The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #46
May 2012


The American Mental Health Foundation (AMHF) lists and describes movies, which are useful for Cinema Therapy here and here.

DSM: Instructors who teach diagnosis of mental illness through showing films can find categorized movie lists at,,,, and on Janice J. Caron wrote about this subject in her article, DSM at the Movies: Use of Media in Clinical or Educational Settings. An online continuing education course is available under the title DSM: Diagnoses Seen in Movies: Using Movies to Understand Common DSM Diagnoses.

starUpcoming Workshop:

Birgit Wolz

Friday, May 11, to Sunday, May 13, 2012
Cinema Therapy - Nutzung von Filmen für den therapeutischen Prozess
Location: Berlin, Germany, Schulpsychologisches Beratungszentrum Pankow, Gleimstrasse 49
Friday, 6 - 8 pm, Saturday, 9 am - 6 pm, Sunday, 9 am - 5 pm
CEU can be earned.
Registration options:
Per email:

Per Fax: 01149- (0)30-40301338
Per mail: H. Bär-Wolz, Pflugstr.10/1B,  10115 Berlin

star Ongoing Groups and Programs:

Carolina Center for Behavioral Health

James Lucas conducts a Cinema Therapy group on Tuesdays from 3 - 4 pm at the Carolina Center for Behavioral Health, a short-term psych facility located in Greenville, SC. He uses clips from films as a springboard for discussion. For example, he used a scene with a dialog between Luke and Yoda from Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back to talk about the power of positive thinking.

Alternative Treatment International, Inc., (ATI Wellness)

I-Newswire report in their article, Metaphor And Cinema Therapies Used To Treat Addictions And Mental Health about this private, exclusive residential program for the treatment of addictions and mental health disorders that uses Metaphor and Cinema Therapies in conjunction with its trademarked Perception Therapy:
"Metaphor Therapy is conducted in the form of a story. The story is told with its true meaning hidden or never mentioned. The listener develops their own understanding of the meaning of the story and how it has meaning for them and their life. ...The use of Cinema Therapy takes the story telling a step further and provides a visual presentation of the story as well. ...Viewing the films with this purpose can serve as stepping stones between life and therapy, as in 'art imitates life'. A major effect that we might experience through this process is the conflict between our unconscious mind and our conscious ideas, intentions and goals. This conflict might allow unconscious material to become more conscious, assisting in the therapeutic process of uncovering the underlying causes of the present problems."

starOnline Courses and Programs:

Cinema Therapy Certification Programs

Birgit Wolz

1. For Cinema Therapy online courses click here.
2. One certification program is designed for mental health professionals - click here.
3. 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.


Smiling through the tears: Study shows how tearjerkers make people happier: "Tragic stories often focus on themes of eternal love, and this leads viewers to think about their loved ones and count their blessings,” said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, lead author of the study and associate professor of communication at Ohio State University. This study is one of the first to take a scientific approach to explaining why people enjoy fictional tragedies that make them sad. The study involved 361 college students who viewed an abridged version of the 2007 movie Atonement.

starNew Blogs and new Websites:

Sandra Colon posts the article, The skill Of Cinema Therapy mobile site - What I Learned From The Flicks.

The Narconon Suncoast Rehabilitation Center in Spring Hill, Florida uses Cinema Therapy in their treatment program.


At the University Saint-Joseph in Beirut (Lebanon), psychology students started a movie club three years ago. Line Abouzaki, one of the organizers, says: "Psyne Club offers a forum that aims to better see how we behave by watching films. It also aims to familiarize people with mental disorders and with various psychological problems. After each screening the audience discusses key psychological dimensions with experts: professional psychologists and psychiatrists. We hold screenings once a month, at Théâtre Béryte, Université Saint-Joseph, Beirut, Lebanon. The themes that we have already approached this year are bipolar disorder, depression, social network and its relation with individual/group psychology."

The Italian Web site, Cinema-Drama Therapy, posts Cinema Therapy news in English.


In the article, Cinema Therapy - Using Movies to Help with Teen Emotions, the website, offers advice to parents: "While it is important to communicate with your child, there may be some movies that can help open up a discussion on sensitive matters. For example, in the case of peer relationships, movies like “The Breakfast Club” or “Sixteen Candles” may be good to watch."

starFilm Reviews:


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close: "Perhaps Oscar’s ultimate healing is possible because he is open to the raw emotions of loss. ... Ultimately, each family member’s grief acts as a trigger for the grief of all. The film illustrates the various ways of coping…some constructive, such as venting one’s feelings, and some destructive, such as self harm. There is no straight line to healing."

Birgit Wolz


Director: Martin Scorsese
Producers: Martin Scorsese, Johnny Depp, Tim Headington, Graham King
Screenplay: John Logan
Cast: Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen , Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Frances de la Tour, Richard Griffiths, Jude Law
MPAA Rating: PG
Year of Release: 2011


The fable-like movie, Hugo, is based on the historical-fiction book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick.

In 1931, Hugo Cabret, a lonely, melancholic 12-year-old orphan winds, repairs, and maintains daily all the clocks in the Montparnasse train station in Paris. Seemingly abandoned by his uncle Claude, the station's official clock-keeper, the boy lives alone, deep in the station's interior, in a dark, dusty, room that was built for employees.

In order to avoid being put into an orphanage, Hugo hides in the maze of ladders, catwalks, passages and gears of the clockworks. He always stays one step ahead of the orphan-hunting, choleric station inspector Gustav, constantly managing to escape back to his refuge behind the walls and above the ceiling of the station. The boy feeds himself with food snatched from station shops and sometimes sneaks into a movie theater.

In flashbacks we learn that, years after Hugo's mother's death, his beloved father, a clockmaker, died in a museum fire. The boy was taken away by his alcoholic uncle Claude, who had been responsible for maintaining the clocks in the railway station. This uncle had taught him to take care of the clocks, and then disappeared. Later Claude's body was found in the river Seine. He had drunk himself to death.

Amid the clocks, gears, pulleys, and jars, Hugo putters, sleeps, and dreams of fixing a delicate broken automaton that his father had given him after finding it in a museum. The mechanical man is all that remains of a happy past. This masterwork of shining steel and brass sits frozen, with a pen in the right hand, ready to draw and write. Hugo thinks that there is magic hidden in there somewhere. His father had left behind a notebook with blueprints and details of the construction for the mechanical figure. Convinced that it contains a message from his dad, the boy goes to desperate lengths to fix the machine by scrounging for spare parts all over the train station.

The young protagonist tries to make these repairs mostly with mechanical parts salvaged from the toys he had stolen from a toy store in the station. All that he needs now to bring the windup figure to life is the key that opens its heart-shaped lock. One day, Georges Méliès, the toy-store owner, a grumpy old man, catches Hugo trying to steel a wind-up mouse and takes away the boy's blueprints for the robot. The storeowner looks at the notebook as if he has seen a ghost.

In his despair, Hugo shares his secret with a precocious girl close to his age named Isabelle. This orphaned goddaughter of the toyshop owner lives with Méliès and his wife. After Hugo invites her to his secret world and to a movie, which her godfather has never let her see, Isabelle introduces her new friend to the books in a bookstore and a library she explores.

Isabelle turns out to have the key to the automaton. When they use this key to activate the robot, it produces a drawing of a poster of a film Hugo remembers his father telling him about. Was this his father's message that he was searching for? They discover that this film, A trip to the Moon, was created by Georges Méliès. The two children also find out that the automaton was a beloved creation of this cinema legend, when he originally had performed as a magician.

Inspired by these discoveries, Hugo and Isabelle continue their search and find a film specialist and admirer of Méliès and his work, Rene Tabard. He tells them in detail about the master's former accomplishments.

This way the movie informs us about the true story of the turn-of-the-century French pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès. He began making fiction movies after seeing one of the first public film projections in Paris in 1895 by the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumière. They created machines, which projected larger-than-life images of nonfiction films on screens that people watched as an audience. Until then, early moving pictures had only been commercially exhibited on peephole machines that enabled viewers to watch brief films, one person at a time.

But around the time of World War I, the cinematic visionary work fell out of fashion and into obscurity in Europe. Méliès was driven out of business, went broke, and disappeared from public life. The army confiscated the original prints of his films to melt them down and retrieve their celluloid and silver content.

When the children's investigation confronts this moving-picture pioneer with his tragic past, he falls into a deep depression. The old man only recovers after Hugo and Isabelle manage to introduce Rene Tabard to him. Méliès' admirer finds a copy of A Trip to the Moon and screens it publicly. This performance introduces the movie legend and his work to a new generation of cinema aficionados, who come to appreciate his work.

Thankful and happy for being recognized and honored, Méliès invites Hugo to join his family. His father's gift of the automaton in combination with his diligence, determination, and inquisitive mind enable the boy to bring happiness to another person and to find warmth in a loving family.  

Cinema Alchemy

My 14-year old client Kira had been originally referred to me by her psychiatrist for treatment of dysthymia. Initially, she responded well to a combination of anti-depressants, cognitive, and family therapy. But her grades had declined lately, although she was a bright and curious teenager. "School is boring", my client told me, "I have a hard time focusing. Besides, my friends always text me when I try to focus on my homework".

Kira considered herself a movie buff. But when I encouraged her to watch Hugo , she looked hesitant. "Isn't that some kind of children's movie?" she asked. Therefore I let her know that many people of all ages enjoy this film, especially in 3D. I also believed that Kira would be interested in the film history that this movie teaches. When she heard this, she told me that she would give it a try.

After my client had seen the film, she told me that she was surprised that "this movie rocks with all the cool special effects". I asked her what inner strength makes Hugo successful when he finds ways to fix the automaton even though he has to face so many obstacles. She told me "he really doesn't give up. He is into getting his robot going and is very persistent until he succeeds. Fixing it is his thing."

Subsequently I asked my client whether she remembered a project that she had pursued with similar determination and persistence - something that was her thing. Kira thought for a little while before she told me in detail and with excitement about several former school projects that she successfully completed because she loved to dig her teeth into the tasks that were involved. "I was like Hugo", she said. This response made me inquire into the difference between the former projects and the boredom she had felt in school lately. Kira thought that some of her friends didn't think hat any of the school projects were cool. Together we figured out that, deep inside, she was more like Hugo than some of her friends.  

Remembering her passion and enjoyment that activated her persistence changed Kira's outlook on some of her schoolwork. She wanted to experience again what Hugo seemed to feel too. Soon after our dialog she was able to choose among different project in school. Instead of taking on her previous "I don't care" attitude, she chose one that she expected to be exciting once she got into it. I observed that Kira was able to use Hugo's modeling to reconnect with her own strengths during this project. She was able to stay focused on her goal. This gave her the confidence that she needed for other schoolwork and her grades improved again.     

Theoretical Contemplations

The medium of film, more than any other art form, is able to portray the subtleties of the human mind -- thoughts, emotions, instincts, and motives -- and their impact on behavior. This makes them a natural vehicle for examining character strengths and how they are developed and maintained. This approach is called Positive Cinema Therapy. It is especially useful in work with teenagers because they are usually responsive to the positive modeling of a character they can identify with.

In Positive Cinema Therapy, specific films are prescribed in which film characters model virtues and strengths. When clients watch a film with cinematic elevation, they are likely to be influenced by the values, belief, and behaviors being depicted in a movie. This makes future healthy action more likely for the viewers. At the very least, they leave the film with new ideas about healthy behavior.

Guidelines and Questions for Work with Clients

•  How did you feel when you observed Hugo's persistence and determination?

•  Do you remember a time in your life when you felt like Hugo?

•  Would you like to experience this again?

•  How and where in your life would you like to experience it?

•  Imagine yourself as Hugo as you approach your projects with persistence and determination.

•  What positive thoughts and feelings are you experiencing when you imagine this?

•  How would this new approach affect your accomplishments and your overall happiness in life?


starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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