Cinematherapy: The Healing Power of Movies and TV

Cinema Therapy for Depression on the CouchA picture may very well be worth a thousand words. A motion picture? Maybe even more than that.

In a March 2016 article for Counseling Today, Bronwyn Robertson, a counselor and member of the American Counseling Association, writes:

Barely able to breathe, a young man battling a panic attack hesitantly enters the group room and makes his way to an empty chair. He and a dozen others “check in” and are then guided through a simple, calming breathing exercise. The lights are dimmed and the group members are asked to focus their attention on the flickering images and pulsating sounds coming from a screen in front of them. Transfixed by these moving images and sounds, the young man’s anxiety begins fading away. He is no longer in the throes of a panic attack.

Robertson goes on to describe the powerful healing effect of films and TV shows in her work as a therapist. “Cinema can be a powerful, transformative catalyst,” she writes. “As a licensed professional counselor, I have found that the therapeutic use of this catalyst, otherwise known as cinematherapy, can be profoundly effective with even the most troubled or resistant clients.”

Movies and TV Shows as Therapeutic Tools

Robertson has used everything from the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz to the 1993 science-fiction television series The X-Files with more than 1,000 clients. She integrates cinematherapy with an experiential, mindfulness-oriented approach in clients ranging in age from 3 to 70 in both individual and group therapy. Her evaluation of the results? “Remarkable.”

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5 thoughts on “Cinematherapy: The Healing Power of Movies and TV

  1. I LOVE this post. I often use my favorite movies to help me through the maze of my intense emotions.

    My fave movies are: “The Quiet Man” because it reminds me of the sweet things in life and also reminds me of “the good ole days”; any Austin Powers movies because they help me to laugh at the silliest things in spite of myself; “O Brother Where Art Thou” because it makes me laugh out loud and gets me up dancing to the song, “He’s in the Jailhouse Now”, just like John Turturro’s character in the movie (and the movement helps shift my inner space); “About Time” because it reminds me of the love I’ve always wanted in my family, as well as how I like to be in the world (which is hopeful); the “Harry Potter” movies because they remind me that in spite of all the evil in the world that love can work “majic” and shift the “consciousness” of our planet; and “The Lord of The Rings”, especially the three sequels (which came out first) because it gives me hope for the future AND I LOVE Gandalph’s reply to Frodo when Frodo says he wishes none of the trials he’s experiencing had ever happened: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

    Peace!

  2. Hi, I just found your blog….after taking my morning dose of Nuvigil, it gives me enough energy to research on the internet. One of my main outlets for this unrelenting, TRD is TV and Movies….They give me a couple of hours of respite from the ruminations that are my life…or from the numbness….I get to live through these stories. I think this is a great article. I don’t feel any better after watching them, but during…it’s a respite.

  3. I have always loved movies and television, however, my depression impairs my ability to concentrate on a film and story-line. I have been unable to watch TV or movies for years, and this causes me further grief because it was always pleasurable for me. When I think about watching I can’t summon up enough interest and on rare occasions when I can summon the interest, I can’t focus. Have you run into any difficulties with focus or interest when it comes to cinematherapy? Any advice for someone like me?

    1. aaron, I have had similar difficulties at different times during my depression. Sometimes I am unable to watch movies or a TV show for months or longer. For me, when that happens, I’ll put on my favorite movies or music in the background. Sometimes it helps, sometimes not. I just keep practicing self-compassion. Not always easy, but I do it so I don’t fall off the deep end.

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