Lights, camera, therapy

lights camera therapy

People go to the movies to escape; but can they go to heal? Turns out the answer may actually be yes. That is the idea behind cinema therapy.

The idea  of cinema therapy is both simple and complex. A person who is sad or depressed might benefit from watching a comedy or inspirational film. Parents grieving the loss of a child or whose child is gravely ill might find hope from a film that deals with those issues. For every human emotion or situation, there is a corresponding film. And unlike real life, movies offer solutions in less than two hours, longer if it’s a Scorsese picture.

But can movies transform? Birgit Wolz, the therapist who runs, thinks so. Wolz believes the transformative power of movies comes from the fact that they deal with myths and archetypes.

She writes on her site, “One aspect of most movies is that they serve as allegories, in much the same way as do stories, myths, jokes, fables, or dreams which can all be utilized in therapy. The cognitive effect of cinema therapy can be explained through recent theories of learning and creativity, which suggest that we have [multiple] intelligences. The more of these intelligences we access, the faster we learn because they employ different methods of information processing. Watching movies can engage all seven of them: the logical plot, the linguistic dialogs, the visual-spatial pictures, colors, symbols, the musical sounds and music, the interpersonal storytelling, the kinesthetic moving, and the intra-psychic inner guidance.”

Jung at heart

Wolz uses the phrase “mining the gold” in movies to describe how individuals can discover their own qualities and attributes simply by observing them in the characters on the big screen. What escapes the casual movie-goer is the fact that screenplays, like myths, make use of archetypes, whether or not the screenwriter knew it when he was writing the script. These models speak to everyone at some level. Carl Jung listed four major archetypes: the self, the shadow, the anima or animus and the persona. Even a cursory examination of these categories reveals that they correspond nearly exactly to how characters behave on the screen.

In the 1942 film, “Now Voyager”, Bette Davis literally transforms from a dowdy wallflower into a beautiful and confident woman. Seen through the lens of Jung’s archetype, what Davis’ character Charlotte Vale personifies is individuation: the broken aspects of her personality come together to create a unified individual. According to Wolz, beyond just identifying with the character, a person suffering from the same feelings of desperation and self-doubt would grow as the character grows because, while it’s true one is a fiction, her dilemmas are all too real and relatable. That is the healing power of fiction: they appeal to people because they express timeless truths about consciousness and being and sense of self.

A scene of healing

Wolz believes that movies can heal us if we merely ask the right questions. On her site, she has more than 50 reviews of movies that speak to our inner-selves, one of them being“The Shawshank Redemption.”

Adapted from the Stephen King short story “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”, the movie tells the story of New England banker Andy Dufresne, wrongly convicted of murdering his wife in Maine in 1947. He is sent to the notorious Shawshank Prison where he must deal with brutal guards, a corrupt warden and a band of prison rapists known as the Sisterhood. During his 19 years of incarceration, he forms a lasting friendship with a lifer and the two men come to realize that true freedom exists solely in the mind and the spirit. Wolz considers this film a microcosm on how to deal with a seemingly hopeless situation.

At the end of her review, she asks the audience to put itself in Dufresne’s shoes. How would do they deal with overwhelming situations? What can they learn from the character about hope and hopelessness? What behaviors of his should they emulate or avoid?

From the Silver Screen to a teen’s smoke screen

Bruce Skalarew, a Maryland-based psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and the co-chairman for the Forum for Psychoanalytic Study of Film, cautions that cinema or movie therapy should not replace traditional 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.“

Teenagers on break from school quickly get bored. And while there have been no studies directly linking boredom to sloth, empirical evidence points to the fact that a bored teenager generally becomes easily acclimated of the living room couch as they zone out for hours watching TV or playing video games. As an alternative to “Why don’t you go outside and get some fresh air?” parents may consider the following:

  • Check for movie festivals or public screenings of educational films
  • Have a movie night or day at the house; balancing the special effects and sci-fi with biopics or literary adaptations
  • Some cities still have the good fortune to have revival theaters. In a word, everyone loves the Marx Brothers

White River Academy is a residential boarding school located in Delta, Utah. White River focuses on treating young men struggling with substance abuse, mental health disorders and co-occurring conditions. If your son is in need of help, you can reach us at 866-520-0905 to learn more about our treatment programs and our school curriculum.

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