Think about your experience watching movies. Have you ever seen a film and felt inspired, emotional or filled with energy to tackle your troubles or pursue your dreams? Has a film helped you look at your own life in a deeper way and increase your understanding? Has a comedy made you laugh so hard that you completely forgot your problems and felt renewed?
Movies can be a catalyst for transformation, healing and growth. Some therapists prescribe movies to help their clients deal with problems and feelings. Yes, Cinema Therapy is a thing. The term was coined by Dr. Gary Solomon aka The Movie Doctor. Whether you’re going through a divorce, job loss, having trouble with parenting or just feeling alone or sad, watching a movie that addresses your issues can help you feel better and even provide insight.
I use Cinema Therapy in my own life and with my clients all the time. For example, recently my daughter went back to college after a long winter break. The month she spent at home was extremely difficult for both of us. She had just broken up with her college sweetheart for the third time and was feeling depressed, despondent, lost and anxious. Her excessive sadness seeped through the walls of her room. No amount of mothering helped.
As we packed up the car to ship her back to school, I felt a cascade of intense emotions—sadness, concern, disappointment… I was filled with a powerful longing to love her troubles away. It used to be so easy to comfort her. Warm milk and a cuddle was all it took to turn off the tears.
Now that her break was finally over I needed a break.
After she left I turned to Cinema Therapy for a good cry and some resolution. Fortunately I rented Ricki and the Flash with Meryl Streep. The movie is about a musician played by Streep who gives up everything for her dream of becoming a rock star. The dream doesn’t happen and years later Ricki goes back home to resolve her troubled relationship with her kids.
The story’s predictable, but the acting’s strong and the movie proved to be entertaining and cathartic. Watching Streep struggle to connect with her kids reminded me that none of us are perfect parents. Sometimes all we can do is show up and offer love, support and compassion. Once our kids are adults they need to solve their own problems. Like Streep, who tries to comfort her daughter who’s going through divorce, all we can do is pry our kids out of bed, urge them to take a shower and eat, treat them to a make-over and have faith in the healing power of time and love.
You know what your problem is, it’s that you haven’t seen enough movies – all of life’s riddles are answered in the movies. —Steve Martin
There are numerous ways to use movies to fuel healing and growth in your own life. Here are three of my favorites.
When you’re feeling depressed, down or apathetic, watching an inspiring film can energize and help you kindle passion and hope. Some of my favorite films in this category include Frida (starring Salma Hayek); Erin Brockovich (starring Julia Roberts), The Pursuit of Happyness (starring Will Smith), Cast Away (starring Tom Hanks) and the incredible animated musical Sita Sings the Blues.
In a fascinating experiment conducted in 1979, the psychologist Ellen Langer 1979, had 8 men in their 70s live as though it was twenty years earlier in the 1950s. The men didn’t just reminisce about the way things were, they actually were placed in an environment that recreated 1959 and were told to behave as though it were actually 1959. The men saw significant improvements in strength, dexterity, gait, posture, perception, hearing, vision, cognition and memory.
Movies can help you turn back the clock. Watching films you enjoyed in your youth or movies that recall an earlier, happier time can rejuvenate you. Some of my favorite movies from earlier days include Broadcast News (remember, big hair and shoulder pads?), The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Stand By Me.
The Healing Power of Humor
In his book Anatomy of an Illness, journalist Norman Cousins explains how he healed himself of a debilitating disease by watching Marx Brother’s movies. As he explains, “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep.”
Laughter is powerful medicine that can help reduce pain, lower stress and improve the immune system. Watching a funny movie can help you lighten up and not take yourself and life so seriously.
There are thousands of movies available to fuel your funny bone. Some of my personal favorites include Trainwreck (starring the always hilarious Amy Schumer), Young Frankenstein, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Jerk, The 40-Year Old Virgin, A Fish Called Wanda, Borat, and There’s Something About Mary.
Cinema Therapy is a great way to practice self-compassion by giving yourself what you need. So the next time you want to shift your mood, feel inspired or gain insight, hit Netflix and give Cinema Therapy a try.