapy process, discovering the advantages filmmaking has over traditional art and art therapy and seeing how my own films have been personally therapeutic.

The Elgin Mental Health Center, in Elgin, Illinois offers Movie Therapy. “There is no question, but that the pictures are benefiting the patients,” said a representative of the Mental Health Center, which introduced the plan. “They revive the patient’s minds and give them something to think about other than themselves.”

starTell Us Your Story:

Stephanie Willis wrote for the Tell us your story page: "When my son was killed in 2003, along with going through a divorce, getting a second job and trying to find my way, watching movies about death is something that really helped. I did not even know there was such a term as "cinema therapy" but I believe that was what I was doing. Probably for the first 2 years after my son's death, I would feel better, at least momentarily, while watching DVD's with death themes, whether they were black comedies or serious drama. I only know that this worked for me, as well as the reading of many first-hand accounts of others who have experienced tremendous loss, especially those involving children."

starNew Blogs and Websites:

Blogersonline writes under Movie Crazy: "Many professional therapists are using movies to help people in crisis. There is a therapeutic movement using—you guessed it—movies. It’s called Cinema Therapy. Cinema therapy is used because it’s readily available and the subject matter of most films are familiar to everyone. It also enhances the rapport between both the client and the therapist. Who doesn’t want to talk movies?"

Randi Fredricks offers movie suggestions on her page Cinema Therapy Review. She also suggests: "As an exercise, sit down and write out the 10 best films you have ever seen. Then perform a mini Thematic Content Analysis - that is look for themes that the movies have in order to determine why they have meaning to you."

Thw website Mozart Piano Classical Music posts the article, Life in the Cinema – The Art of Cinema Therapy : "Movies for entertainment or a temporary escape from our reality. You can relax or exciting, and for many, have to cope with a path. As therapists and consultants, we can draw on these easily accessible and readily available old resources."

The blog Art Therapy considers the documentary Marwencol a product of Art and Movie Therapy. The Institute of Mental Health, UBC Department of Psychiatry and Pacific Cinémathèque presented this movie in their Frames of Mind series on January 3, 2011.


The Visitor

Director: Tom McCarthy
Producers: Mary Jane Skalski, Michael London
Screenwriter: Tom McCarthy
Cast: Richard Jenkins, Hiam Abbass, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Gurira, Marian Seldes, Richard Kind, Michael Cumpsty, Maggie Moore, Bill McHenry, Tzahi Moskovitz, Amir Arison, Neal Lerner
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2007


Walter Vale is a depressed, middle-aged, widowed professor of global economics at Connecticut College who lives a solitary existence. He fills his days by suffering through piano lessons, with several teachers, in a half-hearted attempt to sustain a connection to his late wife, who was a famous classical concert pianist. Vale appears cold and detached when he makes his last, elderly piano teacher figure out for herself why she will not be needed again. The pain of losing his wife makes him shut down his emotions. His lips form a straight line, never showing smiles or sadness.

Sometimes Walter works on a new book, but it is nowhere near completion. He dislikes the single course he has taught for twenty years, and recycles 20-year-old syllabi and lecture notes. The professor also terminates his office hours prematurely. In one scene, he coldly rejects a student's late paper without even considering his "personal problems" that made it late.

Only because his department head persists, Walter reluctantly agrees to present an academic paper he co-authored at a global economics conference at New York University. Initially protesting this assignment, he tells a colleague that he had agreed to put his name on the paper only as a favor. The professor never even read the complete work and does not feel competent to present it.

Walter rarely visits his nice, tidy apartment in Manhattan that he has kept for years. Arriving for the conference, he lets himself in and is startled by a screaming young African woman in his bathtub. Her boyfriend appears from somewhere. The interlopers are ready to call the police when Walter explains it is his apartment. It turns out that the couple rented the place from a swindler who claimed it was his.

The "roomers" are a Palestinian-Syrian, Tarek, and his Senegalese girlfriend Zainab. Although the couple has no place to go, they hastily pack up, apologize, and leave. Walter's initial dismay and irritation gives way to an instinctive flicker of compassion. He follows the couple and persuades them to return and stay, at least for a short while.

Over the next few days, a friendship between the two men develops. Zainab is more reserved and suspicious of their new benefactor than her boyfriend. The young man is a virtuous djembe (African drum) player, who performs in the park and in restaurants as part of a band. Zainab designs and sells handmade ethnic jewelry at flea markets.

When Walter tells Tarek that he loves music, but has failed at learning the piano, t he young man teaches the professor to play the djembe. He reveals to his new student that he would like to play it on a subway platform some time. Both join a group of drummers at an impromptu drum circle in Central Park. As a student of rhythm, Walter begins to feel his zest for life and his appreciation of New York returning after a long period of dormancy. His life lights up.

But the blue skies turn overcast and the multicultural idyll is shattered when Tarek is mistakenly charged with subway turnstile jumping. He is arrested for failing to pay his fare, and taken to a detention center for illegal immigrants in Queens. Walter watches this incident, protesting with disbelief. Back at home, he learns from Zainab that they are illegal immigrants. She wants to move out to live with a cousin in the Bronx.

For the first time since his wife died, Walter is feeling his emotions now deeply. His visits at the detention center are painful. Feeling guilty because he had initiated their fateful subway ride, Walter hires an immigration lawyer to prevent his friend's deportation from the United States.

Tarek's mother Mouna unexpectedly arrives from Michigan because she was unable to contact her son by phone. With hesitation, she accepts Walter's offer to stay in his apartment. The two develop a friendship. Walter confesses that his life is unfulfilling. Mauna shares that her journalist husband had died shortly after his seven-year-long politically motivated imprisonment in Syria. She is concerned about her son's future in their home country if he is deported. The two begin to share a simple domestic existence. Mouna prepares meals, and Walter treats her to The Phantom of the Opera because she mentions her love for the original cast recording that Tarek had sent her as a gift.

The cruelty of post-9/11 immigration policies leads to Tarek's deportation to Syria without warning. Walter is distraught and comforts Mouna. She blames herself because she might have made things worse when she threw away a letter from the INS that had denied Tarek asylum three years ago.

Mauna decides to follow her son to Syria even though she knows that this means that she can never return to the US because of her own illegal status. During their final night, she joins Walter for a comforting embrace in bed. He sees her off at the airport the next day. Alone once again, Walter sells his piano and plays his drum enthusiastically on a subway platform, as Tarek would have loved to do.

Cinema Alchemy

I had seen Caroline, a sixty-year-old woman, for a couple of years. During this time, she had successfully worked through debilitating childhood traumas resulting from emotional abuse by an alcoholic mother. This helped her develop the self-confidence she needed to set boundaries in her relationships and start early retirement from an unfulfilling job in order to move toward self-actualization in her creative work. Besides teaching writing classes at a college Caroline focused now on her passion: creative writing. But she felt some regret and self-criticism having waited so long with this transition, even though her finances would have allowed her to retire earlier.

During the course of Caroline's treatment, we had used movies as a catalyst for her therapeutic process several times. I had invited her to let me know when she saw a film that had special meaning for her. One day she mentioned that after watching The Visitor, she could not stop thinking about this film.

I asked Caroline what part of the movie she considered a "gem" that touched her. She described a dialog between Mauna and Walter toward the end of the film and paraphrased this scene in the following way: "Walter says to Mauna that he feels stuck, that his work doesn't mean anything to him, and that he only pretends to be a professor. He regrets and almost apologizes to Mauna that he didn't access his creativity earlier. But she responds compassionately and then asks him what he would do if ended his academic career. Then Walter replies that he doesn't know what the future will bring for him. When Mauna says, 'isn't not knowing somehow exciting?' Walter agrees."

For Caroline this sequence contained important messages. When I asked her how she feels about Mauna's compassionate response to Walter, she responded: "It makes complete sense. I guess I could apply this compassionate perspective to myself. I should stop being so self-critical about the fact that I have not always made my own creativity a primary focus. As Walter develops the courage to consider letting go of his past and some old patterns, he opens up to the present moment and welcomes the unknown. In the last scene, when he drums at the subway station, he demonstrates how it is possible to transcend loss and regret if you follow what is true for you."

I felt moved by Caroline's exploration and suggested to get in touch with her "Inner Walter" as he appears to her at the end of the movie. She was familiar with this kind of intervention from our previous work with movies. Identifying with the mature Walter allowed my client to contemplate her life from a new, mature perspective. Subsequently I encouraged her to reconnect with this viewpoint whenever self-critical thoughts or regrets re-appear in her daily life. This helped Caroline let go of regret and self-doubts. Her creative writing began to blossom and she started writing a novel for the first time.  

Theoretical Contemplations

Even though Walter's story is different from Caroline's, it helped her to identify with the viewpoint that he develops after going through his transformation. She watched him finding the courage to face his worst fears and consequently expanding his possibilities.

Especially when we go through life changes, movies in which characters go through this kind of maturation process help clients access their courage to release the hurt that is stuck in the past and the fear that is projected into the future. They follow the characters' process of letting go and learn to move into the present moment where they can take action with clarity.

For these film stories to be effective, they do not need to match the clients' specific life circumstances. Their mind translates the allegoric messages from the movie into the appropriate guidance for their situation. The transformative power of allegories and metaphors has long been utilized in psychotherapy. Depth psychotherapy assumes that the unconscious communicates its content primarily in symbols. Other therapeutic approaches, like hypnotherapy for example, developed methods that impact the unconscious through metaphors and allegoric teaching tales because it is believed that they address the unconscious and bypass the conscious mind. Imagery that is stimulated through the symbolism seen in films generates feelings that otherwise have not been experienc

Guidlines and Questions for Clients

• Do you remember your feelings and sensations, or whether your breathing or heartbeat changed throughout the movie? In all likelihood, what affects you in the film is similar to whatever influences you in your life.

• Did you identify with one or several characters?

• Notice what you liked and what you did not like or even hated about the movie. Which characters or actions seemed especially attractive or unattractive to you?

• Notice whether any aspect of the film was especially hard to watch. Could this be related to something that you might have repressed.


starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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