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Life at the Movies – The Art of Cinema Therapy
A growing number of counselors are turning American past-time movies into an effective therapeutic tool. More than five years ago, I personally communicated the use of film therapy informally to clients. However, over the past two years, I have begun to use it more consistently as a form of ancillary service when planning treatment. The films tackle a range of life issues suitable for all ages, cultures and backgrounds. In the ongoing debate, does life imitate movies or does movies imitate real life? One thing is clear: movies solve many of our common problems. The 90 to 180 minute short films offer some very practical answers and life choices. As a result, movies often give clients insight into their own lives.
After seeing Field of Dreams in 1989, if you build it, they’ll come and be my catchphrase of the year. These words of inspiration and hope encouraged me to go out with confidence and achieve many goals. I’m sure I’ve seen this movie over 20 times and each time feels like the first. I get emotional. The list of things I need to build fills my head. Sitting in that dark theater, tears rolled down my face as I discovered so many things I wanted to do but didn’t dare to risk. I slipped past my friend, down the aisle, and rushed to the back of the theater, crying like a baby. From time to time, I will use videos to remind myself to follow my heart, listen to my inner voice, and work hard. This movie has a great healing effect. As clients connect with the various characters, they are able to identify similarities and differences to their own stories. This is usually a great bridge from scroll to real.
People are watching movies: Movies are a global phenomenon, watched by millions of people around the world. It has a powerful influence on people’s behavior, consciously or unconsciously. A 1993 Variety survey reported that worldwide box office receipts totaled $8 billion, and home video rentals were also a lucrative business. Of the 100 highest-grossing films, 88 were American-made. We go to movies for different reasons: some for the magic, others for the meaning. Movies can provide entertainment or a temporary escape from reality. They can be relaxing or exciting, and for many people, they become a way of coping. As therapists and counselors, we can draw on these old resources that are easily accessible and readily available.
What is Cinema Therapy?
Film therapy is when a counselor uses film (current release or video) as a therapeutic tool in a client’s recovery process. It is not a discipline that requires specialized training, such as art or music therapy. However, it should be done by a mental health practitioner skilled in dealing with clients’ cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses. Depending on the client, this concept may be introduced formally or informally at two different points during therapy. The first opportunity arises during the initial assessment to collect historical data. Most new clients usually indicate a change in behavior (especially in leisure activities). At this time I asked, what do you do for entertainment? Or do you like movies? It’s also a way to build rapport with customers. I briefly share my interest in films, their positive therapeutic value, and how other clients have benefited from this experience. A second opportunity to introduce film therapy is when clients discuss information that reminds the counselor of a particular movie or video. I share some parallels in storyline, perspective/mindset and recommend clients to check it out. We then plan to discuss his or her responses at the next meeting.
Life Is longer Than the Movies: While the world of life and the world of fiction have similarities, they are also very different. Movies often cover a continuum of development from infancy to adulthood. Realizing that a movie can cover the entire lifecycle in about two hours, clients should be reminded that the implementation of the solution may take longer than the viewing time. The real world isn’t always neatly packaged. We don’t know what’s going to end up in our own lives. However, we can become interested in fictional characters, find out what happened to them, and gain insight to solve our own problems. Clients are often able to point out how others should handle a situation. They will then go on to explain what they would do differently. Films act as catalysts to spark discussion that leads to transparency and disclosure.
From Movie to Reality: When clients watch a movie, they compare what they know about human behavior in the real world with what seems plausible, probable, or consistent a person’s response in a given situation. If the client feels that the emotions of the actors in the film are appropriate and convincing, given the narrative context, he or she may be able to empathically share the emotions of the characters. The client also underwent a series of complex assessments of the moral and ethical acceptability of the character’s on-screen actions and sequence of events. As a result of their disclosure, you will be able to determine strengths and weaknesses in the way an individual processes information, as well as his or her ability to abstract, reason, and gather insights. When a client is watching a film for film therapy, there are several categories that can be used as catalysts to get the person to think about his or her own issues. Five are mentioned here: Listen to the one-liners (e.g., there’s nowhere like the home of The Wizard of Oz; you can’t handle the truth a few good guys; make my day dirty Harry; may the force be with you Star Wars). Find out Themes (e.g., confronting fears, revenge, restarting life, extending forgiveness). Observe relationship dynamics (eg, OCD, codependency, unclear boundaries). Identify significant issues (abuse, anxiety, marriage, chronic illness). Give each film a biblical test by asking, does the film exhibit a violation or application of the Bible?
Assign movies as homework: If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine how much a movie is worth. When a movie is assigned as homework, the facilitator should have a clear goal in mind. Ask yourself, what am I hoping to achieve with my client through this film? Film therapy is not just watching movies, but watching with a specific purpose. The films selected should either address a problem the client is facing (Figure 1) or be based on their area of interest (eg, action, drama, romance, comedy, western, science fiction, fairy tale, etc.). Counselors should be aware that the movie rating system (G General Audience, PG Parental Guidance, PG-13 Suitable for Teens, R Restricted/Under 18 Unsupervised) does not always accurately reflect the content of the movie. Make sure you watch the movie first, and inform your client of potentially offensive or objectionable material (eg, profanity, nudity, graphic violence). Sound judgment should be used. Ask yourself again, is this movie clinically, spiritually and age appropriate? Customers can watch first-run movies at local theaters or rent home videos. Both venues have their advantages.
In theaters, they have widescreen viewing without intermissions (interruptions). Advantages of home video include the ability to pause and replay certain scenes and watch in the privacy and comfort of your home. Whichever venue your customers choose, ask them to fill out a movie review form (Figure 2). Clients are likely to be struck by all sorts of subtleties in the film, aside from the obvious. Be prepared to work on concepts your client might think you didn’t intend to address. A client may also watch a movie but not want to discuss it. Pressure should not be exerted to make something happen. Documented information on the film review form can be used at a later meeting. If the customer has seen the movie, he or she will be affected (positively or negatively). Realistic Scenarios in Caroline’s Case In my practice of film therapy, I have found that reality-based, rational-emotional, and behavioral approaches are most effective. This does not limit the use of other theoretical directions preferred by some counselors. The following is a brief synopsis of cases where reality-based therapeutic interventions were used in conjunction with film therapy.
Caroline is a 38 year old mother of three girls aged between 5 and 10 years old. She was recently divorced from a physically, verbally and emotionally abusive narcissistic bipolar man. During one of our sessions, Caroline was discussing how her spouse was both impulsive and OCD. A few things she said reminded me of the movie “As Good As It Gets.” Before sharing the similarities, I asked her if she had seen the movie and what she thought of it. To my surprise, she hated this movie (I’ve seen it five or six times and recommended it to several other clients). This is a great moment. When Caroline shared how unrealistic the film seemed, she became angry. She worried that Helen Hunt’s character would marry Jack Nicholson’s character because he was attractive, but she could forget about his character flaws. Then Helen would, like Caroline 10 years later, wonder how she missed the obvious signs of dysfunction. Due to domestic violence, Caroline suffered from low self-esteem and severe depression. This is the first time she has had a strong opinion on anything. We were discussing the movie review form at the meeting. This opens a door through which we can work more efficiently. Caroline is not mad at the movie, but at her own bad judgment and bad choices. Because she is embarrassed and ashamed of her situation, she has distanced herself from other people (even those who care about her well-being).
The movie helps Caroline realize that, despite her deep hurt, she needs to connect with people in order to heal. At the same time, she needs to establish a new relationship model. She was also asked to answer the question, if this is the best? Caroline begins to assess her current reality and asks other questions, such as who am I? What have I learned from past experiences that help me now? what do i want from life What do I want from a relationship? Will my current behavior help me achieve what I want? What am I willing to change? During therapy, Caroline began to take personal responsibility for and develop a plan for her life. She is learning to take risks and trust her newfound insights. Find a therapist to address your issues.
Although film therapy is suitable for a wide range of clients, it is not recommended for clients with serious mental illness. Counselors should be aware that watching some of the action in a movie may cause clients to relive their pain. sensitive. Film clips (5 to 10 minutes) can be viewed during lessons rather than being assigned as homework. The content can then be processed immediately. Film therapy is an underused intervention that I believe will grow in popularity as its application and effectiveness are better understood. Our lives can be seen as a long film without an intermission. Consider the storyline of The Truman Show. Meeting new customers is like watching a movie. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what happened, even when the client provides a flashback. Using film therapy is a way for counselors to engage clients in a non-threatening way as they share storylines.
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