The Cinema Therapy Newsletter #50
May 2013

starIn the Spotlight:

The Health Benefits of Movies were discussed in the show Ask your Doctors. This program can now be watched on Youtube. Movie viewers describe how films changed their lives, how films affected them in different other ways, and how physicians explain these effects.

Jeremy Clyman published the article Cinematherapy: A Useful Tool in Group Therapy - a description of what cinematherapy actually looks like in action in Psychology Today: "I dare to suggest that this cohesion process can be facilitated, at least minimally, by the idea that all members enter into the group aware of each other’s fondness for film. I’d further dare to suggest that that the anxiety-provoking process of becoming more vulnerable and, in turn, more intimate with each other is cushioned just a bit by the opportunity for members to communicate with each other through film.

Aaron Levin wrote in Psychiatric News (publication of the American Psychiatric Association), Oscar-Nominated Film Does More Than Entertain: “Before I made the film, I was ignorant about mental illness,” said the actor at a Washington, D.C., news conference in February. “Now I feel like I can understand what it’s about.”

The article by Rona J. Karasik, Raeann Hamon, Jennifer Writz and Anand Moddu Reddy, Two Thumbs Up: Using Popular Films in Introductory Aging Courses describes how "popular films can have a powerful influence over viewers' attitudes and perceptions, and spur in-depth discussions of aging-related topics common to introductory aging courses (e.g., ageism, abuse, inequality, care-giving, healthy aging, and intimate relationships). ... This article examines the value of using films in introductory aging courses, offers strategies for incorporating films in the gerontology classroom, suggests sample activities and assignments that pair popular films with aging course topics, identifies challenges of using film in various classrooms settings, and provides a detailed typology of films on each of the following aging topics: ageism and stereotypes, cognitive impairment, death and dying, diversity, family relationships, health and wellness, sexuality and intimacy, and work and retirement."


The website Cinema Therapy Review offers an informative page, Cinema Therapy Resources, where books, reviewers, and websites are listed.

The Catholic Survival Guide makes film suggestions in Cinematherapy - Movies can minister to the divorced: "No matter your age or parenting status, as a divorced person you are going to be alone more than ever. It’s a time for self-reflection, prayer…and MOVIES!"

James Franklin Jr Knickerbocker's dissertation is available as a book: Toward improving the film selection process in cinematherapy.

In case you are not familiar yet with the following sites, check out:
Spiritual Cinema Circle
The Movie Shrink
10 Star Movies
Movie Therapy: The Feels of Reels

Movie Therapy for Law Students, by Sonia J. Buck uses popular movies to help explain different legal concepts. This book profiles 37 films and uses scenes from them as examples to help you understand how legal rules work and to help you think about how these concepts might come up on a fact pattern in an exam. For example, one movie Buck looks at is My Cousin Vinny. As she does with each film, she starts with a summary of the movie and then draws from the film several lessons about the law. Finally, she provides some “exam tips” that can help you spot these things if similar issues appear on an exam.

Another Youtube video is titled 25 best business movies: 1-5.

starOnline Courses, 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.

Clinicians might be interested that my online course DSM-5 - Friend or Foe: A Comprehensive Breakdown of Changes and Controversies will be available through the Zur Institute by the beginning of June 2013.

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.

starFilm Fest:

The 2013 Reel Mind Theatre & Film Series
May 14 - June 25
Organized byThe Mental Health Association, Rochester, NY
The Film Fest, which was co-founded by Laurence B. Guttmacher and Ruth Cowing, features films and performances about mental illness, addiction and brain disorders. The series is a collaborative project of a number of mental health agencies; the goal is to address the social stigma of mental illness while providing a message of hope that recovery is possible.
The films include:
In a Dream on May 14
Praying for Lior on May 28
Different is the New Normal on June 11
A Sister’s Call on June 25

starOngoing Events:

The Practice

The Practice in West Los Angeles offers Cinema Therapy groups. They use movies like What Dreams May Come, Thirteen, Requiem for a Dream, Against the Current, and Contact.

starRecent Events:

Birgit Wolz

From May 3 - 5, I gave my first Cinema Therapy training seminar for psychotherapists from all over Europe in Berlin, Germany. Even though we had a couple of technical glitches as a result of the different technology in Europe, this seminar was very successful. One participant even told me - after learning about Cinema Therapy - she considered working as a therapist again. She had been disillusioned about the psychotherapy profession and stopped practicing a while ago. I believe that introducing Cinema Therapy for the first time in Germany in this weekend format might help start spreading the idea of using movies in mental health care in Europe now.

Mehmet Fuat Ulus

Fuat Ulus presented Transactional Analysis (TA) and Group Movie Therapy at the Community Counseling Center (Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program), in Hermitage, PA on Friday, April 12, 2013.
Parents believe & judge... Adults think & manage... Children & Adolescents use instincts & feel... How we become successful in life & work depends on the balancing of these three levels with their positive & negative spectrums generating six quadrants, a three story, six flat building... Productive interactions among these quadrants are very important in general and extremely essential in particular regarding four domains of Psychiatric Rehab, i.e., independence, education, employment and social network.

For their “Movie Group" at the same Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program, Fuat Ulus and Justin Disko chose Don Juan DeMarco: "This movie shows how many professionals feel the need to start writing prescriptions for patients when the patient is harmless and just using the delusions to have a more interesting life. They may not be harming anyone including themselves. Great movie for the class to learn from and discuss."

Mehmet Fuat Ulus and Justin Disko

continue to offer Movie Group Classes at the Community Counseling Center (Psychiatric Rehabilitation Program), in Hermitage, PA.

Justin reported: In our last weeks movie classes, we watched the ending of The Outsiders. The group enjoyed this movie, seeing how the group of young men came together as a family to help each other out and how they stuck together. The group spoke how their lives of living poor affected them throughout. We also started watching What's Eating Gilbert Grape. This movie showed the group members a young man living with mental illness and how his family had to take care of him. The members saw hardship for what the family was going through, including the embarrassment and circus lady feeling of having such an obese mother. The group felt this especially when she went to the police station for the first time of leaving her home in 7 years. It is a great movie to depict life stressors, especially with dealing with illnesses.


Molaie, A., Abedin, A., and Heidari, M. wrote the article, Comparing the Effectiveness of Group Movie Therapy (GMT)Versus Supportive Group Therapy (SGT) for Improvement of Mental Health in Grieving Adolescent Girls in Tehran: "Movie characters and the story's message can be internalized as a co-therapist accompanying the patient like an auxiliary ego for a long time after termination of therapy. This could explain the reason as to why GMT demonstrates more enduring effects than SGT. Group therapy's enduring effectiveness provides more opportunity for insight, formulation of loss coping skills, facilitating further emotional catharsis and cognitive process, and accelerating the process of learning."

starNew Blogs and Websites:

Kimberly A. Cook contemplates how horror writers keep sane, or if they even are sane in her article, How Much Bad News Can Our Creativity Handle?: "For folks who think it’s fun to get scared, more power to you. I still haven’t recovered from seeing the movie 'Jaws' in the 1970s - amazing what I would do for a date."


The 20th UK and Ireland's only International Medical Film Festival took place in events across the UK in February and March. The MedFest was founded in 2011 by Dr Kamran Ahmed, as the UK's first Medical Film Festival. It is run by a group of trainee psychiatrists and is supported by the Public Education Committee of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Part 1: "Power of Medicine for the Patient"
Part 2: "Power of Medicine for the Doctor"
Part 3: "Power of Medicine for Society".

Starting 2009, Hospital de São João in Lisbon started to use Cinema to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The following movies were presented:
2009 – SUNDAY AFTERNOON, António de Macedo (Portugal - 1965); TALK TO HER, Pedro Almodôvar (Spain - 2002); SPELLBOUND, Alfred Hitchcock (USA - 1945); ETERNITY AND A DAY,Theo Angelopoulos (Greece | France | Germany | Italy - 1998); THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU, Cristi Puiu (Romania - 2005).
2010 - ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, Milos Forman (USA - 1975); NORMAL PEOPLE ARE NOTHING SPECIAL, Laurence Ferreira Barbosa (France - 1993); DEAR DIARY, Nanni Moretti (Italy | France - 1993); BIGGER THAN LIFE, Nicholas Ray (USA - 1956); SICKO, Michael Moore (USA - 2007).
2011 - THE DAY OF DESPAIR, Manoel de Oliveira (Portugal | France - 1992); THE SEA INSIDE, Alejandro Almenábar (Spain | France | Italy - 2004); THE SON’S ROOM, Nanni Moretti (Italy | France - 2001); SHUTTER ISLAND, Martin Scorsese (USA - 2010); THE SOLOIST, Joe Wright (UK | USA | France - 2009).
2012 - ALL THAT JAZZ, Bob Fosse (USA - 1979); THE OTHER SIDE, Luís Filipe Rocha (PORTUGAL - 2007); RESTLESS, Gus Van Sant (USA - 2011); THE BEAVER, Jodie Foster (USA | United Arab Emirates - 2011); THE KING'S SPEECH, Tom Hooper (UK | USA | Australia - 2010).

In March and April of 2013 the hospital presented:
·         A DANGEROUS METHOD, David Cronenberg (UK | Germany | Canada | Switzerland - 2011);
·         DECLARATION OF WAR, ValérieDonzelli (France - 2011);
·         LOVE, Michael Haneke (France | Germany | Austria - 2012);
·         BEGINNERS, Mike Mills (USA - 2010) ;
·         DETACHMENT, Tony Kaye (USA - 2011).

The following Youtube video Cinema, Saúde, Doença demonstrates 100 movies, which are published in a commemorative book in 2009 after the film exhibition "Cinema, Health, Illness" in Portuguese Cinemateque in Lisbon. From these 100 films about cinema, health and illness, the physician and film critic Roma Torres selected films to watch and discuss. The Cycle Cinema Health Illness events were open to health professionals and the general public. At the end of each movie - under the moderation of Roma Torres - participates, physicians, nurses, and psychologists reflected on them.


Daniel Williams

Williams reviewed the recent movie The Great Gatsby in his article 4 life lessons from The Great Gatsby in regards to its messages.

Birgit Wolz

The Descendants

Director: Alexander Payne
Producers: Jim Burke, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Screenplay: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
Cast: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Judy Greer, Matthew Lillard, Robert Forster
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 2011


This comedy-drama is based on Kaui Hart Hemming's 2007 novel of the same name.

The forty-something Honolulu-based real estate lawyer Matt King descends from the union between a native Polynesian princess and a missionary's businessman son, who tried to find his fortunes in Hawaii in the 1840s. They created a dynasty that flourishes to this day. In at times an exasperated voiceover, Matt tells the viewer that his extended family are the descendants of one of Hawaii's first white land-owning families: "They are like an archipelago scattered over the various Hawaiian Islands. Outsiders think residents live in paradise. I think paradise can go fuck itself. I have not been on a surfboard for 15 years."

King is a workaholic, so dedicated to his legal practice that he neglected his wife Elizabeth, a flirtatious, thrill-loving beauty, obsessed with speed sports on land and water. Matt holds the controlling share of his extended family's estate in a trust that controls 25,000 acres of pristine land on the island of Kaua'i. The trust will expire in seven years because of the rule against perpetuities. Therefore the King family has decided to sell the land to Kaua'i native Don Holitzer for tourist and condo development. This sale will make all family members multimillionaires. But it will also put vast tracts of virgin land in the hands of despoilers and betray a 150-year-old family legacy. Just before they are ready to formally endorse this deal, a speedboat accident off Waikiki Beach renders Elizabeth comatose.

The newly single parent is not close to his angry daughters, the 10-year-old rebellious, intellectually precocious, foul-mouthed Scottie and the 17-year-old Alex, a heavy drinking, drug-abusing semi-delinquent who returns home from boarding school . Matt refers to himself as the "back-up parent" or "understudy". With Elizabeth in the hospital, he is now forced to confront Scottie's inappropriate behavior with other children and Alex's self-destructive conduct.

Matt learns from the doctors that Elizabeth will never awaken from her coma again. This means that under the terms of her living will she must be disconnected from life support. When he explains to Alex that Elizabeth will not recover and must be allowed to die, the teenager tells him that her mom had an affair at the time of the accident. Alex holds a grudge against her mother that she refuses to relinquish in spite of Elizabeth's condition. Subsequently Matt confronts two family friends and learns that his wife's lover is named Brian Speer. These revelations send him into a tailspin.

When Matt sets out on an angry revenge trip, he constantly loses his dignity and is distracted from his mission by those accompanying him and the people he meets. Eventually his perspective changes and he decides to search for Brian in order to tell him that Elizabeth will soon be dead and to give him a chance to visit her while she is still alive. Seeing a public picture of him, Matt discovers that his wife's lover is a real estate agent. Because Brian is currently vacationing on Kaua'i, he decides to find him there, taking the girls and Alex's slacker boyfriend Sid with him.

While jogging on the beach in Kaua'i, Matt passes a man that he recognizes as Brian. He trails him and sees him enter a vacation cottage owned by Matt's cousin, Hugh. In a conversation with Hugh, he finds out that Brian is Don Holitzer's brother-in-law. If Matt and his family sell the land, Brian gets a high commission.

Matt visits the Speer family at the cottage and introduces himself as Elizabeth's husband. When they have a moment alone, he tells Brian about Elizabeth's condition, and that he wants to give him a chance to say goodbye. Brian responds that the affair was only a fling for him although Elizabeth loved him, and that he feels sorry for the pain he caused Matt. He emphasizes that he loves his wife Julie and their children.

After visiting the King family's picturesque land with Alex and Scottie, who are against the sale, Matt meets with his cousins to vote on the fate of the estate. The majority vote is for the planned transaction, but Matt has second thoughts now. He wants to keep the land and find a different solution. Shocked, Hugh tells him that he and the other cousins may take legal action, but Matt is undeterred.

Back at Queen's Hospital, Elizabeth is about to be disconnected from life support. Her father praises her and tells his son in law that she would have been ok if he had been a more generous and loving husband. Matt remains calm and never discloses anything about Elizabeth's affair. Instead of Brian Speer, his wife Julie arrives, telling Matt she now knows about the affair. She expresses forgiveness to Elizabeth emphatically. To avoid further drama and to give Alex and Scottie space to say their final goodbyes, Matt sent Julie out of the hospital room.

Matt and Alex come to terms with Elisabeth's betrayal. Her husband kisses her tenderly before he has to let her go. Later, Matt, Alex, and Scottie scatter Elizabeth's ashes in the ocean off Waikiki. The film closes with the three curled up on the couch, eating ice cream, and watching The March of the Penguins while sharing the quilt that was on Elizabeth's deathbed.

Cinema Alchemy

45-year-old Michael came to see me because he struggled with grief as a result of his impending divorce. Since his wife Jennifer left him for another man, the couple had lived separately. They shared the care for their children, 12-year-old Dillon and 15-year-old Keira. Each parent had the children 50% of the time.

For several sessions, we focused on the grief of his 20-year marriage as well as his guilt toward his children about the breakup. Even though it was not easy for Michael to talk about his thoughts and feelings, he eventually started to make some progress.

Encouraged by this positive development, my client brought up another concern. He told me that Jennifer used to be the primary parent. "I don't really know my kids very well", Michael explained, "I don't know how to talk to them. Jennifer always said that she is much better with them. Therefore I just worked long hours and hardly saw them during the week. Now I am home early, but I don't really know how to talk to them. Most evenings are really odd. Everybody just goes to their bedroom after dinner."

At this point, I encouraged Michael to watch The Descendants . I asked him to find out what the protagonist, Matt, struggles with in his relationship with his kids. What are his strengths and weaknesses in his interactions with his children? What does he, Michael, do better than Matt? What can he learn from the character? My client appeared interested in the movie and in my questions.

Michael brought a notebook with his comments about the movie to our next session. Now he seemed more talkative and in touch with his emotions than before. Without waiting for my questions, he said: "This film moved me emotionally. It appears as if Matt is more in search of himself than of his wife's lover when he learns about the affair. I like this about him. I also want to learn more about myself - for my kids, for a future relationship, and for me. Matt gets a lot of things right in the end. But first he mishandles many things, sometimes because of his impulsiveness. I am not like that. I think before I speak. Therefore my kids never feel jerked around by me. I want to talk more with them even though I am not used to it. But Matt was not used to talking to his children much either. Maybe I can learn that too. And he often seems overwhelmed, and sometimes paralyzed. I can definitely relate to that."

I told my client that suddenly becoming a full-time parent for one week at a time has to be very stressful and therefore overwhelming. Tears appeared in his eyes as he acknowledged that many expectations of himself as a parent were unrealistic. He was now able to adjust these expectations and consequently become more relaxed around his children. This allowed Michael to question Jennifer's negative evaluation of him. Discovering that he handled some things even better than Matt gave him the necessary confidence to interact with Keira and Dillon more easily.

A few sessions later, Michael brought up The Descendents again. He told me that he liked the final scene because the family looked so comfortable there. He also mentioned that The March of the Penguins is symbolic of struggling with being a nurturing father. I encouraged him to visualize himself watching a movie with his kids like the King family in this final scene. Michael loved the visualization and said, "Maybe I can become a nurturing father like the penguins". "If you can visualize it, this capacity is in you," I responded.

Michael's relationship with his children developed very positively. He continued practicing his visualization whenever he encountered fears and doubts. Eventually watching movies with his children together on the couch became a frequent event that they all loved and looked forward to.

Theoretical Contemplations

For my client Michael, The Descendents as well as the film within this movie, The March of the Penguins, served as teaching tools. He was able to identify with Matt, learn from the character's strengths and gain confidence from acknowledging that he had certain strengths, which Matt was missing. This helped him let go of his negative self-image as a parent that he had developed during his marriage.

The Descendents also elicited emotions for my client. This was particularly important for him because he tended to intellectualize or otherwise suppress his emotions. By triggering emotions, movies can open doors that otherwise might stay closed. For some clients, it is safer and therefore easier to let go of their defenses when feelings arise while watching a movie than when they arise in "real life" with "real people". They experience emotions that they are often not in touch with through identification with certain characters and their predicaments.

Guidelines for Questions and Suggestions for for Work with Couples

•  What are the protagonist's strengths and weaknesses?

•  In which way are you more skilled than this character?

•  How is this character more skilled than you?

•  What can you learn from the character?

•  Visualize yourself in a scene in which the character demonstrates something that you would like to bring into your life.


starThanks for reading. I encourage and welcome feedback.

Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT
Author of E-MotionPicture Magic
Loch Lomond, CA, USA