Curatorview [Alfredo Cramerotti]

Filmtherapy, or the ideal cure for the soul

Posted in shortEssays/cortiSaggi [English/Italian] by Curatorview on April 11, 2007

What is filmtherapy? It’s the idea that some psychological attitudes and mental behaviours can be influenced by a film, addressed and eventually corrected thereafter.

Getting cured of crisis, stress, anxiety, or even an illness such a cancer, simply cinema-going, might provoke an outburst of indignation. But it’s not a new idea: the soul-touching power of representation goes uninterrupted from the cave age, straight to the art show, via Greek theatre. To use your local Blockbuster round the corner as the neighbourhood pharmacy might rise a few eyebrows, and so I wanted to get a slightly deeper opinion. I did my homework, and here are some considerations on regard. It’s not a therapy-description: it’s only what I got out of it, a strictly personal view. Comments welcome.

It’s somehow easier to involve a patient to talk about him/herself in front of a movie, rather than during a psychological session. Provided that is the right movie.
The film on the screen will ignite some parallels with one’s own life experience, and consequently comments, opinions, judgements will become easier if referred to the movie characters than towards the self. The therapist, or the medical staff who has the responsibility to deal with the patient, will draw a range of data from the cinematographic experience. According to Birgit Wolz, counsellor on, an American organization devoted to filmtherapy, there are different approaches to involve a person in a cinematic experience: the let-yourself-go formula (watch the movie and relax, better with some popcorn supplies), the evocative session (to learn more about oneself), the cathartic experience (laugh, or cry, or scream, or fear, being in a state of deep involvement).
It works for the medical staff too: for instance, often doctors and nurses in exchanging opinions about terminal patients, such those suffering from cancer, often recur to a film scene, or dialogue, or story (take “Marvin’s room”, to give you an idea). They do this to better indicate their own, and the patient’s, emotional approach. And some hospitals (the Policlino Gemelli in Rome, among the others) started to include film sessions and screenings in the special training of their staff.

It sounds more a creative writing course than a therapy, but some counsellor advise their patients to write down their own fears, dreams, and expectation in the shape of a film.
We can easily admit the two areas are not very far from each other. One can be advised, for instance, to imagine her/his life, or to approach her/his worries, according to a film script. Like medicals one self-prescribes for the soul (never tried Prozac?), a film-subject or script can be prescribed to imagine life differently, with more fun, more depth, more success, or less hectic, less responsibility, and so on.
Throughout the process, what is intimately liked, hated, depressing or reinvigorating for the author will become easy to spot. In-between the lines, that is.

Filmtherpay is not only directly soul-building. It can also be self-indulging and self-commiserating, why not? Yes, exactly: this helps to stop+go. A couple of days of favourite, silly and not-engaging movies, by yourself or in company of friends, spouses, lovers, maybe with the help of unhealthy addictions (sweets, Linus-blanket, ect.) or in the warm and soft of one’s own bed (crispy crumbs around), will do better than a therapist. Bad-hair day, job commitments, identity crisis, broken dreams, all of them evaluated and re-addressed with the support of a good movie. Thelma & Louise, for instance, where characters free themselves from their routine. The ending is not so re-building in a way, but you got the idea.

This is pure Zen. Be your own cure. Just get in touch with someone who can ‘guide’ you through the process (like the pharmacist with medicine for a cold), and develop your own approach to what’s going on in your mind and soul. Through movies. Feeling underestimate? “My big fat Greek wedding”. Feeling trapped by a love story? “fatal attraction”. Etc.
Watch out: there are no films realized on purpose to solve crisis, depression, or illness. There is no such a thing like a film listing, with movies against mobbing, dumping, or to get promoted, or seduce. There is only a personal approach to it, which can be different according to time, situation, age, social status, family, and so on. Cinema can be a therapy, but not a cure (unlike medicine for the cold): it’s more an homeopathic approach, which use a small segment of your state to grasp the bigger picture.

Now the bad news: sorry, you cannot become a better parent simply going and watching “Kramer vs. Kramer”. Filmtherapy has a value only in perspective. Cinema as representation and experience has something to offer for those, who want to become aware about themselves, not those expecting results from seeing a shot about something. It’s a path, and it’s quite long.
A few medical institutions, such as the Neuroscience Institute in Florence, use films to enhance a psychotherapy process of the patient, in respect to one’s own attitudes and internal growth, and never, never substitute a film list with a medical rigor. A movie is a tool, and not an end in itself. Let’s relax, it’s not (yet) the end of the world.

Cinematherapy is a development of booktherapy. Some doctors and therapists used to recommend a list of books to read, and discuss, in order to realize a path of self-awareness. At some point, someone wondered if there were any movie to implement, or even substitute, books. It make sense, right?
From there, it was a short step to establish cinematherapy as recognized practice. Relationship crisis, teenager problems, family issues, job stress, psychosomatic illnesses, are all but a few situations in which a cinematic experience can be revealing, according to “Filmtherapy”, a book by Vincenzo Matronardi, psychotherapist and director of the behaviours and deviance observatory at the University “La Sapienza” in Rome: 160 pages of psychofilmic compendium where he lists films, according to psychological themes, life phases, emotional contents and problems.
A good source to have an idea of the matter. But, hey! After that, I would follow my instinct…

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