Can watching a film like The Departed help you cope with your
own betrayals? Does The Queen make you think about your place
in class and society? And can a movie like Letters From Iwo Jima
teach you anything about war and conflict?
Proponents of cinema therapy say that, in addition to getting
award nods, these and other movies can and will change the way we think, feel,
and ultimately deal with life's ups and downs.
America is in the midst of an anger epidemic. From traffic jams to computer
glitches to friends who don’t show up when they say they will, there’s never
been a shortage of things to get mad about. And now, fallout from the economic
crisis -- lost jobs, shrunken nest eggs, etc. -- seems to be amplifying our
In a recent USA Today/Gallup poll, 53% of Americans said they were
angry about the economy. In another poll, conducted recently by the American
An increasing number of therapists prescribe movies to help
their patients explore their psyches. And while few therapists have actually
gone so far as to package their practices around cinema therapy, movies -- like
art, books, and music -- are 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
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.