Zorabedian, Thomas [faculty advisor]




adolescence; film; psychology; cinema therapy


Films provide profound reflections and interpretations of the people and the times in which they are made. Because of this, we often feel emotionally connected to certain films. We root for a teen who pursues his talent against his family’s wishes, because we have also been misunderstood by family and friends. We cry with a young girl whose best friend has passed away, because we remember the first time we lost someone we loved. We applaud the couple whom manages to stay together despite their differences, because we still believe in happy endings. Film has had a tremendous social impact partly because of the emotional attachments viewers form to characters and storylines. Our escalating exposure and increased access to film through DVDs and the internet has further propelled us to look toward the screen for answers to life’s challenging questions.

Cinema therapy is the phenomenon of using films to help people work through emotional issues. The practice of cinema therapy is an increasingly popular method of psychotherapy where psychotherapists prescribe patients certain films to help them with family and relationship issues, substance abuse, and other problems. The purpose of watching prescribed films is to help patients feel like there are others who have gone through similar situations and that solutions to their problems exist. Dr. Birgit Wolz, a psychotherapist who specializes in this form of therapy, calls cinema therapy “a powerful catalyst for healing and growth for anybody who is open to learning how movies affect us.” She explains that one aspect of most movies is that they serve as allegories, in the same way stories, myths, jokes, fables, and dreams sometimes do, which can all be utilized in therapy. When we are observers of a film, we are able to step back and clearly see the bigger picture. Watching movies helps us learn to understand ourselves and others more deeply in the big picture of our own lives. We develop a skill to see ourselves and the world more objectively and less judgmentally. Therapists such as Jan Hesley, who specializes in marriage and family therapy, believe the films help their patients develop new perspectives on their situations and inspire them to make positive changes. Hesley has found that movies “connect a client's world to the characters and plots: furnishing role models, providing inspiration and hope, and offering new solutions to old problems” (John Hesley, 55). Cinema therapy is able to reach patients in new and effective ways through the accessible medium of film and its portrayal of identifiable characters and situations.