The Use of Cinema Therapy In Treatment

I have always loved the concept of story as a healing tool. Since the dawn of man and cave paintings, humans have used story to teach and inspire. The medicine men would tell legends and stories to the tribe to teach them both what to do and what not to do. Mythology is filled with stories of hero’s, villains, trials and tribulations all to show man how to move forward or not fall back. Jesus, Buddha, Confucius and many great spiritual teachers used story or parable as a way to inspire and teach. It is very much a part of the Jewish, Native American and Christian tradition to use story, as exemplified in rabbinical teachings, tribal lore and the stories of the bible both new and old testament. This tradition was carried forth into fairy tales that we were told as children, always looking for the moral of the story. From the written word and the storyteller and religious story, theater was born, and while entertaining it was also moralistic, in fact much of early theater beyond the Greeks was church driven and meant to teach. Story is a gift passed down from human to human from myths and fables to today’s blockbuster films. . In fact much of film is based on mythology in general and Joseph Campbell’s theories of mythology and story format more specifically. Christopher Vogler in his book “The Writers Journey” discussed this very issue, according to Vogler, “The ideas expressed in Campbell’s book (The Hero with a Thousand Faces) are having a major impact on storytelling”. He also suggests that, “Filmmakers like George Lucas and George Miller acknowledge their debt to Campbell and his influence can be seen in the films of Steven Spielberg, John Boorman, Francis Coppola and others. (Vogler)”
The power of cinema can be used as an amazing therapeutic technique. In its simplest terms Cinema Therapy can be described as, the use of film to evoke, emotion, movement or to make a therapeutic point to a client in therapy. It has also been described as “a therapeutic process in which clients and therapists discuss themes and characters in popular films that relate to core issues of ongoing therapy (Hesley, 1997).”  In practical terms this modality uses films to help people make connections with the issues in their lives.
An example of Cinema Therapy could be a client who was having difficulty getting in touch with emotion around the relationship between a father and son, or struggled with understanding the impact their father may have had on their lives, a therapist might ask them to watch “Life as a House”.  “Life as a House” is a film in which, Kevin Kline plays a man that finds out he is dying, as he looks back at his life he sees all the failures and unhappiness embodied in the house his father built. The house is falling apart and in need of serious repairs but the foundation is good and it can be rebuilt. With the central theme around his own father, this character looks to his own teenage son who is struggling with issues of addiction and sexuality which in part stem from his relationship with Kevin Kline’s character (his father). Through much struggle and pain, part of which is revealing his relationship with his own father, the two start to rebuild the house before the characters death. In this brief overview of the movie you can easily see the metaphor and therapeutic opportunities for a client who is also struggling with similar if not identical issues.
If you think of the films that have moved you emotionally and made an impact on your life it is easy to see the power of this modality. Once you look at movies as teaching tools you will never see film the same way.


Caron, J. J. (n.d.). DSM at the Movies: Use of Media in Clinical or Educational Settings. Article 38 .
Hesley, J. w. (1997). Rent Two Films and Let’s Talk in the Morning: Using Popular Movies in Psychotherapy. New York: Wiley.
Hynes, A. &.-B. (1986). Bibliotherapy: The interactive proces. Boulder, Co: Weswtview Press.
Solomon, D. G. (2001). Reel Therapy How Movies Inspire You to Ov ercome Life’s Problms. New York, NY: Lebhar-Friedman books.
Vogler, C. The Writer’s Journey Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters.