Saturday, May 20, 2006
Movies as Therapy
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.
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.
Cinematherapy.com 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.
Movie Therapy: Using Movies for Mental Health