Stories continued from Fall 2004 issue


Real Star

Les E. White, PsyD
Chicago, IL
lesw@rcn.com
©2004 Real Star

—— Original Message ——
From: Les White
To: Mother
Sent: Sunday, May 4, 2003 9:48 PM
Subject: Finally!

Dear Mother: Will I ever make it? Those yearly “Guess How Much They Make?” articles report that psychologists earn up to $150 an hour. Clients – do not call them “patients”: that infers sickness – who contact me either are broke and do not have insurance. Still, the ethics code for psychologists recommends that we see them pro bono. Before I ask for rent money, again, please be aware that now there is a chance that I will earn an income commensurate with the title of “Dr.”

Today, I attended a presentation on “Media Psychology.” The psychologist-speaker explained what it is: mental health professionals who give presentations, interviews, sound bites, consultations, and the like to newspapers, radio, and TV. Think Drs. Phil, Ruth, and Joyce Brothers, Ah, the power of a title! “Just be careful,” the speaker said. “Know the difference between offering advice and conducting therapy.” Anybody can advise. Practicing psychotherapy with a license binds you to ethics and disciplinary boards and statues, such as the American Psychological Association’s “Psychologists provide services . . . only within the boundaries of their competence.”

In today’s world anything misconstrued as conducting therapy in public invites a therapist to be sued. On TV, a bartender, flower arranger, decorator, chef can direct others on how to mix a drink, paint a house, or remove a soufflé from the oven. In the media, a psychologist, or rather licensed psychologist, because of the ethics code, can not be as opinionated. Why do you think a “total makeover” – on Oprah or Rikkie or every morning TV show – refers just to one’s physical appearance? One can argue that hair grows back after a bad hair cut. Would a similar argument hold in court against a licensed psychologist: “Well, okay, the shrink’s advice was bad or wasn’t followed, but so what? The plaintiff continued to act as badly as before”? The trust established between a customer and bartender, client and decorator does not compare, legally, to the trust and relationship that must be established between client and therapist via a signed agreement before any therapy can begin.

“Don’t worry,” I heard myself say with the speaker. If a reporter asks my opinion of a news event, form of treatment, court trial, or tribulation of a famous personality, I will say “I’m not doing therapy” and, instead, cite a few well known reasons that explain most human behavior, like stress, gender, and unresolved childhood issues.

To further protect ourselves from lawsuits and peer censure, the speaker recommended we can always do what Drs. Phil and Brothers have done: give back our psychology licenses. We still will be called “Dr.”

With each such point that the speaker made, she rose up and down on the balls of her feet and unfurled her arms. The effect had us accompanying her until we shot up from our seats. Her story became ours – it could have been mine! – as she described how she got started (a neighbor in the biz) and said “Those glamorous sets? They’re really just desks. Thousands of prospective paying customers will see you.” Customers, not clients!

In my mind “You can do it, too” plays over and over like a film loop. The speaker gave us the name of the media and public relations expert to call for bookings. Finally at the age of forty- … forty- … okay, almost fifty, my practice will soar. Your son, Dr. Les

----- Original Message -----
From: Les White
To: Mother
Sent: Wednesday, May 14, 2003 2:14 PM
Subject: A Nibble!

Dear Mother:
A call! The woman from the p.r. agency – an agent! – asked if I would appear this Saturday, 9 p.m., on a national TV news show.
“Twenty-five hundred dollars for the spot,” she said.
Twenty-five hundred dollars!

Dollar signs danced before my eyes then stopped when she mentioned the topic: a nude beach. Would I take the “yes” position since another psychologist, already confirmed, had chosen “no, New Jersey should not open a nude beach for teenagers to promote a healthy body image.”
I said nothing.
“Twenty-two fifty then,” she said.
I remained silent. Twenty-two fifty?
“I can’t go below two thousand.”
The price goes down?
“Well, maybe seventeen fifty. How ’bout it?”
“I have to pay?”
“Millions will see you.”

My saying “no” did not stop her calls: for TV appearances, magazine and newspaper quotes. Like the selling of advertisements, the pay scale is determined by estimated audience numbers.

There, you have it! Many of those talking heads – from lawyers to professors to shrinks: “experts” in the parlance and scripts that roll across your TV – pay to be made an embarrassment to get their names, businesses, and books across.

If, as my physician says, that some 70% of medical ills have a major psychological component, there must be a way to make a buck in this profession … The p.r. pro sounded annoyed: “Call me when you’re interested.”

Please, Mother, send rent money. Now.

----- Original Message -----
From: Les White
To: Mother
Sent: Thursday, September 4, 2003 10:32 AM
Subject: A Gig!

Dear Mother:
Finally, a gig, a paying gig! After depending on that old standby, networking – sending out e-mail after e-mail to let everyone know that I wanted to become “Dr. Les, Media Psychologist” – I was referred to a producer who asked me to appear on national TV to speak on how people can better get along. It seems that a bunch of unrelated people are living in a house that few can afford, filmed 24 hours a day, and are not getting along. You know, one of those popular reality shows. I suggested I be the “birth order expert” who will encourage the roommates to consider how their problems relating to each other may be impacted by their birth positions. Say, when they were growing up, a few were the oldest or only children in their families. Today, each may expect to be “boss.” What if a few were babies? Now, stuck living again in a family-like setting, how many will want to pick up after themselves? Suppose a middle child is in the mix. Does that person feel out of sorts because he or she – sorry, in this case only “shes” (did I mention that only women live in this house?) – perceives that the others get all the attention? Still, as a homeless client of mine said, “The middle child is like corned beef, the best part of the sandwich.”

Think of all the disagreements!

The lesson to be learned is: now that we know the positions we are apt to take, how can we shift and better cooperate?

Because I have signed a confidentiality agreement, I can not divulge the title of the show, which has not premiered, yet. To protect my license, I put in writing that my presentation will offer only ideas and is not to be confused with psychotherapy. You already have my autograph –
Dr. Les

----- Original Message -----
From: Les White
To: Mother
Sent: Saturday, September 6, 2003 11:28 PM
Subject: Help!

Dear Mother: What have I done?! Today – actually tonight – I was on TV: taped for future, coast-to-coast broadcast. Rather than be the next Dr. Ph … or national phenomenon … I will be held up to pubic – no! – national rid-… What was in that agreement that I signed?! My hands can barely hold it steady:

“My actions … may be disparaging, defamatory, embarrassing or of an otherwise unfavorable nature and may expose me to public ridicule, humiliation, or condemnation.” “Don’t worry!” a producer had said, “It’s just a standard release form.” Everything I planned to do went ...
... d
o
w
n
h
i
l
l
fast.

Right before I was to go on, a producer said “I’ve never seen the women in such horrible moods!”

I said “Maybe I shouldn’t go on.”

Who said next – me or a producer or director or cameraman – “Be a professional. Don’t blow your one big chance”?

Then just as my mic was being checked, another – who?! – whispered in my ear: “Do therapy!”

Will I ever get another chance? Do I want anutter?!

Ach!, I see that I have misspelled the word “another” – and, now, the word “misspelled”! Tonight, while presenting how people act in various situations as influenced by their birth orders – my jotting down the most general behaviors on giant sheets of construction paper: descriptions like “bossy,” “leader,” “responsible” under “Oldest” – someone living in the house (what should we call her? Participant? Star?) – pointed out that I had written “Oddest” not “Oldest”!

Anutter drifted off to sleep, I think. Still anut – hell, she twisted her face, epileptic-like, as if to say “Who is this asshole?!”

I could have conducted a therapeutic intervention and called attention to their behaviors (think: if they’re doing this to me, what are they doing to their roommates?!), but could that be misconstrued as on-air therapy? One reason that our ethics oath prevents us from conducting therapy in public is to save others from embarrassment. Embarrassment?! What about ours?!

How I wanted to look like a million bucks! Today I had a professional shave. My suit was neatly pressed. To get rid of those dark old bags under my eyes, I laid around all day with cold tea bags over them. But my increasingly stooping posture – did the seat I sat on have a back? – saw me staring dead at the floor.

At least the show will pay me.

At least I held my ground on that.

At first the producers had said “Millions will see you. Isn’t that enough?”

“Millions will see you, millions will see you ...” reverberates in my head.

Don’t look for fame.

Still a Dr.

----- Original Message -----
From: Les White
To: Mother
Sent: Tuesday, November 4, 2003 1:27 PM
Subject: Hidden Costs

Dear Mother:
Two months now, and still no check. When will I be paid! When will I be on, you ask? Sometime this month, sweeps month, they say. Being paid now would go a short way toward helping me forget that soon I will be a national joke.

I decide to follow what I tell my clients: “Don’t be afraid to ask what you are owed.” I call.

“You bombed!” a producer screams. Line after line after line of hers is barely mitigated over the miles of phone line: “You were nebulous … You refused to do therapy … The women were confused by you! … You cost us $15,000 in taping costs!” Though they decided not to re-shoot, don’t look for me to be on for the full hour.

I am now the reason the producers will not ask a psychologist again to provide “assistance.” Because all a media psychologist can do is provide a number of “could be” scenarios and say “It’s up to you,” I did not generate enough dramatic conflict.

If only I had seen the TV show first! It premiered a few days after my “part” was shot. Remember, a handful of unrelated women are now roommates in a house. To introduce herself, one woman looked straight into the camera and said that she has never gotten along with other women. Anutter – the one who spent all her time twisting her face – admitted that, aside from her problems with basic social skills and making friends, she is epileptic. Life “coaches” – usually non licensed “therapists,” many without even bachelor psychology degrees – will encourage the women to take charge of their lives. One coach asked the women to draw self-portraits. The woman who does not like other women drew herself as “a monster in high heels.” I turned off the set.

Throw big cats into a cage and pretty soon they will claw at each other. Why did I agree to appear? A call to 9-1-1 will certainly air at the close of a Friday episode. Maybe my being nebulous wasn’t so bad. Maybe after I am on sometime this month, sweeps month, I will be paid.

Still your
Les, son

----- Original Message -----
From: Les White
To: Mother
Sent: Saturday, December 6, 2003 1:11 PM
Subject: Finally!

Dear Mother:
I aired. If any publicity is good publicity, I alerted others after the fact. My mass e-mail read:
Finally … something good on TV …

A few wrote back: “Let me see the tape. Surely you taped it.”

I wrote back, “I did not prolong my 15 minutes of fame by videotape.”

Consolation came not only in the form of a check but, weeks later, if anyone had seen my appearance, only one person has let on:

----- Original Message -----
From: Andra To: Les White Sent: Monday, November 24, 2003 5:53 PM Subject:

There I was, folding my laundry, and who should appear on my TV screen but Les White—administering advice to a group of women who are in the midst of "starting over." My Jaw dropped.

Be glad that reality TV does not run re-runs ... usually …

Les

Author’s Note
Les White (lesw@rcn.com) earned his doctorate in clinical psychology at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago. Currently he is on the adjunct faculty there and in private practice. Based on his work with Holocaust survivors who became successful in the workplace, he has developed a vocational instrument, the Work Style Assessment. A playwright and filmmaker, Dr. White has won awards from the New York Dramatists Guild, the Illinois Arts Council, and the Chicago International Film Festival. He also has degrees in film from Northwestern University and the American Film Institute, Los Angeles, CA.

(Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Les White, PsyD, 5455 north Sheridan Road, Apt. 3901, Chicago, IL 60640. Phone: (773) 334-6835. E-mail: lesw@rcn.com. Though his website, leswhite.com, can be reached, it is under “construction” and will be finished by March, 2004.)


Good and Bad Movie Therapy with Good and Bad Outcomes

Harriet T. Schultz, PhD Houston, TX htschultz@msn.com

The rationale of this talk derives from the work of our Media Watch Committee. From the beginning we have been concerned about how the portrayals of psychologists as unethical might impact the public.

In previous convention symposia, the committee has examined different aspects of the movie psychologist, like the stereotypes of Dr. Dippy, Dr. Evil, and Dr. Wonderful—categories suggested by Schneider in the 80’s. Today I want to shift the prism and look at how therapy itself is shown. Why the concern?

A beginning point is to think about mythology—the stories that get told and retold and that teach us about the world—how it is organized, what is safe, what is dangerous. Mark Komrad, a psychiatrist on our committee, has elaborated on this topic. Before the written word, myths were passed along by word of mouth, then came books. Where do many of our myths come from today—movies and television.

Most people don’t consult mental health professionals, so how do they form opinions about them? For many, it’s mainly through the movies. I’ve been asked whether lawyers and medical doctors also need a Media Watch Committee. Maybe they do, but I don’t think the issue is as serious for them. True, we see arrogant physicians or satanic lawyers in film, but psychologists and therapy are featured in many more movies, going back years. Also, the general public is much more likely to have direct experience with a doctor, dentist, or lawyer than with a mental health practitioner, and this contact, if positive, could help neutralize the negative screen stereotype.

What myths might be perpetrated if one were learning about therapy only from the silver screen? First—the myth that almost all therapy is done through a talking cure. Only rarely is medication prescribed.

Second—the myth that catharsis, via the recovery of lost memories, leads to instant healing. This was a particularly effective method for curing multiple personality disorder in the 1957 movie Three Faces of Eve.

Third—the myth that therapists are bumbling ineffectual limit setters. In Analyze This, psychiatrist Billy Crystal’s gangster patient runs all over him, and he can’t stop his son from eavesdropping on sessions and spreading the gossip at parties. These situations are played for laughs, and in fact I find them funny.

The Dr. Line Crosser myth is very popular, with therapists shown romancing their patients. The audience is supposed to sympathize with the therapist who doesn’t let true love stand in the way of an improper relationship. The 1940’s movie Spellbound with Ingrid Bergman became the model for this theme that now echoes across the decades, in Prince of Tides, First Wives Club, and Tin Cup, to name just a few.

Psychologist Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting crosses a different boundary. He grabs his new patient by the throat when he feels Will has disrespected his wife. Turns out he is as wounded as his patient and they end up helping each other. The Wounded Healer is another popular theme. In Sixth Sense psychologist Bruce Willis atones for a past error with a patient by helping the new one.

There is the myth that therapy is crazy—in First Wives Club Diane Keaton’s therapist encourages her to hit her with a plastic bat to express her anger, and in Anger Management therapist Jack Nicholson sleeps in the same bed with his patient. Movie therapy can reach the truly bizarre, like in The Cell where therapist Jennifer Lopez literally enters her patient’s mind.

This is not to say that in real life there aren’t wounded healers, Line-Crossers, and crazy therapists. What is of concern here is the extent to which they are portrayed in the movies and the degree to which we see these folks curing their patients. The accumulated message from these films is that breaking professional rules is fine so long as it leads to a good outcome for the patient. What does this say to the audience?

The APA Public Education Campaign in 1996 revealed that 76% of the public cites “lack of confidence in the outcome” as a barrier to seeking mental health services. There is little research, but it seems reasonable to assume that these movies could reinforce people’s fears and ambivalence about therapy and contribute to this “lack of confidence.” Even the super-wonderful movie therapists who devote all their time to one patient and cure with a dramatic uncovering of trauma can affect people’s expectations of therapy.

The screen image is powerful. Gabbard and Gabbard report that when Top Gun came out in 1986, there was a dramatic increase in enlistments in the Navy pilot program. If the image were not powerful, why are millions of dollars spent on TV commercials and political campaigns?

Consider for a minute these four possible categories: There is Good Therapy with Good or Bad Outcome, and there is Bad Therapy with Good or Bad Outcome. Definitions of good and bad can be problematic, but for discussion’s sake—”good therapy” is where the therapist appears to be both working toward the patient’s well being and observing proper boundaries. Bad therapy is where the therapist appears to be harming the patient or boundaries are broken. “Good” outcome is when the patient appears healthier and happier at the end; “bad” outcome where the opposite is true. Let’s consider the four groups.

Good Therapy with a Bad Outcome may not exist. There is a scarcity of good movie therapy at all, and when it is shown, there is generally a good outcome.

Good Therapy—Good Outcome. Most of us view Ordinary People, the 1980 movie, as an example. Judd Hirsch comes across as a warm and competent psychiatrist as he helps his teenage patient deal with his brother’s death. The TV show Once and Again had some excellent episodes where a Judd Hirsch-type therapist successfully treated a teenage anorexic girl, and last year our committee reviewed a French film Oui, Mais which had an excellent portrayal of a therapist treating a teenager.

It’s interesting to note that in most of these good therapy—good outcome movies the patient is an adolescent, not an adult. When a movie features a disturbed young person, the focus is on nurturing and healing, not romance, and inappropriate boundary crossings are off-limits.

Then there’s Bad therapy—which can have either a Bad or Good outcome. The bad therapy-bad outcome pairing is easy to spot. Patients are involuntarily hospitalized in High Anxiety, lobotomized in Cuckoo’s Nest, and cannibalized in Silence of the Lambs. Portrayals of these terrible Dr. Evils may resonate with the public’s fears of our perceived power and our general ability to mess up their heads.

But most problematic and most common are all the Bad Therapy—Good Outcome films. The public may easily identify therapy that’s bizarre, but many do not understand the subtleties of our profession especially when it comes to dual relationships. Friends in other professions have told me they don’t understand why Rene Russo in Tin Cup could not simply terminate as Kevin Costner’s therapist to justify their affair.

The problem is compounded because of disagreements among therapists about whether the movie therapy is “good” or “bad.” Take Good Will Hunting. Most on our committee were aghast at seeing Robin Williams grab his patient’s throat. Yet many therapists felt that this was a great way to connect with his difficult patient. And the movie clearly shows a good outcome for Will.

The movie Antwone Fisher is another example—despite significant slips by the therapist, the therapy outcome is terrific. Navy psychiatrist Denzel Washington initially connects well with his angry young patient, but starts down the slippery slope of boundary-crossing when he invites Antwone for Thanksgiving dinner and his wife develops warm feelings toward the boy. When the psychiatrist realizes he’s gone too far, he abruptly terminates therapy, telling his patient he must find his own family and move on—even though the patient has a history of abandonment. Antwone does move on, and later thanks the doctor, who responds by thanking his former patient for helping him become a better doctor and husband. (Another Wounded Healer.) What message does the audience get from this? That it’s OK to get close to your doctor, but then you might be abandoned?

To help counterattack the effects of these films, one of our Committee’s main goals has been to educate the public about appropriate behavior. We developed a system to rate the movie psychologist—how competent, how well does he/she respect boundaries? We also consider how the producers portray this behavior. We developed an award called the Golden Psi Media Award which we give to a show’s producers if they’ve shown excellence in the responsible portrayal of mental health professionals. We receive media attention for this, and it’s been a good way to reach the public. This summer USA Today ran a prominent article about the 2004 award—to two episodes of Law & Order Special Victims Unit.

In one, Coerced, the forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Huang, makes clear that he cannot give medication to a psychotic suspect without his consent. The police were pressuring him to give the shot so the man would become lucid and reveal where he had hidden a boy he kidnapped. The other episode, Hate, deals with the psychosocial roots of hate crimes. The suspect is accused of raping and murdering Arabs, and the defense’s expert witness claims that hatred and violence are genetically determined. Dr. Huang explains the importance of environmental influences, and it turns out he is right. The suspect’s violence toward Arabs was actually directed toward his father, who abandoned his family and married an Arab woman. In both cases the psychiatrist does and says the right thing despite pressure to do otherwise.

To date, our Golden Psis have gone to TV shows; one went to an author. It is interesting to consider why we’ve not found a movie to award. Likely answers, generated by the committee, are that on the big screen, producers are trying to bring in big bucks with drama and sensationalism, looking for audiences who want some escapism. The TV shows we’ve awarded lean toward more realism in general.

Film clips of some of our award winning episodes reveal why there’s a paucity of good movie therapy. Scenes of good everyday therapy (as in Once and Again—a show cancelled after a few seasons) are quiet, maybe even boring to audiences. By contrast, the scenes from Law & Order SVU are loud, fast-paced, exciting. What a striking difference in dramatic impact! That’s what audiences want, and the ratings will win out every time.

back to top


Reel Therapy Moves Real Clients toward Health

Mary Banks Gregerson, PhD oltowne@aol.com

Popular media lore assumes that movies “reel-y” influence people’s perceptions and behavior. Even psychologists’ interest in films is reaching beyond the audience chair and onto the therapy couch. Yet little systematic scientific study has been given to this strongly held popular assumption and strengthening clinical truism. On the other hand, scientists have certainly documented the deleterious effects of violence and sex on audiences of movies and television (for example see Huesmann, Moise-Titus, Podolski, and Eron, 2003). The investigation of these well-documented deleterious effects and their counter measures are underway. Now, with a clear conscience, scientific scrutiny can turn to investigate the beneficial, therapeutic uses of moving media like films (see “Media in Experimental Design” starting on Page 1 of this Amplifier).

Within the American Psychological Association Division 46 Media Psychology, a brief but important history anchors cinematherapy interest for this Division’s membership. This year for the education and research issue of the Division 46 newsletter The Amplifier, Stuart Fischoff (2004; http://www.apa.org/divisions/div46/biblio.htm) provided a CinemaTherapy bibliography with six articles, seven books, and one paper presentation. Another presentation was my paper “Life Imitates Movie Art for Some Therapy Clients Sometimes” at the 2002 American Psychological Association Conference in Chicago, Illinois. Simultaneously APA Div 46 Media Psychology gave the committee Stories for Life a mandate to explore the use of all fictional media in psychology enterprises, and then sunset Stories for Life this year.

Outside APA Division 46 an active venue for participation is the CinemaTherapy Forum originated by Birgit Wolz, PhD, MFT, and spearheaded by Fuat Ulus, MD. This listserv provides a central correspondence site for mental health professionals interested in the “transformational power” of particular movies (http://www.cinematherapy.com). A less formal chat room will probably be the next step so that real time discussions might occur. CT Forum participants. like Pierina Mercieca quoted in the opening of the paper, hail from countries ‘round the world. CinemaTherapy/Reel Therapy is a relatively new kid on the therapy block in the neighborhood of psychology.

The theoretical psychological basis of Reel Therapy as a clinical adjunctive treatment emanates from Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory. In short, clients learn from seeing and then copying the behavior they see “valued others,” that is role models, doing. This visualization allows pre-analytical learning to occur. Research could valuably document the extent of impact and generalization of increased self-efficacy from Reel Therapy directed viewing.

With scientific investigation, a gold standard in the technique of Reel Therapy could fruitfully be developed. Future consideration should be given to developing guidelines for Reel Therapy use. The use of Cinematherapy already is dialogued nicely in terms of practice and theory on the CinemaTherapy Forum website.

Although psychological circles and popular culture acknowledge the impact of films, planned application in therapy is a relatively new phenomenon, and scientific study scant. Only over the past fourteen years has interest in films per se as therapeutic adjuncts been building. Use of film and film vignettes in therapy to influence real behavior, experiences, and outcomes recently reached across the nation and around the world. The tradition from which Reel Therapy/CinemaTherapy springs, though, has an august history. Such a tradition of fictional adjuncts has its roots in Bibliotherapy, which uses books and written materials to supplement face-to-face therapy. Some dissension in Bibliotherapy circles existed, though, on whether fiction or non-fiction provides the best therapeutic vehicle. Certainly in Reel Therapy/CinemaTherapy the question remains whether the real or fictional would have the most impact.

“Reality has become a trend in television.” Such an odd statement belies the state of affairs in current television media, which has become increasingly more intrusive into the private lives of ordinary citizens who volunteer for exposure (some would say exploitation) and the reach celebrity status. The line between reality and “reel”-ality is blurring from both directions.

The audience may confabulate closeness with these common “Joes” and “Janes.” Moreover, single named “tele-friends” of the audience like Trista and Ryan of “The Bachelorette” epitomize the true romance ignited through media created intimacy both between the duo and between them and their audience. The use of the boy and girl next door to dramatize modern courtship fairytales has its popularity based in the firmly held belief that fictional portrayals wield powerful influence with real people. So, the question in moving media about fictional vs. non-fictional seems moot compared to the controversy in this choice found in Bibliotherapy.

Television and movies add a multi-media dimension to adjunctive Bibliotherapy. As an adjunct to therapy, chosen film or TV vignettes show either functional or dysfunctional behavior, emotions, or outcomes. Yet the quality of the film needs consideration just as the excellence in the literary merit of the written material was advised in Bibliotherapy.

Contrary to Bibliotherapy, in CinemaTherapy few self-help films exist for popular consumption. Many in the film industry even eschew heavy handed “message” films as ineffective infotainment. One glaring exception is “28 Days” in which Sandra Bullock as alcoholic Gwen Cummings undergoes treatment. Surely the subliminal aspects of movies like “28 Days” may be more powerful than movies blatantly aimed as “interventions.” We just do not know.

The use of films as therapeutic adjuncts is more than just a casual directive. It is a planned direction that will be analyzed and discussed in its relevance to the therapeutic trajectory. Both Reel therapists and CinemaTherapists subscribe to this serious use of an often entertaining media. Yet Reel Therapy and CinemaTherapy are similar in some ways and fundamentally different in others. Although different groups of adherents identify around the two terms, the essence of their approaches coincide although their rationales differ. With a similar mission and means but dissimilar motives, Reel Therapists and CinemaTherapy have a common ground with departing paths for take-off.

Both groups advise a client to view a particular film relevant to the client’s clinical treatment or personal goals. In subsequent clinical sessions analysis of the film viewing is then used as a foil for social modeling (Reel Therapy) and insight (CinemaTherapy). Reel Therapy is mostly cognitive behavioral in orientation and CinemaTherapy tends to be psychodynamic, so it seems. Subsequently these terms will be used interchangeably when referring to the use of cinema in therapy, but specifically delineated when discussing what type of effects are planned and the theoretical/conceptual basis of this therapeutic approach.

Moving media allows concrete depiction of role model behavior that pre-cognitively communicates efficacy to clients. A comprehensive listing of movies and their application therapeutically exists online (The Cinematherapy.com Film Index http://www.cinematherapy.com/filmindex.html). Some movies, in particular, appear to have extra effect.

The final part of this presentation was the presentation of three case studies using reel therapy/cinematherapy. A brief idiographic analysis of particular films used successfully in my private practice will highlight specific clients who appear to benefit from which specific films. To build the case for the costly enterprise of science, first systematic clinical observations need to amass to formulate worthy hypotheses for a systematic idiographic investigation into this hypothesis.

Personal observations and casual client comments propelled my first step in this line of scientific inquiry: For this symposium, three clips illustrate a positive individual therapy issues for a male and one for a female as well as one relevant for relational therapy. Each clip will have a brief introduction and then a commentary at its conclusion.

Idiographic approaches examine intensively single persons in extensive case studies compared to the nomothetic approach which examines single characteristics/behaviors/outcomes across a broad range of persons. These two approaches dialectically work together for a consummate scientific approach. Combining idiographic information from a collection of case studies then forms the basis for complementary in-depth and specific nomothetic hypotheses.

Case One:
A young father-to-be had lost his own father when a child himself. And, he is being challenged to reach partner in his prestigious New York law firm; his brilliance keeps him on staff while his lack of social skills with older males keeps him aloof from those he needs to support him. Both situations relate to cross generational male bonding. His worries about parenting and securing mentoring are replaced with possibilities when he views a number of films with father figures and father-son interaction. A number of different films are recommended, first, for the model of father: A film vignette from “Kramer vs. Kramer” showed career man Ted Kramer is now faced with the tasks of housekeeping and taking care of himself and their young son Billy after his neglected wife has left him.

Next, for the interaction of mentoring, I had wanted to recommend the1997 film “Devil’s Advocate.” Keanu Reeves’ Kevin Lomax is being seduced by the Devil as Al Pacino’s John Milton. Alas, certainly only the first half of the film would provide positive benefit and the sinister second half negate what had come before. Nor could I recommend the 1993 “The Firm,” whereby Tom Cruise’s Mitch McDeere is exploited by the senior lawyers, most notably Gene Hackman’s Avery Tolar and Hal Holbrook’s Oliver Lambert. Television lawyer land provided humorous and lecherous reruns of “LA Law” (1986-1994) and “Ally McBeal” (1997-2002) with the drama of the current “The Practice” (1997-2004) offering some firmer grist for the mill. It must be underlined that the paucity of films on father-son relationships and on positive lawyer models is appalling. What is it about this particular connection and specific profession that evades the positive cinematic eye? Even harder to name were films in which a young hero vies for and wins the attention of an older male. What in the Western male psyche resists such a positive relatedness? In the Orient, the value of elder males is often central to the culture and the onus of a quality relationship rests mostly upon the shoulders of the young man. To answer fully this question, though, is another paper. For this paper, a vignette from “Dances with Wolves” shows the evening fire chat where elder Chief Ten Bears mentors the younger Lt. John Dunbar about what to expect the enjoyments of an old man to be.

Case Two:
A young bride-to-be is anxious about having the “perfect wedding.” A sampling of different wedding scenarios helps her develop a sense of humor about the inevitable frayed edges of the event: Film vignette from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” Scene when bride Toula Portokalos discovers a zit on her face as she’s dressing for her wedding to John Corbett’s groom Ian Miller.

Case Three:
A young couple living together are troubled about their future although they feel attached and committed. Should they marry? A vignette from “A Room with a View” shows in the early 1900's when Lucy Honeychurch and chaperone Charlotte Bartlett find themselves in Florence with rooms without views, fellow guests Mr. Emerson and his quiet yet eccentric son George step in to remedy the situation. Through serendipitous unfortunate circumstances, Lucy and George become enamored with each other. Upon her return to England, Lucy must decide whether to follow through with her marriage to her stoic fiancé, Cecil, or follow her heart and her growing attraction to George.

In conclusion, this time is exciting for those interested in the use of film to assist people therapeutically. We have surfed the first wave of interest. Now is the time to systematize, to develop gold standards of application, to look to the future, which has virtual reality as well as reality TV in its cyberspace, and to plan science as the navigator.

back to top