Saturday, May 20, 2006

Movies as Therapy

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Looking for that good reason to watch a movie?

We can all name at least one movie that has affected us in some way. One image that has stayed with me, and still evokes considerable emotion, has been the little girl in the red coat from the movie Schindler's List.

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What movies have impacted on you? In what way?

Whether a movie has made us reflect on our own life situation, inspired us in some way, given us a greater understanding of others or simply made us roar with laughter, there's no doubt that movies can be a powerful influence.

Recognising such experiences, movies are increasingly being used as an adjunct to therapy.

Cinema Therapy involves the use of films to help individuals learn about themselves by examining how they respond to the different characters and situations portrayed.

Cinema therapy is claimed to be beneficial in several ways.

Ruth Rosalion, a Melbourne-based clinical psychologist, says the use of movies can be useful in building the rapport that underlies a good therapeutic relationship. "Movies establish a common ground … a platform of commonality that the therapist and the individual can work through."

Movies can also be used to facilitate discussion about areas that people might find difficult. “Because cinemagoers watch films from a third person perspective, their defences are often down and the film acts as a springboard to self-discovery,” says Barry Wooder, a UK based psychotherapist and pioneer of film therapy.

In the same way, films can often generate an emotional release that people might find impossible in real life. This may then allow further exploration of those feelings to begin in earnest.

Cinema therapists also claim that movies provide role models, giving inspiration and hope and suggest potential solutions to problems. “If you can identify with characters trapped in their circumstances, and share their disappointments as well as their unsteady steps towards liberation, you may find optimism in your own situation,” says Birgit Wolz, an American cinema therapist.

Movies can also be useful to educate others about an individual's difficult life experiences.

So what movies to watch?

Cinema therapists advocate the selection of movies with underlying themes that match the the individual's current problem or situation. offers some helpful guidelines and movie recommendations for choosing films.


Cinema therapy may not be for everyone. Melbourne psychologist Dr Peter Cotton says that before using additional tools in therapy, which may include both movies and books (termed bibliotherapy), it is important to assess a client’s therapeutic status. "It’s about ascertaining what’s most relevant to the person you’re working with."

It's also critical to bear in mnd that not all movies feature healthy role models or realistic scenarios. This is particularly true in respect to the portrayal of mental disorders.

And a Further Precautionary Note

While using the guidelines for choosing and watching films on an individual basis can support personal growth, cinema therapists recommend that where long-standing psychological problems are in existence, the use of movies as therapy is only recommended within the context of a therapeutic relationship.

Additional Sources

Analyse this
Movie Therapy: Using Movies for Mental Health


Anonymous said...

I am right with you. I carry the same image with me and that movie was so important. It allowed me to share some feeling (just some, I could never begin to fully imagine), but still walk away with enough hope that we can all prevent such horror to ever happen again. I love your blog!

jumpinginpuddles said...

dead poets society did it for us when he placed his head reath on the window sill in his room walked downstairs and k*l*ed himself. It was the only movie we cry without abandon in. Why because the sheer hopelessness of having a controlling family and seeing no alternative to his life meant he had to do that.
It was and still is a poignant reminder that sometimes life cna be so volitile and people just cant see it.
The second part of the film we cried at was when they stood on their desks and said oh captain my captain why because it reminded us that there are good caring people out there and often they are used as scapegoats for other peoples guilt.
We like movies we like watching them with our friends and we like sharing about them afterwards, there isnt a movie we havent watched in the last year that hast evoked a discussion. We call it entertainment others call it therapy either way it works ;)

healthpsych said...

Hi Tiesha's Place,
It is such a haunting image. For me, it expresses the brutality of that time more than any portrayal of violence.

Hi Jumpinginpuddles,
You're so right about those scenes from Dead Poets Society. It's been so long since I saw that movie. Very powerful. Now I want to see it again.
I'm with you. If movies get people talking, that can only be good.

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

This is such a fabulous post. I often use movies as a resource in therapy.

For myself, so many movies come to mind. Some that moved me, inspired me and provoked emotions.

"Ordinary People" remains one of my favs because it was about therapy and trauma. And I saw it as a young college student and it helped me in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

I watched "ordinary people" this semester. It was moving and a really important movie. I'm glad I saw it with some education behind me. It made it really enriching.

healthpsych said...

Hi Deborah and Tiesha's Place,

I have to admit I haven't ever seen this movie but now I can see I am going to have to go seek it out.

I can see a whole lot of movie watching and very little work getting done!

el.cameleon said...

for me theres more than one movie but one that really digs up loads of hidden emotions within is an old Al Pacino movie called Bobby Deerfield, the only other person I know who has seen this film more times than me (36) is a friend in uk who has been under addictive therapy for years he can nearly qoute the whole scrpt, but look out for red sails in the sunset in this movie, I reveal all my hidden emotions through tears. interesting post and so real, people always identify with characters or movies

Anonymous said...

"Ordinary people" is a MUST SEE! It's so sad, but so real and it really opens your eyes. It's old, but still very relevant to so many issues. My heart broke while I was watching it, but I walked away with a lot of hope for those of us who want to make some real changes in mental health.

Sarebear said...

I know there's several movies for me, but for the life of me I can't pull them up in my memory! I have a brain like Swiss cheese . . .

Tonight though, watching Batman Begins, the line, "Why do we fall? . . . . So we can learn to get back up." This lifted me, a bit.

Probably sounds silly, though. It's something I've thought on before, and seems rather obvious, but there's no telling when something you've heard 1000 times will be JUST what you needed to hear at just the right time.

healthpsych said...

Hi El Cameleon,
Seems I'm building up quite a few movies I need to see from this post!

Hi Sarebear,
Welcome and thanks for dropping by!
There's many movies that say something to me and yet I'd struggle to name even a few of them. Sometimes, as you say, it's just as simple as a key line at the right time, regardless of it's source.

Winstrol said...

Sometimes movies can change your life

Patty said...

Movies can change your current emotion into something very different. For example, you enter the movie house full of laughter. When you leave, you could either be very sad because of the story, or maybe a lot more hyped than you were.

Movies are amazing tools for emotional and mental therapy. Another good example would be Theta healing. It can help in emotional and mental therapy, but I don't know how it really affects the emotional and mental state of a person. That's why I'm thinking of studying Theta healing just to serve my curiosity.

Patty said...

Movies can change your emotions completely. For example, you enter the movie house full of laughter. You could be crying or be even more happy when you're done watching. Movies are good tools for therapy. Patients can enjoy having their therapy session if they're watching movies!

Just like movies, I'd like to venture in another form of emotional and mental therapy called Theta healing. According to some, it can also help you in emotional and mental therapy, but I'm not yet sure how it really helps. That's why I'm thinking of studying Theta healing to know how it helps in emotional and mental therapy.