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Movie Therapy: Using Movies for Mental Health

art, books, and music -- areB becoming one more tool to help those in
therapy achieve their goals and overcome their hurdles. And books with such
titles as Rent Two Films and Let's Talk in the Morning and
Cinematherapy for Lovers: The Girl's Guide to Finding True Love One Movie at
a Time
are finding their own niche in the self-help sections of many

"Cinema therapy is the process of using movies made for the
big screen or television for therapeutic purposes," says Gary Solomon, PhD,
MPH, MSW, author of The Motion Picture Prescription and Reel

"It can have a positive effect on most people except those
suffering from psychotic disorders," says Solomon, a professor of
psychology at the Community College of Southern Nevada.

In fact, Solomon often lectures at prisons to help inmates
learn to use movies as therapy to see what they have done to get them into
their current predicament and, hopefully, to learn from it.

Cue up your DVD player because "cinema therapy is something
that is self-administered," he says. "That's not to say therapy on a
one-to-one basis is bad, but this is an opportunity to do interventional work
by yourself."

The idea, says Solomon, is to choose movies with themes that
mirror your current problem or situation. For example, if you or a loved has a
substance abuse problem, he suggests Clean and Sober or When a Man
Loves a Woman,
or if you are coping with the loss -- or serious illness --
of a loved one, he may suggest Steel Magnolias or Beaches.

When watching such movies as a form of therapy, he says to look
for the therapeutic context such as addiction, death/dying, abandonment or
abuse, the ability to reach out and touch the viewer, and the overall content
or subject matter.

Many Faces and Forms of Cinema Therapy

But "there's not one definition of cinema therapy,"
says Oakland, Calif.-based cinema therapist Birgit Wolz, PhD, author of The
Cinema Therapy Workbook: A Self-Help Guide to Using Movies for Healing and

There's "popcorn cinema therapy," which can include
watching a movie for a needed emotional release. According to Wolz, popcorn
cinema therapy is rather heavy on cinema and rather light on therapy.

In what she dubs as "evocative cinema therapy," Wolz
prefers to uses movies as therapy to help others learn about themselves in more
profound ways based on how they respond to different characters and scenes.

It works like this, she says: "First, I ask about their
personal situation and get a sense of where they are at in their lives, and
then I will recommend movies that may speak to them on certain levels."

There's also cathartic cinema therapy involving laughing or
crying, Wolz says. "This is also effective if it's done right as a
precursor or a first stage of psychotherapy," she says. Say a person is in
the midst of a depression; a movie that helps them to cry can open up different
levels of their psyche, she explains to WebMD.

When watching movies, Wolz recommends sitting comfortably and
among other things, noticing what you liked and didn't like about the movie and
which characters or actions seemed especially attractive or unattractive.

She also suggests asking yourself whether there were any
characters in the movie who modeled behavior that you would like to

It helps to write down your answers, she says.

Make-Your-Own Movie Therapy

In what may be the Sundance festival of the cinema therapy
world, the Chicago Institute for the Moving Image (CIMI) helps people seeking
therapy for depression or other serious psychitric illnesses, including
schizophrenia or amnesia, to write, produce, and direct their own movies.

"We work with patients who tend to have personal interests
in making a movie or a screenplay and are already working with a
therapist," says Joshua Flanders, CIMI's executive director.

"We will be brought in as a consultant to work with the
patient and therapist to edit screenplays, rehearse scenes, and try out
people," he says.

"The process of filmmaking provides a certain amount of
therapy, organization, and order that people with psychological diseases need,
and it helps the therapist see what the conflicts are within their patients
lives," Flanders explains.

In a sense, making a movie or creating a screenplay enables the
therapist or loved ones to see the world through this person's eyes.

In the past, Flanders has seen people make "enormous
breakthroughs" with this form of cinema therapy.

A Word of Caution

But patients should not cancel their next therapy session to
catch a matinee, cautions Bruce Skalarew, MD, a Chevy Chase, Md.-based
psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and the co-chairman for the Forum for
Psychoanalytic Study of Film.

Movies are often used in therapy or analysis, Skalarew tells

"People will bring up a movie or a book, and the selection
process of what they hone in on can be a clue to some obvious -- or not so
obvious -- conflict that they are working with," he says.

If the therapist is familiar with the movie, he or she can see
distortions or anything the viewer may have emphasized, de-emphasized, or left
out for deeper insights into their personal issues and struggles.

That said, Skalarew cautions that he is not advocating cinema
therapy or movies as a prime means of therapy. "Like art therapy, dance
therapy, and music, you can bring it into a traditional form of therapy, and as
an accessory it can be very useful."

By Denise Mann
Reviewed by Louise Chang
B)2005-2006 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved

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