The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #47
August 2012

starIn the Spotlight:

Mehmet Fuat Ulus started organizing a Facebook group called PsychCineTherapy Group. He tells us: "This is a site where all those international behavioral health clinicians and academicians who have been using copyright secured movies and clips in their educational and therapeutic settings gather and share their experiences. So far it is there for the members to review the global news about the subject while getting acquainted with each other. We are to be inviting those film industry professionals. Depending on the members' interest, the group may proceed with many projects including but not limited to presentations, publications and learning from each other experiences." Send membership requests to

In his article, The Man Who Killed Batman, Stuart Fischoff contemplates: "How does one freely suspend disbelief and enjoy superheroes battling supervillains when a real life villain on his murderous rampage obliterates that space? Research shows that the closer fictionalized murder and violence come to reality, as in documentary chronicles or televised live news events, the less most humans enjoy it. The less free we are to suspend disbelief, the less we can play with our fantasies, discharge pent-up stress or undo the unfair, hurtful, embarrassing experiences in our personal lives.


Sharon Packer wrote a new book, Cinema's Sinister Psychiatrists: From Caligari to Hannibal. It will be available for purchase on September 15, 2012.

Stephanie Sarkis posts 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."

More movie suggestions for issues such as managing financial worries, grieving, overcoming fear, aging, and taking chances are listed in Nancy Monson's article, Cinema Therapy: A different kind of couch therapy.

starOnline Courses and Certification Programs:

Birgit Wolz

New Online Course:

Positive Cinema Therapy with Children and Adolescents:
Successfully Treating Young Clients through Movies and Positive Psychology

Mental Health providers can earn 6 CE Credits. Teachers can also benefit from this course.

This unique and innovative beginning course consists of three parts. The first part explains the theoretical background of Positive Psychology, Positive Psychotherapy, and Positive Cinema Therapy. Possible reasons for the recent increase in mental illness are thoroughly discussed. After Positive Psychotherapy exercises are introduced, the second part of this course presents extensive case material followed by categorized movie descriptions with viewing suggestions, as well as guidelines for questions and interventions for clinical work.

1. For all 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.

New Online Certificate Program:

Certificate Program in Positive Psychology

The five courses in this package cover positive psychology as it relates to learning about the field from movies, aging gracefully and healthily, the science behind positive psychology, and an examination of the field from a critical standpoint. They include work by dozens of experts in the field, in audio and written form.
32 CEU credits.


Michael Kahn will present Reel Therapy 2: More Ethical and Professional Issues for Therapists on August 9, 2012 in Northwest Area Health Education Center, Winston-Salem, NC

starRecent Presentation:

On June 20, 2012, Mehmet Fuat Ulus presented Using Copyright Secured Commercial Movie Clips in Behavioral Health Group Treatment Settings at the Community Counseling Center at Hermitage, PA. He reported: "My presentation was reflective of the close-ended group therapy with female inmates back in Erie County Correctional Institution, October-November, 2009. Six female inmates were seen who violated their parole - being accessories to their husbands and boy friends, drug abuse and/or small time thievery, hence re-imprisonment. Therefore, the objective of the therapy was teaching them some skills to handle stress and frustartion, hence reducing recidivism. Transactional Analysis was the style while showing a movie clip, and then drawing parallels to their actual lives, discussion and therapeutic suggestions afterward was the format. There were forms for the therapists and inmates, filled at the end of each session, which built up a data base for research afterwards. While we were not able to follow these inmates following their release, we know that they were very happy to learn the skills that nobody had ever taught them previously."


In his article, Cinematherapy: Film Does More than Meets the Eye, Jeremy Clyman writes: "While few controlled research studies exist to precisely outline which films cause which benefits and why, plenty of anecdotal evidence and conventional wisdom suggest myriad outcomes related to improved mood, physical health and well-being. For instance, Mangin has observed that many individuals cry freely during a sad movie, including people who rarely show such emotion in real life, even when distressed. Given that learning to lower defenses in response to painful emotion is considered one of the more central and complex mechanism in achieving mental health, this is a striking demonstration of the potential efficacy of cinematherapy."

Kevin Randall writes in Rise of Neurocinema: How Hollywood Studios Harness Your Brainwaves to Win Oscars: "A trailblazing few firms and studios have delved into the upstart practice of "neurocinema," the method of using neurofeedback to help moviemakers vet and refine film elements such as scripts, characters, plots, scenes, and effects. Princeton University psychology professor Uri Hasson coined the term "neurocinematics" based on an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) study, in which he concluded that certain types of films (e.g. horror, action, sci-fi) produced high activation scores in the amygdala region of viewer subjects' brains, the part that controls disgust, anger, lust, and fear. Hasson asserted that horror filmmakers can potentially control audiences' brains by precisely editing films to maximize amygdalic excitement and thus "control for" buzz and success at the theater."

Word Spy defines neurocinematics in the following way:
n. The neurological study of a person's mental state and reactions while being exposed to different film styles. Also: neuro-cinematics.
— neurocinematic adj.
— neurocinema n.

starNew Blogs and new Websites:

Also in his article, Cinematherapy: Film Does More than Meets the Eye, Jeremy Clyman tells us: "Because you are watching from the safe, objective vantage point of a removed third-party you find yourself thinking more clearly about yourself and the healthy decisions you’ll have to make in the service of achieving what the protagonist achieves. You might even go so far as to take a concrete strategy from the movie and apply it to your personal life. This process is consistent with identification, catharsis and insight, the crux of Morawski’s theoretical model for why bibliotherapy works, where bibliotherapy refers to the broader notion of using film, art, and literature to therapeutic ends."
Clyman makes movie suggestions in Psychology Today under Reel Therapy Unraveling the mind through film.

Eve Visconti presents in her article, Cinema Therapy - How Movies Stir Up Emotions: "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. The theory is that watching actors express our deep-seated, painful, and universal emotions will bring them out in us and cleanse our souls. ... If done well, we can’t help but have our emotions stirred and our consciousness raised – which after all is what happens in psychotherapy." She also suggests some classic “tear-jerkers”.

Mara posts Movie Therapy: Healing Through Movies on Holistic Epiphany saying: "Psychologists will turn to movie therapy in certain specific instances. For example, when trying to talk to a client is like talking to a brick wall. Some people just aren’t good with words. This is where movie therapy can definitely come in handy. In this case, a therapist might prescribe a movie that mirrors what their client is currently going through." "spotlights" and posts a lot of information about Cinema Therapy and Cinematherapy Coaching.


Speranta Center, in cooperation with the Norwegian Ministry of Labor Social Protection and Family, launched the project Cinema Mobila: "On a weekly basis, movie screenings will take place in orphanages, residential type institutions and general education institutions, in order to offer children with disabilities the opportunity to relax and the chance to change their attitudes on disability."

SarahMummy from the UK posts on her Cinematherapy blog: "I have a permanently bad stomach. This is almost certainly partly stress related. In the cinema I am so relaxed that I can eat 'banned' foods like milk, white chocolate, and popcorn and feel no ill effects."

starStory of a Cinematherapist

Carin Chapin writes in her article Cinema Therapy how Lisa Bahar became disillusioned with Hollywood: “It’s a tough business. I was working such long hours and didn’t have any time to create good, healthy relationships. It was having a negative effect on me, and instinctually, I knew it was time for me to move on.” And though she had a newfound passion for psychology, she still had pangs of sadness over her lost career until she enrolled in a professional practices course and was challenged with the idea of how to use cinema as a form of therapy. “I was intrigued as to how we as humans respond to stories on film,” Bahar explained. “How we become less rigid and more open as we join in the journey of a character and how stories can resonate with us for years.”


Birgit Wolz


Director: Bennett Miller
Producers: Michael De Luca , Rachel Horovitz, Mark Bakshi, Andrew S. Karsch, Alissa Phillips, Brad Pitt, Scott Andrew Robertson, Scott Rudin
Screenplay: Aaron Sorkin, Steve Zaillian, Stan Chervin
Cast: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright, Stephen Bishop, Kathyrn Morris, Chris Pratt
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some strong language
Year of Release: 2011


Moneyball is based on Michael Lewis' 2003 biographical book of the same name.

At the center of the story is Oakland Athletics' (nicknamed A's ) general manager Billy Beane, a one-time baseball wunderkind, whose promise was never fulfilled as a player. We learn through flashbacks that, as a phenomenal prospect out of high school, he had failed to meet the lofty expectations of big league scouts. He painfully flamed out as a pro ballplayer after turning down a baseball-football scholarship at Stanford University.

In early 2002 Beane, now managing the A's , is able to find budding superstars to take the team to the play-offs, though not to the World Series. But after losing three marquee players to teams with much larger payrolls, he finds himself on the precipice of a disaster, presiding over a Major League team with no stars and a payroll so low it became a laughing stock around the league. The team's owner tells him: "Oakland is a small-market team with a small-market payroll, unable to compete with the rich guys in Boston and New York. Find another way to win."

Upset and nervous about this challenge, Beane visits the Cleveland Indians to talk about trade possibilities with their executives. He notices a nebbish junior executive whispering to his boss about each player Beane expresses an interest in - at which point his request is turned down.

Billy tracks the young man, Peter Brand (based on real-life baseball executive Paul DePodesta), to his cubicle to pick his brain. This nerdy recent Yale economics graduate has radical ideas about how to assess players' value. Billy tests Peter's theory by asking whether he would have drafted him. After some prodding, Brand admits that he would not have done so until the ninth round, and that Beane would probably have gone to college instead. Sensing opportunity and faced with rebuilding the team at bargain basement prices, Beane hires Brand as the Athletics' assistant general manager.

What Brand brings to Oakland is a new way of looking at players' skills, based on key performance statistics called sabermetrics. Brand tells Beane he should not look to buy big names, but hire based on key performance statistics that point to undervalued players. He explains that there are a lot of players who are undervalued by the baseball establishment, because they don't conform to conventional norms, even though they get on base with greater regularity than some of the superstars.

Together they begin to construct a team out of unwanted players with far more potential than the A's hamstrung finances would otherwise allow. They face fierce opposition, because they use new tools, instead of relying on conventional baseball wisdom and the gut instincts of aging scouts, who have done things the same way for 50 years. The bullet-headed team manager, Art Howe, refuses to start the players that Beane has brought in, because he feels insulted. Howe believes that the general manager was mesmerized by a half-baked Ivy League theorist who does not know what he is talking about.

Beane is an inward and lonely man, who was left by his wife and dotes on his daughter, Casey. But he has to steal time to be with her. Casey worries about the TV and Internet reports that focus on the precariousness of her father's job.

Although he feels upset and initially hesitant, Billy holds on to his approach. Even as the Oakland Athletics go into an early-season tailspin with eleven losses in a row , because Howe does not follow Beane's playbook, he keeps his cool. Given his past, disappointment is not unfamiliar to Billy. He stays true to his principles, is determined, and motivated by his hatred of losing. He trades a rookie sensation to force Howe's hand. During an agonizing period, Beane convinces the owner to stay the course.

Billy Beane is so driven, nervous, and possibly superstitious, that he cannot bear to watch a game in the stadium. Instead, he drives aimlessly while listening to it on the radio. He fears that he will be unemployed if he follows his new theories for the full season and they fail.

Eventually Beane's approach proves itself the biggest bargain in baseball history. The team's record begins to improve dramatically. After 19 consecutive wins, his daughter talks Billy into going to the Oakland Athletics game against the Kansas City Royals , as the A's are already leading 11-0 after the third inning and appear set to continue their winning streak. He arrives, only to watch the team go to pieces allowing the Royals to even the score. Finally, the A's achieve a victory with a home run in the bottom of the ninth inning by one of Peter Brand's picks.

The nation's lowest-salaried Major League Baseball team achieves twenty consecutive wins , setting a new American League record. These unprecedented successes are followed by a loss in the first round of the postseason. Beane is disappointed, but satisfied because he found a way to atone for his past failures by demonstrating the value of his and Brand's method.

In closing, the film shows that Billy passes up the opportunity to become the general manager of the Boston Red Sox , despite their gigantic stadium and an offer which would have made him the highest paid general manager in baseball history. We learn that Boston won the World Series in 2004, based on the theory that Billy Beane pioneered.

Cinema Alchemy

My 55-year-old client Robert told me that he experienced panic-like feelings and insomnia since he had learned about upcoming changes at his workplace. His company planned to implement new operating procedures. He did not think that he was able to adapt as fast and complete as his younger colleagues. If he cannot keep up with them, he "might get fired and will not be able to find a new job at his age". My client was able to see the connection between his negative beliefs about his lacking ability to face these new challenges and his symptoms. His new tasks appeared overwhelming to him.

After a period of client-centered therapy that helped Robert to calm down his anxiety during our sessions, he said, " I feel ok here, but my panic feelings often comes back when I am at work. I think I only have a chance to make it through these work transitions if I don't feel so emotionally overwhelmed every time my boss asks me to learn something new.

I asked Robert whether he knows a movie in which a character has to confront and overcome overwhelming challenges. Right away, he said that he had just watched Moneyball . My client was a baseball fan and knew most details about the history of the Oakland Athletics and their general manager. I encouraged him to watch this movie one more time. This time he was to observe exactly how Billy Beane masters his challenges.

During our next session, Robert said: "Watching Moneyball again showed me how it is possible to make it through really big challenges. Although I didn't like how he treated the players as if they were just objects, I admire Beane because he had the courage to try something new. That's why he succeeded. And he is not just a character in a movie. The real-life Beane went through this. It helped a lot to see all this on the screen."

When I asked Robert whether he remembers a time in his life when he overcame a big challenge like Billy Beane, he told me about his divorce several years ago. He said, "I made it through that scary time too." I responded, saying, "maybe you have a an Inner Billy Beane inside you that you are not always aware of." Robert smiled and nodded.

I encouraged my client to picture a potential interaction with his boss that would have been scary for him in the past. This time, he was supposed to picture himself with the qualities that he had recognized in Beane. Already before he went into a meeting with his supervisor, he was to take a couple of deep breaths and get in touch with his Inner Beane .

This technique turned out very successful. As he practiced identifying with the A's general manager, he lost his anxiety during these meetings. This allowed him to understand instructions better and therefore perform his new tasks to everybody's satisfaction. Soon he did not feel overwhelmed any more and was able to sleep better.

Theoretical Contemplations

Although based an real-life events, Moneyball has a typical plot development according to modern rules of screenplay writing: The main character commits to a quest after a surprising loss of innocence, goes through a phase of inner conflict about taking on a challenge, and reaches a point of no return. Then the film hero acts despite fear, releases old ideas, renews his or her commitment, acts without fear, sometimes revises plans into realistic goals, and concludes the original quest by resolving it from a new perspective.

Similar to the mythological Hero's Journey, the patterns of many movie plots are born out of the aspect of the collective unconscious that is reflected in our mythology. The viewer is hooked into the same pool of consciousness as the screenwriter. Both tap into the following wisdom: The antidote for the ache lies in ceasing the resistance to our calling, finding the courage to face our worst fears, and consequently expanding our possibilities.

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

After clients have seen a movie with this screenplay structure, guiding questions in therapy help them to become aware of the connections between the film and their own situation.

Guidelines for Questions and Suggestions for Clients who Struggle with Overwhelming Challenges

•  Do you know a movie, in which a character has to confront and overcome overwhelming challenges?

•  Watch this film again and observe exactly how the character masters these challenges.

•  Do you remember a time in your life when you overcame a big challenge like the character?

•  Picture yourself with the qualities that you saw in this movie character.

•  Before you enter into a challenging situation, take a couple of deep breaths and get in touch with your Inner ... (name of character) .


starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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