Cinema Therapy with Children and Adolescents

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Developed by Birgit Wolz, Ph.D., MFT

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This course is also offered as part of the Certificate Program:
Treatment & Education Through Cinema 37 CE Credit Hours

General Course Description

Adults often benefit from talking about problems, thoughts, or emotions in psychotherapy because they have learned to verbalize complex and contradictory feelings and reactions. However, most children and adolescents often find it difficult to eloquently express such feelings. By referencing movie characters and familiar dramatic vignettes, a young client may reveal his/her own internal process while having the opportunity to keep a necessary emotional distance from stressful or frightening topics.

The Lion King, for example, can be used when a young child has to cope with the loss of a family member and to help the child learn about taking responsibility. For treatment of depression resulting from grief, watching Bridge to Terabithia can complement the standard treatment plan effectively. When a child struggles with anxiety and self-esteem issues, Bend it like Beckham may be recommended. Older children can learn how to cope with bullies with the help of Ever After or The NeverEnding Story. Adolescents may benefit more from Mean Girls or My Bodyguard to reach this treatment goal. Whale Rider and Free Willy may help them develop self-esteem. Movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Stepmom, or The Parent Trap can supplement standard treatment of depression or anxiety resulting from family transitions because of divorce and step-family issues.

This unique and innovative course will teach therapists how to use films to help or supplement the treatment of children and adolescents. Movies provide a common ground for discussions about problems related to family, friendship, school, anxiety, self-esteem, love, and more. As young clients respond to movies emotionally, these reactions reflect their inner world. Psychotherapists can make use of this reflection by working with Cinema Therapy as an adjunct to traditional therapeutic methods.

Movies present young clients with best and worst case scenarios and show different characters getting in and out of various problems and circumstances. Seeing how an individual in a movie handles a situation gives viewers ideas of how to deal with a problem in their own lives. Movie heroes and heroines can make mistakes or fall victim of unfortunate circumstances. Antagonists, enemies, and villains usually offer cautionary examples of how not to behave. They can help children and adolescents to learn “by proxy” how not to do something, because they see the negative consequences of a character’s action.

The course consists of two parts. The first part explains developmental theories and details the theoretical background and clinical utility of Cinema Therapy. This part also clarifies how Cinema Therapy can be integrated into the traditional therapeutic process with young individuals, their families, and groups. After guidelines and limitations as well as research results are explained, the second part of this course presents extensive case material and many categorized and age-appropriate movie suggestions, differentiated by age groups. The brief descriptions of these categorized films offer a valuable resource for mental health practitioners, parents, and teachers who need to find appropriate movies to work with certain issues. Additional resources and references are provided for further study, but they are not part of the course.

Due to copyright laws, this course does not include movie clips, only descriptions of the movies.

Disclaimer: This course is purely educational and does not intend to serve as a license (or permission) to mental health professionals to prescribe or practice any of the approaches discussed in this course unless they fall within the scope of practice of your profession. Check with your licensing board about the scope of practice of your profession to make sure you practice within that scope.It also does not serve as a permission to title yourself in any specific way.


Educational Objectives:

    This course will teach the participant to

  • Explain how and why movies affect the psyche of children and adolescents.
  • Describe how the stage of young clients’ development influences Cinema Therapy.
  • Explain the healing and transformational power certain films have for children and adolescents.
  • Summarize how Cinema Therapy can be integrated into the traditional therapeutic process with young individuals, their families, or groups.
  • Illustrate guidelines and limitations of Cinema Therapy.
  • Extrapolate about Cinema Therapy techniques for children and adolescents and how to use them through case examples.
  • Choose appropriate movies through a long list of categorized and age-appropriate movie suggestions.

Course Syllabus:


Part I: Theory

  • How We Explain the Therapeutic Effect of the Experience in the Context of Psychotherapy
    • Recent Theories of Learning and Creativity
    • The Power of Metaphors and Symbols
    • The Power of Myths and Stories
      • The Mythic Structure of Movies
      • The Structure of a Typical Screenplay
      • Movies, Myths and Healthy Development
  • Developmental Theories
    • Erikson’s Theory of Psychosocial Development
    • Piaget’s Theory of Cognitive Development
    • Related Theories of Development
  • Using Movies as an Adjunct to Traditional Therapeutic Approaches
    • Small Children
    • Older Children and Adolescents
      • Depth Psychotherapy and the Movie Experience
      • Cognitive Therapy and the Movie Experience
      • Behavior Modification Therapy and the Movie Experience
      • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy and the Movie Experience
      • Narrative Therapy and the Movie Experience
      • Parts work and the Movie Experience
      • Hypnotherapy and the Movie Experience
      • EMDR and the Movie Experience
      • Narrative Therapy and the Movie Experience
      • Art and Music Therapy and the Movie Experience
      • Family Therapy and the Movie Experience
      • Cinema Therapy Groups
  • Guidelines and Limitations
  • Research

Part II: Applications

  • Cinema Therapy Applications
    • Early Childhood (Ages 4-7)
      • The Lion King
      • The Bridge to Terabithia
      • Bend it like Beckham
      • Categorized Movie Suggestions
    • Middle Childhood (Ages 8-12)
      • Lorenzo’s Oil
      • In America
      • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
      • Categorized Movie Suggestions
    • Adolescence (Ages 13-18)
      • Pride and Prejudice
      • The Truman Show
      • The Dogwalker
      • Cinema Therapy with Adolescents in a Residential Setting
      • Categorized Movie Suggestions
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Cost: $49.00

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