Cinema therapy is a creative therapy technique in which a trained psychotherapist uses the films as a therapy tool. Some experts believe that the usage of films in therapy can have positive effects on people except psychotic disorders. In cinema therapy movies are used by therapists, social workers, school counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, as well as many other healthcare professions.
With cinema therapy, the focus of therapy can be solving life or career problems or it may be on mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders or relationships. Cinema therapy actually considered a therapy in and of itself as well as an adjunct for other approaches such as psychodynamic, interpersonal and cognitive behavioral therapies. In cinema therapy, the therapist offers up a specific movie – and often a specific character or characters—in an effort to discuss an issue that the client has been working on.
The history of cinema therapy is based on story-telling. Stories and fables have long been used in therapy. The use of stories and books in therapy is called "bibliotherapy" and it has historically been used as a way to help clients confront their own stories. Bibliotherapy was the basic prototype for cinema therapy. Therapeutic use of film began in response to film itself and numerous books have been authored on the subject.
In some ways, cinema therapy is more dynamic than bibliotherapy purely due to the nature of film. Whereas bibliotherapy uses the written word for therapy, cinema therapy uses the images and dialogue from film. For some clients, cinema therapy can be a more comfortable intervention because watching film is theoretically easier than reading a book. Additionally, watching a movie typically requires less time investment than reading, making the treatment process substantially faster. Of course, faster isn't always better.
Psychologists have long known that films have entertainment, education, empowerment, and transformational effects. The transformation occurs through the process of projection as well as identification and introjection. During the projection process, our thoughts, feelings and beliefs affect the way in which we view the characters and events that occur in the film. It can be even more powerful when we identify with the characters and the events in the film. This process often occurs beyond our conscious awareness, and we may even feel as if we are the characters in the film. During the introjection process, we take what we have experienced watching the film and apply it to our life. In sum, what we discover during projection, identification and introjections creates a change in us by creating a paradigm shift in how we view ourselves and the world around us.
Cinema therapy facilitates the process of transformation because watching a film with conscious awareness has a similar effect as guided visualization. Cinema therapy can be used with the other therapy techniques such as structural family therapy or solution-focused therapy. Cinema therapy also shares qualities of dream therapy because films contain n metaphors in the form of stories, myths, symbols and fables. Symbolic images impact us by communicating with both our conscious and unconscious mind. As with lucid dream therapy, increased awareness occurs through dream sequences and active imagination. Our dreams and imagination are the doors from unconscious to conscious mind. A film can evoke either pleasant or unpleasant emotions, both of which are fodder for therapist to connect with the client's unconscious motivations.