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Life at the Movies – The Art of Cinema Therapy
More and more counselors are turning the American past movies into an effective therapeutic tool. I personally incorporated the use of Kinotherapy with clients informally over five years ago. Within the past two years, however, I’ve started using it more consistently as an additional form of service when planning treatment. Films deal with a range of life topics that are suitable for all ages, cultures and backgrounds. In the ongoing debate does life imitate the movies or do movies imitate real life? One thing is clear: Movies deal with many of our common problems. Some very practical answers and life choices are provided in the 90 to 180 minutes. That’s why movies often give customers insight into their own lives.
After seeing Field of Dreams in 1989, If you build it, they will come became my slogan for the year. Those words of inspiration and hope encouraged me to step out in faith and accomplish many goals. I’m sure I’ve seen the movie over 20 times and every time is like the first. I was overwhelmed with emotion. The list of things I needed to build filled my mind. Sitting in that dark theater, tears streamed down my face as I identified the many things I wanted to do but was afraid to risk. I slipped past my friend, stepped into the hallway, ran to the back of the theater and cried like a baby. Periodically, I rent the video to remind myself to follow my heart, hear the voice within, and move forward. The film had an amazing healing effect. As customers connect with various characters, they can identify similarities and differences of their own stories. This is often a great bridge from the reel to the real.
People Watch Movies: Cinema is a global phenomenon, seen by millions of people around the world. It has a powerful effect, consciously or unconsciously, on the behavior of people. A 1993 survey by Variety magazine reported that worldwide box office receipts totaled $8 billion, and that home video rental is also a profitable business. Of the top 100 grossing films, 88 were American productions. We go to the movies for different reasons: some for the magic, others for the meaning. Movies can provide entertainment or a temporary escape from our reality. They can be relaxing or exciting, and for many they have become a way to cope. As therapists and counselors, we can tap into these easily accessible and readily available old_resources.
What Is Kinotherapy?
Kinotherapy is the use of films (current releases or videos) by counselors as a therapeutic tool in the healing process of clients. It is not a discipline requiring special training, like art or music therapy. However, it should be performed by a mental health practitioner skilled in processing clients’ cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses. Depending on the client, the concept may be presented formally or informally at two different points during treatment. The first opportunity comes during the initial assessment when collecting historical data. Most new clients usually indicate behavioral changes (especially in leisure activities). At this point I ask, What do you do for fun? Or do you like movies? This is also a way to establish a relationship with the customer. I briefly share my interest in movies, their positive therapeutic value, and that other clients have benefited from the experience. The second opportunity to introduce Kinotherapy is when the client discusses information that reminds the counselor of a particular film or video. I share some of the similarities in the plot, points of view/thoughts, and suggest that the client check it out. Then we plan to discuss his or her reaction at the next session.
Life Is Longer Than the Movies: Although the worlds of life and fiction have similarities, they are also very different. Movies often cover a continuum of development from childhood to adulthood. Realizing that movies can cover an entire lifetime in about two hours, customers should be warned that solutions may take longer to execute than they do to watch. The real world doesn’t always come neatly packaged. We do not know what will ultimately happen in our own lives. We can, however, become interested in fictional characters, find out what happens to them, and gain insights for our own problem solving. Customers are usually able to point out how someone else should have handled a situation. They will then go on to explain what they would do differently. Films act as catalysts that stimulate discussion leading to transparency and disclosure.
From the Reel To Reality: When customers watch movies, they make comparisons with their real-world knowledge of human behaviors and what seems to be a plausible, likely, or consistent response of a person in a given situation. If a client decides that the actors’ emotions in the film are appropriate and convincing, given the narrative circumstances, he or she may be able to empathize with the characters’ emotions. Customers also engage in a complex set of evaluations about the moral and ethical acceptability of a character’s on-screen behavior and sequence of events. As a result of their disclosure, you will be able to determine strengths and weaknesses in how the individual processes information as well as their ability to abstract, reason and gather insights. When a client watches a film for use in Kinotherapy, there are several categories that can be used as catalysts to get the person thinking about their own issues. Five are mentioned here: Listen to one-liners (eg, There’s no place like home Wizard of Oz; You can’t handle the truth Some good guys; Make my day Dirty Harry; May the force be with you Star Wars) . Look for themes (eg, facing your fears, getting revenge, getting a fresh start in life, extending forgiveness). Observe relationship dynamics (eg, obsessive-compulsive, codependency, poor boundaries). Identify significant issues (abuse, anxiety, marriage, chronic illness). Give each movie the Bible test by asking, does the movie show a violation or application of Scripture?
Assign Movies as Homework: If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine the value of a movie. When movies are assigned as homework, the counselor should have a clear goal. Ask yourself, what do I hope to accomplish with my client through this film? Cinema therapy is not just watching movies but watching with a specific purpose. Selected films should address issues (Figure 1) that customers face or be based on their fields of interest (eg, action, drama, romance, comedy, western, science fiction, fairy tale, etc.). Advisers should be warned that the film rating system (G General Audience, PG Parental Guidance, PG-13 Suitable for teens, R Restricted/no one under 18 admitted without a parent or guardian) does not always accurately reflect the content of a film. Make sure you watch the film first and advise your client of material that may be objectionable or offensive (eg profanity, nudity, graphic violence). Sound judgment should be used. Again, ask yourself, Is the film clinically, spiritually and age appropriate? Customers can see a first-rate movie at a local theater or rent a home video. There are advantages to both sites.
At the theater, they have widescreen viewing and no breaks (interruptions). Advantages of home video include the ability to pause and replay certain scenes as well as viewing in the privacy and comfort of home. Whichever location your clients choose, ask them to complete a Film Review Sheet (Figure 2). Beyond the obvious, customers can be moved by various subtleties in the film. Be prepared to address concepts that a client may identify that you did not intend to address. Customers can also watch the movie and not want to discuss it. No pressure should be applied to make something happen. Documented information from the Film Review Sheet can be used in a later session. If the customer saw the film, he or she was Affected (positively or negatively). Reality In Caroline’s Case In the practice of Kinotherapy, I have found that Reality-Based, Rational-Emotive, and Behavioral approaches are most effective. This does not limit the use of other theoretical orientations as preferred by some advisers. Below is a brief synopsis of a case using a reality-based therapeutic intervention in conjunction with Cinema Therapy.
Caroline is a 38-year-old mother of three girls between the ages of 5 and 10. She is recently divorced from a physically, verbally, and spiritually abusive narcissistic, bipolar man. During one of our sessions, Caroline discussed how her wife was both impulsive and obsessive. Several things she said reminded me of the movie As Good As It Gets. Before sharing the similarities, I asked if she had seen the movie and what she thought of it. To my surprise, she hated the movie (I’ve seen it five or six times and recommended it to several other clients). It was a great moment. Caroline became angry when she shared how unrealistic the movie seemed. She was concerned that Helen Hunts character would marry Jack Nicholson’s character because he was charming but that she could forget about his character flaws. Then Helen will end up like Caroline, 10 years later, wondering how she missed the obvious signs of dysfunction. As a result of domestic violence, Caroline suffers from low self-esteem and severe depression. This was the first time she had expressed a strong opinion about anything. We discussed the questions from the Film Review Sheet right then in session. This opened a door through which we could work more efficiently. Caroline was not angry at the film, but at herself for bad judgment and wrong choices. Because she felt ashamed and embarrassed about her situation, she withdrew from others (even those who cared about her well-being).
The film helped Caroline acknowledge that even though she was deeply wounded, she needed to connect with people to heal. At the same time, she had to establish new patterns of communication. She was also challenged to answer the question, What if this is as good as it gets? Caroline began to assess her current reality and ask more questions, such as Who am I? What have I learned from my past experiences that can help me in the present? What do I want from life? What do I want from relationships? Will my current behavior help me accomplish my desired goals? What am I willing to change? During the treatment, Caroline began to accept personal responsibility for her life and make a plan. She learns to take risks and trust her new found insights. Find a therapist to get solutions to your problems.
While Kinotherapy can be used with a wide range of clients, it is not recommended for those with serious psychiatric disorders. Counselors should be aware that watching certain actions in a movie can cause clients to relive their pain. Be sensitive. Instead of assigning movies as homework, videos (5 to 10 minutes) can be watched in a session. Then content can be processed Immediately. Kinotherapy is an underutilized intervention that I believe will increase in popularity as its application and effectiveness are better understood. Our lives can be seen as one long movie without a break. Consider the plot of The Truman Show. Meeting a new client is like walking into the middle of a movie. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what’s going on, even when the client provides feedback. Using Kinotherapy is a way for counselors to engage clients in non-threatening ways as they share the plots of their stories.
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