The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #48
November 2012

starIn the Spotlight:

Sharon Packer new book, Cinema's Sinister Psychiatrists: From Caligari to Hannibal is now available: "Film history is merged with psychiatric history seamlessly, to show how and why bad depictions of mind doctors (especially hypnotists) occur in early film, long before Hannibal Lecter burst upon the scene. Many film psychiatrists function as political metaphors, while many more reflect real life clinical controversies. This book discusses films with diabolical drugging, unethical experimentation, involuntary incarceration, sexual exploitation, lobotomies, "shock schlock," conspiracy theories and military medicine, to show how fact informs fantasy, and when fantasy trumps reality."


The International Society for Psychological and Social Approaches to Psychosis (United States Chapter) lists Member Recommended Movies on Mental Illness and Psychotherapy.

Serenity Online Therapy posts Recommended Movies for Healing and Personal Growth. In this article several movies are listed, reviewed, and evaluated for their usefulness in the process of healing and personal growth.

Lawrence C. Rubin published Mental Illness in Popular Media: Essays on the Representation of Disorders: "In this collection of new essays, scholars from a range of fields explore representations of mental illness and disabilities across various media of popular culture. Contributors address how forms of psychiatric disorder have been addressed in film, on stage, and in literature, how popular culture genres are utilized to communicate often confusing and conflicted relationships with the mentally ill, and how popular cultures around the world reflect mental illness and disability."

Brooke J. Cannon says in her article In Search of a Good Psychologist in a Good Movie: Persisting Stereotypes: "Like Diogenes’ search for an honest man, finding a positive and accurate portrayal of a psychologist in a well-rated film is a major quest. Fischoff and Reiter (1999) found only 6% of film psychotherapists were identified as psychologists. This number of films dwindles even further when requiring both accuracy and entertainment, with several persisting stereotypes apparent."

Nancy Monson makes useful movie suggestions in her HealthyLife Magazine article Cinema Therapy: A different kind of couch therapy -The Movie Cure. She also writes: "The latest trend in psychological circles is cinema as therapy: Mining popular movies for the emotional and life lessons they contain. It makes sense, too. After all, creative works — books, poems, plays and artwork (think the infamous inkblots) — have long been used to complement the therapy experience and help people resolve personal issues."

starOnline Courses, Certification Programs, and Webinar:

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.

Michael E. Kahn

Reel to Real - What's the Dual? The Ethical Implications of Multiple Relationships: "What are dual/multiple relationships? One ethics code says they occur when the therapist relates to the client in more than one relationship. To facilitate the discussion, we will watch film clips of “reel” therapists." 

Webinar Details:
2:00 pm - 3:30 pm Eastern
Payment Details:
Participant $30, Early Bird Special before 11/30 $25

starRecent and Ongoing Events:

Birgit Wolz

Cadabam's Rehabilitation for Mental Health and Drug & Alcohol Addiction in Bangalore, India invited me to give a workshop 2nd November 2012 on Cinema Therapy. It was very well received. The participants were clinicians and psychotherapy students. Some came from far away. Announcements of the workshop were made in the Indian press and in a brochure.

Mehmet Fuat Ulus and Justin Disko

... offer Movie Group Classes at the Community Counseling Center (Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program), in Hermitage, PA. Program outline and film selection of the weekly meetings are available upon request.

starFrom a Reader:

Cary Granite wrote: "I was inspired to write to you today because of this article I read that made me think that the penal system would be an excellent platform for the application of cinema therapy. There so many inspiring films about people turning their lives around. I am confounded as to why more thought isn't put into their programming. This would certainly be a topic for prison psychologists and therapists to explore. Have a look at the article and you'll see what I mean. I know it's only one small example but I would bet it's widely representational."

starNew Blogs and Websites: posts and reviews therapeutic films. The November issue features The Power of One Movie: Gandhi with Ben Kingsley.

Movies that display amicable break-ups are listed in this blog.

J.F. Sargent writes in his article, 6 Insane Stereotypes That Movies Can't Seem to Get Over: "Those are our grandfathers' prejudices, just in a modern form, like an old man cursing at an Asian nurse with a megaphone (that's why we don't visit, Grandpa). It turns out there are other, more subtle ways that Hollywood has been enforcing wrongheaded ideas right under our noses, and sometimes in our favorite films."


Andrea Zimmermann presented her thesis Psychosoziale Arbeit mit Spielfilmen - Kann die Filmtherapie mit Jugendlichen als zukünftige Möglichkeit in Beratungsstellen eingesetzt werden? (Psychosocial work with feature films - Can the movie therapy with adolescents can be used as a future possibility in counseling?) at the Catholic University of Applied Sciences Freiburg, Germany.

Varsha Bansal from Hyderabad, India, quotes in his article, The Movie Cure, several well-known cinema therapists like Bernie Wooder: “Films project role models, clarify relationship issues, inspire and motivate. And because you watch from a third person perspective, your defenses are down, so the film can act as a springboard for self-discovery.” Among others, he also quotes Zainab Mohammed Lehry saying: “I look at Movie Therapy as similar to Group Therapy – where the person can see someone else going through the same turmoil and can also see that person get out of the mess. It gives them hope that they’re not the only one and that they can bring about a change in their life.”

Gurvinder Kalra wrote in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, Psychiatry movie club: A novel way to teach psychiatry: "Although films may be stereotypical and prejudiced, they can be used successfully in teaching psychiatry trainees. In this paper, development of a movie club and its use are described and suggestions made to improve the use of films in this process." He lists film suggestions for different diagnoses.


Mehmet Fuat Ulus

Dr. Ulus reviews Hope Springs (2012) from the perspective of a psychiatrist.

Cedric Wood

In his article Cinema Therapy 'The Graduate’ still teaching good lessons, Wood explains": "When The Graduate first screened, it changed what we would come to expect from the movies. No longer would movies be just light comedy or rowdy adventure – we could expect true life experiences presented with honest, dark emotions. ... What makes the movie so powerful are two reasons: the well-written but shocking interaction between a predatory, ego-driven 40-something woman and the completely uninterested, neurotic college grad, and the music."

Birgit Wolz

The Secret World of Arrietty

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Producer: Toshio Suzuki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa
Cast in US version: Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Will Arnett, Amy Poehler, Moises Arias, Carol Burnett
MPAA Rating: G
Year of Release: 2011


The Secret World of Arrietty is a Japanese animated fantasy film. It is based on The Borrowers , a 1952 novel by the British writer, Mary Norton.  

A 14-year-old boy named Shawn tells the audience that he still remembers the week during a summer he spent at his mother's childhood home with his great aunt Sadako and her housemaid Haru. The sickly teenager had been sent to the country to rest up before heart surgery. During his first day at the charming country cottage, he sees the apoplectic cat Niya trying to attack something in Sadako's enchantingly beautiful garden. But the cat soon gives up when it is chased away by a crow.

Shawn vaguely recognizes that the being Niya had tried to attack is a four-inch-tall girl. She is brimming with bravery and energy when she emerges from the bushes and brazenly runs through the garden in full daylight. While fending off menacing grasshoppers, she returns to her home through an underground air vent.

The girl is named Arrietty. She is 14 years old, and belongs to a family of tiny gleaners, the Borrowers . Humans never see them because they are terrified of what they call "human beans". Arrietty's family, the Clocks, fears they may be the last Borrowers left in the world of giants. They live in a small space below the floorboards of the Japanese country house, alongside standard-sized people, by means of pilferage of minuscule amounts of essential living supplies. A single lump of sugar will last for months. Their home that they have cobbled together from borrowed bits and purloined pieces is as comfortable and cozy as the one upstairs. A clay flowerpot serves as the hearth, and postage stamps hang like paintings.

Arrietty is curious, headstrong, and bold. She does not really believe her stoic and cautious father Pod and her worrying mother Homily when they tell her, "the world is a dangerous place for a Borrower." Because the teenager is finally old enough to embark on her first "borrowing" expedition, Pod takes his only daughter above the floorboards late at night. He shows her how he "borrows" sugar and facial tissue from well-stocked cupboards and cabinets. "Borrowers take only what they need," says the dad sternly, and he never strays from the creed.

Arrietty creatively transforms a dressmaker's pin into a weapon. After obtaining a sugar cube from the kitchen, father and daughter walk within a wall and explore an exquisitely furnished dollhouse in Shawn's bedroom. However, the girl gets spotted by Shawn while retrieving a piece of tissue from a tissue box. She accidentally loses the sugar cube because she is surprised. The boy asks her not to leave. Although Arrietty hesitates a little, she still leaves the room to follow her father.

The next day, Shawn leaves the dropped sugar cube beside the air vent where he first had spotted Arrietty. Pod warns his daughter not to take it because their existence must be kept secret from humans. But she sneaks out to visit Shawn in his bedroom. She drops the sugar cube he had left on the floor. Therefore he knows that she is there. Still hiding, she tells Shawn to leave her family alone. They do not need his help. When he finally catches a good glimpse of Arrietty, he is captivated and suggests pursuing a friendship. The girl ignores the warnings of her dad. They learn about each other's worlds, and become friends.

On her return, Pod confronts Arrietty. He is adamant that friendship with a human would never work. "Many borrowers have lost their lives," he tells her, "thinking like you." Realizing they have been detected, Pod and his wife decide that they must move out of the house. At the same time, Shawn learns from his great aunt that some of his ancestors had seen Borrowers in her house. They had the dollhouse made especially for them, with working electric lights and ovens. The Borrowers had not been seen since, however.

A little later, Pod returns injured from a borrowing mission and is helped home by Spiller, a Borrower boy he met on the way. Spiller informs them that there are some places where other Borrowers live and where the Clocks could move. Meanwhile, Shawn removes the floorboard that conceals the Borrower household and replaces their kitchen with the kitchen from the dollhouse. He does this as a display of kindness, in hopes the Borrowers would be more accepting of his knowledge of their existence. However, the Clocks become very startled by this and instead speed up their moving process.

After Pod recovers from his injury, he goes to explore some of the places Spiller suggested to them. Arrietty says goodbye to Shawn. The boy reveals to her that he has a heart condition since birth and will have an operation in a few days. The operation does not have a good chance of success. He believes that there is nothing he can do about it, telling her that eventually every living thing dies. Persistently, Arrietty convinces Shawn that he has the strength to fight for his life.

Meanwhile, the malicious housekeeper Haru notices that the floorboards have been disturbed. While great aunt Sadako is out and Shawn is still in the garden talking to Arrietty, Haru takes the opportunity and unearths the Borrowers' house. She catches Arrietty's anxiously screaming mom Homily, locks her into a pantry, and calls a pest removal company to smoke out the Borrowers. But Arrietty and Shawn stage a rescue attempt on Homily. Sadako returns home soon after and tells the pest removal people to leave.

When the Borrowers stop for dinner during their move, the newly transformed cat Niya spots Arrietty and brings Shawn to the girl. He tells his new friend that the Borrowers' fight for survival has given him hope to live through his operation.

Cinema Alchemy

Susan, a young mother, came to see me with her 8-year old daughter Ariana. The girl was an only child and had shown symptoms of anxiety lately. She was an unusually small and very shy girl who did not make friends easily. Her mom noticed that Ariana appeared nervous and was sweaty sometimes. A pediatrician had noticed her rapid heartbeat, but did not find any physical causes. He recommended therapy to treat the child's anxiety.

In my individual sessions with Ariana, I used play therapy until the girl started to feel comfortable with me. Gradually, she lost her shyness with me. From our work I learned that she felt intimidated at school because some other kids at her kindergarten seemed so big to her.

During several sessions with Susan and her husband Alex, I learned that they are both very busy with their work. Ariana grew up mostly with nannies. The family did not seem well bonded. But Susan and Alex were very concerned about their daughter and willing to do anything to help her. Alex seemed disappointed with his daughter's shyness, although he cared for her deeply.

I encouraged Alex to tell me which strengths he recognized in Ariana. After some contemplation, he said that she must be brave and persistent because she never refused to go to preschool despite her shyness. Both parents shared with me that their daughter was curious, creative, kind, and sometimes pretty energetic at home.

Susan and Alex agreed that the family needs to spend more time together. They were open to make family time a priority, and we discussed some activities that helped them improve their bonding. As one of these activities, I suggested to rent and watch The Secret World of Arrietty. I encouraged the parents to focus on the strengths that the main character, Arrietty, displayed. If they recognized a strength that they also saw in Ariana, they needed to tell this to Ariana during or after the movie. I also asked the parents to watch their daughter when they pointed out her strengths .

Susan, Alex, and Ariana came to the subsequent session. All three of them had enjoyed the movie. They wanted me to suggest other, similar films. I asked Ariana to choose a sand-tray figure from my wallboards that reminded her of Arrietty and tell me what she liked most about it. The girl held on tight to the figure. She liked that Arrietty had a big friend. "I think you are a little like Arrietty and you'll have a big friend some time too", I said, and she smiled and nodded.

Susan and Alex told me how Ariana had enjoyed their comments about her strengths when they watched the film. I encouraged them to tell their daughter again which strengths she had like Arrietty. They spent the rest of the session sharing where and when Ariana's strengths manifest. The girl appeared increasingly more relaxed and happy. The comparison with Arrietty helped the young child grasp a concept that would have been too abstract to understand at her age.  

The family continued with activities that improved their bonding. Because the parents saw how positively their daughter responded to learning about her strengths, they felt motivated to continue with similar talks when they watched movies together. Ariana's anxiety disappeared over the following months, and she gradually started to make some friends in school.

Theoretical Contemplations

People are more motivated and able to change when their strengths are supported. Therefore positive psychotherapists emphasize that therapeutic interventions that target children and adolescents by promoting their strengths can promote healing and act as a strong buffer against future psychopathology.

Since almost all children feel attracted to movies and many film characters demonstrate certain strengths or development of strengths, Positive Cinema Therapy interventions provide significant support for successful therapy.

Young clients are more able to identify their own strengths as well as weaknesses that need to be addressed when they recognize these strengths and weaknesses in movie characters. They learn from the film characters, who model virtues and strengths, to help them access and develop their potential. Therefore, Positive Cinema Therapy complements Positive Psychotherapy in an effective way and can contribute significantly to positive youth development.

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

For parents:

•  Watch The Secret World of Arrietty as a family.

•  Focus on the strengths that Arrietty displays.

•  If you recognize strength in Arrietty that you also see in your child, tell her/him this during or after the movie.

•  Watch your child's response.

For child:

•  Choose a sand-tray figure (if available) that reminds you of Arrietty.

•  What do you most liked most about her?

•  Are you like Arrietty in this way?


starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

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