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Cinema Therapy With Children and Adolescents

Clinical Update
By Zur Institute

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A young grieving child who is struggling with loss may beneifit from watching The Lion King, as it may help him or her gain hope and understand the importance of relying on supportive friends and adults.

Suggest films like Bend It Like Beckham, Whale Rider or Free Willy, to a child struggling with anxiety or low self-esteem as such films may help the child develop self-compassion and hope.

Invite bored and lost adolescents to watch any of the Star Wars movies to help them gain hope and to help them see that even the most difficult situations can be salvageable.

Let a child whose parents have recently separated or divorced watch Mrs. Doubtfire, Stepmom, or The Parent Trap and learn that families can transform in positive ways as they move through crisis.

Movies are much more than entertainment. Given their attraction for young people, and the profound impact they often have, movies can help build a bridge to self-understanding. Many young people identify so strongly with the storylines and characters of such movies as Star Wars and Harry Potter, that they purchase products related to the movies, dress as their favorite characters, set up camps and stand in line for hours in front of theaters. They spend countless hours talking to friends in school, on cell phones or over the internet, discussing their strong identifications in depth. Therefore, these young clients often come to therapy primed by this process: they tend to be more attentive and naturally cooperative during the therapeutic hour when clinicians make use of their interest in films by using Cinema Therapy.

Acknowledging cinema as a powerful resource for therapy with our young clients, or the children of our clients, we have added a new online course (5 CE Credits), Cinema Therapy with Children and Adolescents. This is the fifth in a series of online courses, written by Dr. Birgit Wolz, using movies for clinical purposes.


Cinema Therapy can be an effective therapeutic tool in work with young clients:

  • Cinema Therapy can be incorporated into therapy with young individuals, their families, and into group therapy.
  • Movies can be employed in conjunction with depth psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral, and systems-oriented therapies, among others.
  • Assessment

  • In children's and adolescents' choice of movies, therapists may find clues to their working role models, ideal self-images, internal resources, potential goals and perceived obstacles.
  • In addition to the standard assessment, clients may be asked to name films they like and explain what they like about these movies.

  • Observing young clients' responses to movies may help therapists understand their personalities, concerns, interests or their current problems.
  • Facilitating Communication

  • Whereas adults more easily find the words to talk about problems, thoughts, or emotions in psychotherapy, most children and adolescents find it difficult to adequately express themselves.
  • By referencing movie characters and familiar dramatic vignettes, children and adolescents may reflect on their own internal process while maintaining a necessary emotional distance from stressful or frightening topics.
  • Films often provide a common ground for discussions about problems related to family, friends, school, anxiety, love and more.
  • Rapport can develop faster with Cinema Therapy, as movies speak a familiar language which is less intimidating than psychological jargon.
  • Client resistance can dissolve when young clients become curious when the therapist suggests that they watch a movie.
  • Learning by Example

  • Movies present young viewers with best and worst case scenarios as characters get in and out of various predicaments.
  • Antagonists, enemies and villains usually offer cautionary examples of how not to behave. They may help young clients and/or their families learn by proxy why not to behave a certain way.
  • Finding Hope and Possibility

  • Resistance to therapy often results from a feeling of helplessness. Many movies may enable children and adolescents to envision how their own problems might be solved.
  • Watching movie characters and situations may give young clients ideas of how to deal with problems in their own lives.



  • The Lion Kingmay help a child cope with the loss of a family member and learn about responsibility.
  • Bridge to Terabithiamay complement the treatment of depression resulting from grief.
  • Bend It Like Beckhammay be recommended when a child struggles with anxiety and self-esteem issues.
  • Ever Afteror The Never-Ending Storymay help children learn how to cope with bullies.
  • Whale Riderand Free Willymay help teens develop self-esteem.
  • Mrs. Doubtfire, Stepmomor The Parent Trapmay be used for treatment of children struggling with divorce and stepfamily issues.

  • Abuse and Molestation: Do You Know the Muffin Man?, Matilda, Radio Flyer
  • Adoption: Harry Potter Series, Losing Isaiah
  • Conflict with Parents: Drop Dead Fred, Pieces of April
  • Coping with Fear: Antz, August Rush, Bambi, The Golden Compass, Miracle on 34th Street, Yentl
  • Ethical Decisions: Beauty and the Beast, Charlie and the Chocolate Factor
  • Peer and Sibling Relationships: ET: The Extra-Terrestrial, Harriet the Spy, The Little Rascals, My Girl, Stand By Me, Mr. Mom
  • Grief and Death: Finding Nemo, The Boy with the Green Hair, Charlotte's Web, Fly Away Home, Heidi, Ponette, The Secret Garden
  • Illness and Disability: The Cure, David and Lisa, The Horse Whisperer, Lorenzo's Oil, Simon Birch
  • Romance and Sexuality: Antz, Big, The Little Rascals, Milk Money
  • Lying: An American Tail, Hook
  • Moving: Alaska, A Home of Our Own, The Sandlot
  • Prejudice: Babe, The Diary of Anne Frank, Dumbo, Pocahontas, Sounder
  • School: Dead Poets' Society, A Little Princess, School of Rock
  • Self-Esteem: A Bug's Life, The Bad News Bears, Chicken Run, The Incredibles, Pollyanna, Rudy, Searching for Bobby Fischer, October Sky
  • Single Parents and Divorce: Author! Author!, Corrina Corrina, Finding Nemo
See our 5 CE credit online course: Cinema Therapy with Children and Adolescents



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