The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #43
August 2011

starIn the Spotlight:

Danielle Braff writes in his article for the Chicago Tribune, Movies may cause special effects on the body, "A study by researchers at the University of Maryland found that laughing while watching a comedic film causes your blood vessels to dilate by 22 percent. That's because when you laugh, the tissues forming the lining of your blood vessels expand and make room for an increase in blood flow. Translation: When you laugh at the movies, you're actually lowering your blood pressure to the same extent that you'd lower it when you do physical exercise."

The new website PsychCinema-Art (English version of Turkish Forum) provides a "forum in which the relationship between films and behavioral health is reviewed, discussed and debated".


Stephanie Sarkis writes for Psychology Today Cinematherapy for Breakups: 20 Movies: "Some of these movies show you the universality of feelings people go through during a breakup. Some of them are to show you that life (and love) does go on. And some of them are just plain silly."

The new website Movie Therapy lists films that "heal, give perspective, inspire, give direction, and help explain life and make us think in new ways".

Tom Pecca offers a concise and informative overview over Cinema Therapy as a clinical tool.

Under Cinematherapy for 40 year olds, a former therapist and a woman (newly 40) recommends fims to help through a difficult time. Several of these movies deal with multiple issues.

Phylameana Lila Desy lists on - Holistic Healing lists under Readers Respond: Top Emotionally Healing Films 24 therapeutic movies and why they affected the viewers in a healing way.

Morgan Alvarado put together a mix of inspirational videos clips for a school project.

starFuture Workshops and Groups:

Birgit Wolz

Thursday, September 15, 2011
Cinema Therapy - Using the Power of Movies for Healing and Transformation
KonKuk University, Seoul, South Korea

Friday, September 16 through Sunday, September 18, 2011
Cinema Therapy - Using the Power of Movies for Healing and Transformation
Department of Education, Korea University, Seoul, South Korea

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 28th - MTF Stories (Male to Female)
September 25th - Bisexuality
October 23rd - Family Issues
November 27th - Queer Marriage

Registration options:
- Online: QueerFilms
- Email:


The first Cinema and Psychiatry Symposium took place at the Kocaeli Derince Training and Research Hospital in Kocaeli, Turkey on Saturday, May 21, 2011.

On the Seventh International Congress of Cognitive Psychotherapy in Istanbul, Turkey on June 2 - 5, 2011, Beck Meets Berne in Prison Movie Group Therapy was presented by Fuat Ulus at 11:45 AM - 12:45 PM on Saturday, June 4, 2011. On Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 4:00 - 5:30 PM, Drs. Ulus and Yazici presented Cognitive Group Movie Therapies on Both Sides of the Atlantic.

Fuat Ulus also presented Using Movie Vignettes in Cognitive Behavioral Groups (8:30 - 10:30 AM, June 10, 2011) and Film and Video Presentation: Psychiatry in 7th Art and 7th Art (8:30 - 10:30 AM, June 10, 2011) in Psychiatry at the World Psychiatric Association Thematic Conference, Istanbul, Turkey June 9 - 12, 2011.

At the 20th Anatolia Psychiatry Days (June 14-17, 2011) on June 16, 2011 (1:00 - 2:30 PM) in Hatay, Turkey, Psychiatrists Ulus, Yazici, Kalkan, psychologist-liaison student Soykal, as well as movie directors-producers-screenplay writers Aslanyurek and Sueri presented as a panel: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Cinema and Behavioral Health Showdown.

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.

starA Cinema Therapist's Biography

Bernie Wooder practices Cinema Therapy in England and wrote the book Movie Therapy, How it changes lives: "A film buff from childhood, Bernie Wooder has pioneered the use of movies as an aspect of the therapeutic process for twenty years."

starNew Blogs and Websites:

The article,What the hell is movie therapy? is posted in a blog by Sheldon Price. The article offers a short off-the-cuff description of the therapeutic effects of movies and movie therapy.

Lucy Anne Sikes offers Cinema Therapy in Prairie Village, Kansas. She writes on her website: "Cinema Therapy is a well developed psychotherapeutic modality, useful in work with individuals, couples, family treatment, and group therapy and group education. Important Jungian concepts are discussed as they are employed to bring unconscious or barely conscious elements to light. These include Projection, Amplification, Archetypal Images and Stories, Identification, Imagination."

The article, How Movies Can Help You Deal with Romance at the Workplace provides some useful movie suggestions.

Tina Morse (Life Dr.) suggests inspirational movies and sells them on her new website under Cinema-therapy for Life.


Christopher Courtright-Cox submitted and successfully defended his dissertation, Reel Life Conversations with God: Film in Addiction Recovery at the Argosy University in Sarasota, Florida. He states, "Film possesses powerful mechanisms for psychotherapeutic healing and spiritual growth, in particular the power of the story and the activation of archetypes".

Ipek Guezide Pur wrote a thesis with the title Cinematherapy for Alcohol Dependent Patients at the Middle East Technical University, Istanbul, Turkey: "In terms of change, self-efficacy, decisional balance and motivation levels of participants were examined. ... self-efficacy increased for the overall sample after cinematherapy sessions. In addition, the cinematherapy group showed higher identification than the control groups."

Other Cinema Therapy research related PDF documents can be found on

Michael Lee Powell's dissertation Cinematherapy as a clinical intervention: Theoretical rationale and empirical credibility (University of Arkansas) is now also available for download: "Results suggest that a theoretical rational does exist for the use of films in counseling, and that a structured, nondirective group cinematherapy intervention is statistically and clinically effective at improving hope, and clinically effective at improving optimism."

In his article, Beat depression - visit a museum, Ben East mentions a new study that includes Cinema Therapy. He says, "... some say the prescription should be a grindingly scary horror movie. Fear, in this sense, can be a force for good, providing a life-enhancing high without any of the peril."


In Latvia, increasingly more people are interested in Cinema Therapy. One of my articles was recently posted in the Latvian language.

In the article, It’s ‘reel’ly healing, Salma Prabhu from Pune, India, points out, “It has been a powerful tool for psychologists wherein they heal the clients through various therapies and not resorting to medicines.”


Inner Thinking - Thoughts About Thinking

Insightful movie reviews are posted under Archive for the ‘Cinema Therapy’ Category: Ground Hog Day, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and The Legend Of Baggar Vance.

By Birgit Wolz

Bastard out of Carolina

Director: Anjelica Huston
Producer: Amanda DiGiulio
Screenplay: Dorothy Allison (book), Anne Meredith (teleplay, made by Showtime Networks)
Cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh , Jena Malone, Dermot Mulroney, Ron Eldard , Lyle Lovett, Christina Ricci, Glenne Headly , Grace Zabriskie, and Michael Rooker
Narration: Laura Dern
MPAA Rating: R (for strong depiction of sexual and violent abuse, including a rape scene involving a young girl)
Year of Release: 1996


In the 1950s rural South Carolina, pregnant, 15 year-old Anney Boatwright is asleep in the backseat of the Chevy belonging to her brother-in-law, Travis, when the car crashes into a pickup truck. She flies through the windshield and remains unconscious as she subsequently gives birth to her daughter, Ruth Anne. The baby is called "Bone" since her Uncle Earl proclaimed that she "looked no bigger than a knuckle bone" when she was born.

Because the Boatwright clan has always been looked down on by more financially secure families, Anney is horrified that her sister Ruth didn't think fast enough to fake the baby's legitimacy on her birth certificate. She vows to her baby daughter that she will always stick by her side and defend her.

When Bone is three years old, Anney marries and becomes pregnant by Lyle Parsons, a kind man who briefly furnishes stability for the little girl and treats her as his own daughter. However, shortly after the birth of his baby, Reese, Lyle is killed in a car accident. His family blames Anney, telling her that if he had not married into her white trash family and needed to work two jobs, he wouldn't have been on the road and died.

Four years later, weary of poverty and having to provide for her children, Anney neglects the advice of her mom, becomes pregnant, and rashly marries Glen Waddell. Her new husband appears shy and kind on the surface but is possessive and suffers from severe anger issues, which often manifest themselves in fights at work.

During this time, the courthouse burns down and Anney's brother Earl succeeds in stealing Bone's birth certificate, which the family takes great pleasure in burning.

Feeling psychologically impotent, Glen turns his lustful focus to Bone, whom he resents for the attention she receives from Anney. The night Anney goes into labor, Glen waits in the car with Bone and Reese in the backseat. After Reese falls asleep, Glen calls her older sister up front with him where he molests her. The girl appears saddened and confused, not knowing what to make of the situation.

Treated like a black sheep by his well-off father, Glen buckles under adversities such as Anney's stillbirth of his much-desired baby boy and her inability to have more children. In one scene, he catches Bone looking at a photo of her and Lyle. The girl only grudgingly follows his request to call him "daddy". Angry, Glen rips up Bone's picture. She tearfully picks up the pieces and buries them.

Anney's dream of becoming a housewife is dashed by Glen's chronic unemployment. Bone becomes a casualty of her mother's determination to stay married to Glen, although she tries to be careful not to provoke her stepfather. While Anney works double shifts, Glen bolsters his ego by finding every opportunity to lock himself and Bone into the bathroom and beat her. Ashamed, thinking that she is bad, the girl hides her bruises from everyone. But it appears that her step-dad does not break the child's spirit. Even when she is at home, Anney does little to prevent his physical mistreatment of her daughter.

The family constantly moves, never staying in the same house more than eight months. Glen becomes increasingly more violent, screaming at Anney and secretly molesting Bone. During an incident at Glen's father's house, his dad tries to hit him. The young man roughly shoves his father away, saying, "You can't hurt me anymore old man" signifying that he had been physically abused as a child.

Although Anney is unaware of Glen's sexual intimacy with her daughter, she notices that Bone is walking funny, almost limping. When she takes the girl to the hospital, the doctor angrily informs her that the girl's tailbone is broken and that she displays evidence of physical abuse. Subsequently, Anney and her daughters move in with her sister Alma. However, as soon as Bone heals, they move back in with Glen.

When the beating continues, Anney allows Bone to live with her aunt Ruth and keep her company until her death from cancer. Bone tells Ruth that she aspires to be a gospel singer someday, which the aunt encourages. Despite their closeness, Bone can't bring herself to tell her about the abuse.

At Ruth's wake, Anney's brothers beat Glen unconscious after their other sister, Raylene, discovers welts on Bone's body. Subsequently, Bone moves in with Raylene. Glen one day breaks into their house, finds Bone alone and viciously rapes her after she stands up to his bullying. Although she catches Glen in the act, Anney cannot break away from her good-for-nothing husband.

One night, Anney comes to visit Bone in Raylene's house and explains that she never thought Bone would get hurt, and apologizes for what happened. She tells her daughter she loves her, but that she also loves Glen and could not leave him. She leaves Bone with a copy of her birth certificate without the words "ILLEGITIMATE" stamped on it. The girl grows up protected from further brutality from her stepfather but unable to reconcile her mother's words with her actions.

Cinema Alchemy

43-year-old Kim came to see me because she had heard that I frequently use movies as a catalyst for the therapeutic process. She told me that she had watched Bastard out of Carolina , experienced a strong emotional reaction, and was not able to sleep afterwards. "I knew what the movie was about and shouldn't have seen it," said Kim. "But I was intrigued. Something in me wanted to gain clarity or understanding."

When I inquired into my client's life circumstances, I learned that Kim had just ended her third marriage and was clearly under-employed. Despite a college degree, she had only worked at menial jobs. She loved to paint, but never felt confident enough to show her art publicly. She also suffered from anxiety and insomnia.

Kim looked frightened and a little confused when I asked her whether Bastard out of Carolina reminded her of her own childhood experiences. She responded, "of course, but I thought that I was over this. It all happened so long ago. The abuse that is shown in the movie happened to me and my younger sister in a very similar way." Kim explained that she had been molested by a babysitter when she was 7 years old. Like Bone, she didn't tell anybody about it because her perpetrator intimidated her.

My client's step-dad sometimes beat her rebellious sister while their mom and Kim watched helplessly. "I don't understand why my mom stayed married to him for so many years," she said. When I asked her how she felt toward her mother about this, Kim looked surprised and said, "I am not sure". I responded by inquiring about her feelings toward the character, Anney, in the movie, and my client stated, "I feel really angry at her for allowing Bone to get abused for so long." This intervention allowed Kim to make an emotional connection between her feelings toward Anney and toward her own mother: she started experiencing anger toward her mom.

When I saw that these feelings confused my client, I explained to her that children tend to feel protective toward their parents. These children might repress their anger toward caregivers to maintain a positive attitude because they depend on them for protection. This can even be the case when parental protection is not sufficiently provided. If this were true for Kim, she might have never questioned her loyalty to her mother up to this day.

We discussed how watching Bastard out of Carolina brought long buried traumatic experiences to the surface of her consciousness. Kim was concerned that she might have experienced lasting emotional damage by watching the film. I expressed that, even though I could not exclude it completely, I doubted that this was the case. Most likely, watching the movie was helpful because it brought her into my office and therefore created an opportunity to start the treatment process. I also reminded her of her intuition that watching the film might lead to more clarity or understanding.

Trauma treatment with a combination of EMDR and hypnotherapy showed success after several months. During this time, Kim felt relieved when she decided to break off contact with her mother for the time being. Eventually her anxiety diminished, she was able to sleep better, developed increased self-esteem, and felt more ready for a stable relationship. Her emotional healing enabled her to start applying for more appropriate and satisfying work. My client also found a cafe that displayed her artwork.

Theoretical Contemplations

Like Kim, clients sometimes come to sessions telling me about their challenging emotional reactions to violent movies with violent content. This can open the door for powerful therapeutic work.

But these kind of movies are not always challenging. One of my clients, who had violent trauma in her background, found a sense of resolution and healing when the "bad guys" in violent movies get beaten up, killed, or incarcerated at the end.

I very rarely prescribe violent films because they can be re-traumatizing if they reactivate previous psychological trauma. In general, working with movies that trigger fear, anger, or sadness might help clients become more conscious of these emotions, if they have been previously repressed. Some treatment modalities help clients to process trauma within a so-called "therapeutic window". Interventions are done within this "window", when they create enough therapeutic challenge but don't lead to an overwhelming internal experience. Emotional overwhelm needs to be avoided because it can create an avoidance response, like dissociation, etc.

Therefore, certain films, even those with some violent elements - used carefully and creatively - can help clients get in touch with unresolved trauma and therefore serve as an intervention that provides sufficient therapeutic challenge to enter the "therapeutic window".

Guidlines and Questions and Suggestions for Mature Adolescents

•  Did you see a character experience a similar trauma as you had in your childhood?

•  How was your story similar?

•  How do you feel toward the perpetrator/and or an oblivious parent in the movie and in your own life?

•  How did your childhood trauma impact your life as an adult?

•  Imagine yourself starting to heal from your trauma.

•  How would this change your life?


starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT
Loch Lomond, CA, USA