Reel Therapy

What’s your favorite movie? I’ll give you a few seconds here … Got it? Great! Okay, now WHY is it your favorite movie? Your answer may be that you loved the story, or the acting, or it shifted your perspective, or it taught you something important, or one (or several!) of many other reasons. Here’s the thing: Regardless of your reasons, I’m wiling to bet it’s because of how those things impacted you emotionally. Movies are an incredibly powerful art form ultimately because of how the story, or the acting, or the perspective shift, etc, makes us feel. The most memorable and impactful movies go beyond engaging just our thinking brains (aka the prefrontal cortex). What makes a particular film stick with us is largely due to how it impacts us emotionally, reflecting involvement of a more primitive part of the brain called the limbic system.

Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

By: Shannon Haragan, LPC-Intern
Supervised by Lora Ferguson, LPC-S

Therapists sometimes recommend that their clients watch a particular film in an effort to achieve some level of therapeutic gain, a practice commonly known as cinematherapy. There are lots of ways that viewing films can be beneficial in a therapeutic context, but like stated above, one of the most impactful is through the emotional experience of a film. The emotional journey one takes watching a film can be healing just in and of itself. It’s been said that emotion is a bridge between a problem and a solution, and if you are able to fully go on that emotional journey, whether in a film audience or in life, when that particular emotion naturally subsides, you will typically find yourself in a new and better place. Additionally, films sometimes gives us permission to feel things we may otherwise suppress, and sometimes just being able to talk with co-workers or friends about a particular film can provide deeper social connections and consequently a feeling of inclusion, or being “in the club,” (also very true with so many popular TV shows nowadays, like Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Scandal, etc).

We’re about to enter into Oscar contender season. The span between early October and Christmas affords us a huge number of high-quality, limbic-smashing films. Below is a brief list of films I’m personally most looking forward to seeing, with a few non-spoiling words describing each. Once I see some of these, my hope is to get back on here, and offer a bit of a movie review, with an emphasis on psychotherapy and issues of social justice. In the meantime, enjoy!:

  • The Imitation Game – Based on the life of British codebreaker Alan Turing, whose story (the little bit of it that I know) is incredibly inspirational, and ultimately devastating. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and people who’ve seen it are saying to just go ahead hand him the Oscar now.
  • Birdman – Michael Keaton’s comeback, and looks to be amazing. Deals with issues of fame and identity, and is already generating all kinds of Oscar buzz.
  • The Theory of Everything – Stephen Hawking’s love story, starring Eddie Redmayne, who is just ridiculously talented (you may remember him as Marius in the Les Mis film).
  • Unbroken – Another true story, adapted from the book of the same name, “a story of survival, resilience and redemption.” Directed by Angelina Jolie.
  • Wild – Adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir about her 1,100 mile hike across the Pacific Crest Trail. All kinds of inspirational. Starring Reese Witherspoon.
  • Foxcatcher – Again, based on a true story, starring an almost unrecognizable Steve Carell. Described as a psychological thriller, involving what sounds like a very unhealthy (and ultimately tragic) relationship between two Olympic wrestlers and their wealthy benefactor.