General concept of cinema therapy (film therapy)

Based on the book by Sergey Krasin
“Introduction to Directed Film Therapy”

Film therapy (cinema therapy) is a direction of psychotherapy which includes a system of methods based on the ways of working with human reactions received during and after watching the film and aimed at spiritual and mental healing [1, с. 26].

Main types of film therapy:

  1. Antonio Meneghetti’s cinemalogy .
  2. Gary Solomon’s cinema therapy.
  3. Bernie Wooder’s movie therapy.
  4. Tav Sparks’ movie yoga.
  5. Sergey Krasin’s directed film therapy.

Brief historical overview

The interest of scientists and practicing psychologists in the influence of cinema on a viewer began from the moment when the Lumière brothers made their first film. The representatives of cinema industry were deeply interested in managing the attention and consciousness of the audience in order to maintain their interest in films. They studied the audience’s reactions to movement, colour, sound and the content of the film. The techniques and methods of film editing were developed in order to achieve specific goals. The information on this topic can be found in the books on film directing and editing. The educational role of cinema was of particular interest. In the 1930s Soviet psychologists B.M. Teplov, N.I. Zhinkin, O.I. Nikiforova conducted the research on cinema and children.

Psychiatrists were the first to show interest in the use of films for therapeutic purposes. In 1949, an article about a new method of treatment in the clinic was published in the Great Medical Encyclopedia. “Theoretically speaking, it is possible to create specially selected film programs by studying perception of different viewers, including the patient, which will have a certain positive psychotherapeutic effect”. In the early 1950s, the representatives of psychiatry actively studied the patients’ reactions to the films. They investigated the connection of films with excitation and inhibition processes and defense mechanisms. In particular, transference and resistance mechanisms were considered. Special attention was paid to safety issues and a therapeutic effect in group therapy. The ability of films to influence on individual and group dynamics was studied. The impact of cinema on the level of the patients’ anxiety was of great interest. All work was done mainly within the framework of the psychoanalytic approach.

In the early 1950s the first publications on cinema therapy appeared. In 1951 M. Prados wrote his article “The use of films in psychotherapy.” Between 1950 and 1970 experiments and clinical trials were conducted. Dozens of scientists published the results of their studies, observations and conclusions. However, all the publications were exclusively scientific and were not widely covered by the press. The first book designed for a wide range of readers was published in 1972 [1, с. 14-15].

Antonio Meneghetti’s Cinemalog

Antonio Meneghetti

The first book on film therapy was written by the Italian psychologist, philosopher, artist and founder of the ontological school Antonio Meneghetti. In 1972 he published the book “La cineterapia” (“Cinema Therapy”). Later, he gives his approach the name “Cinemalogy”, which he characterizes as one of the aspects of the ontopsychological method.

In Meneghetti’s own words, cinemalogy appeared by accident. One day, after the film was watched by the group, a heated debate started. While Meneghetti was watching it, he noticed that each participant of the discussion insisted on his point of view, despite the fact that the film should have had a common interpretation. The points of view were absolutely different. Meneghetti had previously conducted consultations with the participants of the discussion so he knew them quite well. He noticed that each person interpreted the film through the projection of their own complex. Meneghetti was interested in this topic. Later, he continued his observations which confirmed his assumption. This is how cinemalogy was born.

“The purpose of cinemalogy is not to teach or criticize the director’s work, but to use the film to analyze the people who watch these images. The viewer is emotionally involved in the things which are identified with him,” writes Meneghetti in his book “Cinema. Theatre. Unconscious”.

In cinemalogy a film is viewed as an integrate force which penetrates into the person’s inner life. There is a viewer and external reality, and cinemalogy voices the viewer’s emotions, feelings, thoughts, behavior and external reality of the film.

Meneghetti distinguishes two types of cinemalogy: therapeutic and didactic. Cinemalogy has its own methodology, stages and approaches to work with defense mechanisms [1,с.15-16].

Gary Solomon’s Cinema Therapy

Gary Solomon

An American psychologist, Dr. Gary Solomon was the second author who wrote the book on cinema therapy. He was a big fan of films since childhood. Solomon’s life path was difficult. Once, as an adult, he lost all his savings. As Solomon himself writes, he went completely off the rails. Alcohol and drugs could have killed him. It was the films that helped him stop in time.

Gary Solomon returned to work with films during his psychotherapeutic practice. Once, when one of his clients was telling the story of her life, the doctor noticed that she seemed to be retelling the movie he knew (this story is often mistakenly attributed to Bernie Wooder). Gary suggested watching this movie and gave the woman the task to describe her thoughts on what she had seen. He also asked her to think about whether she recognized herself in one of the characters. At the next meeting, the client asked, “How did you know?” She explained that it was as if she had seen her own life in the film.

This case showed Dr. Solomon the benefit of such viewings. He noticed that films contributed to establishing contact and helped clients become more aware of the situations and difficulties which they faced. Gary Solomon suggested watching films in which the characters experienced the same problems. . Indeed, after watching, clients opened up faster and talked about those problems in their lives that they had not noticed before. Films helped them recognize their own psychological reality. Solomon began to use films in his work with codependency, addiction, escapism, alcoholism etc.

Emphasizing the healing properties of films, he called them “healing tools”, and the process of film therapy “a healing journey”. He recommends using films in individual, pair, family and group work.

Another important Solomon’s discovery was the fact that it wasn’t obligatory to use only movies with a happy ending. The therapeutic effect was often achieved after watching the film which ended tragically. For example, a story about a dying alcoholic helped the client cope with alcoholism. The client learned not to repeat the character’s mistakes. Solomon called this effect “paradoxical healing.” Gradually, he created special selections of films on different topics and began to use them in his work.

Gary Solomon is the author of three books on cinema therapy. Thanks to his ideas and productive work, Solomon received the nickname “Doctor Cinema” [1, с. 16-17].

Bernie Wooder’s Movie Therapy

Bernie Wooder

Bernie Wooder was trained as a psychotherapist in his mature years. He first began to use films in his therapeutic practice in the early 1990s. Here is how he describes this moment: “As I was listening to the client’s words, a scene from the film suddenly popped into my head. At first I didn’t have enough confidence, so I didn’t use movies in my work. But I started thinking about it more and more.” Later, he offered his clients to watch films and noticed that the viewings contributed to the release of unconscious repressed emotions and memories. By choosing the right moment in the film, he worked with relationships, trauma, anxiety, and so on. Thus, Bernie Wooder’s movie therapy appeared.

As an accredited specialist in Core Process Psychotherapy (a combination of Western and Buddhist psychology), Bernie pays a lot of attention to the balance between the clients’ spiritual and psychological development, helps them develop awareness and teaches them to observe their thoughts, feelings and sensations. He notes the importance of developing the ability to realize and reveal unhealthy patterns of relationships and behaviour. Bernie emphasizes that movie therapy must be carried out by a specialist who understands and knows how to work with anxiety.

Bernie Wooder has made numerous radio appearances. He also took part in an interesting experiment which was aimed at helping the client to overcome ornithophobia (fear of birds) using movie therapy. The experiment showed that only the right film has a therapeutic effect. Bernie wrote two books – “Movie Therapy: How It Changes Lives” and “No Ordinary Life: Buddhism, Psychotherapy and Movies”, in which he shared his experience of using films in individual therapy [1, с. 18].

Tav Sparks’ Movie Yoga

Tav Sparks

Tav Sparks notes that any film has the ability to heal, change life and transform a person. Instead of going to a therapist, he suggests watching a movie in the hope that it will tell the person something about himself. It’s sufficient to do only two things to achieve this goal. Firstly, we need to pay attention to the feelings that we experience when we watch a film. Secondly, we must let these feelings transform us. He described this way to connect with your feelings, inner world and emotions using films in his book “Movie Yoga”.

Movie Yoga is based on a system of healing, the so-called “Awareness Positioning System”, or APS. The APS is similar to a coordinate system in which the person’s relationship with the world, his outer experience, is reflected on the horizontal axis. And on the vertical axis there is the person’s inner world, what happens inside him.

Our personal issues are below the horizontal axis: the past, something which we have forgotten and things which motivate us to be who we are. Above the horizontal there is experience which can be described as the movement towards integrity, the Higher Self.

This system is very simple. When we watch a film, we treat it as an external event and look at all our feelings from this perspective. But then we relate the same feelings to our inner past and future experience. We stop blaming the outside world and take responsibility for what’s happening to us. In this way we gain the strength for change and healing.

As the leader of Grof’s Transpersonal Training, Tav Sparks views Movie Yoga through the prism of the Basic Perinatal death-rebirth Matrix and its four parts: the Naivety Matrix, the Victim Matrix, the Matrix of Struggle and the Freedom Matrix [1, с. 19].

Sergey Krasin’s Directed Film Therapy

Sergey Krasin

The training programs for teachers, parents and school students were the first materials developed on directed film therapy. Their popularity and interest in them, as well as a large number of positive reviews stimulated further work and research. During the work, the author noticed that a high therapeutic effect depended not only on the content of the film being viewed, but also on the actions performed by a film therapist. The therapist’s wrong actions sharply reduced the effectiveness. In contrast, competent actions greatly improved the effect of watching. The author got the idea of creating a method in which a lot of attention was paid to careful planning of the therapist’s actions before, during and after watching the film as well as the viewing itself. The therapist does more than just encourage the discussion of the film. He creates conditions in which the client receives relevant knowledge, gets important insights, feels emotions and develops necessary skills. The method was called “Directed Film Therapy”. It has become an essential part of the therapeutic process. Directing strategies and techniques developed on their basis appeared.

In the course of work it was found out that directed film therapy can be used equally well not only in therapy, but also in training, coaching and counselling work with clients. Thus, the following directions appeared: therapy by methods of directed film therapy, counselling by methods of directed film therapy, directed film training and directed film coaching.

At the moment, directed film therapy includes more than thirty strategies for work with film excerpts and more than ten algorithms for work with short and full-length films. Hundreds of techniques and dozens of training programs have been developed. You will learn more about the method in the section «Directed Film Therapy» [1, с. 20].

1. 1. Krasin S.A. Introduction to Directed Film Therapy / S.A. Krasin.— Kharkov : Private entrepreneur Rubashkin, 2018 — 84 с.

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