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‘Film Therapy’: How watching TV could help treat psychological distress

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No more feeling guilty, plus sorting out our thoughts and feelings as well? (Pexels, Koolshooters)

UK/ A new model for treating psychological distress has been created at the University of Lincoln. Counsellors are now beginning to be trained in 'film therapy', which supports watching or discussing movies or TV as part of a therapeutic process. A range of benefits are being reported for what is being described as a highly accessible form of treatment.

Relaxing in front of our favourite films has long been a popular response to distressing life events. But, more than simply helping us to unwind, recent research from a psychology academic at the University of Lincoln, UK, suggests a new type of therapy called ‘film therapy’ could receive a professional stamp of approval as an effective psychological model.

The MOVIE (Mindfully engage, Observe, Voice, Identify, Explore) model developed by Jenny Hamilton, Senior Lecturer in Psychological Therapies at the University of Lincoln and practicing counsellor, supports watching or discussing movies as part of a therapeutic process.

Jenny Hamilton said: “I first considered film therapy in my work as a therapist when my clients discussed movies and TV shows. I noticed that talking about movies could make some issues and feelings easier to talk about for clients and can make therapy feel more accessible.

“When I looked into the research and literature on film therapy, I struggled to identify clear methods for therapists to follow, as this was a still a developing area, but I still needed to find a way to work with clients,” she also said, and went on to explain: “I noticed that methods from mindfulness could help to reflect on thoughts and feelings in relation to the movie, and narrative therapy could help to consider our own self-stories and how they fit in with wider narratives in society.”

“Applying these methods, I developed the MOVIE model which offers five reflective steps for film therapy, and aims to provide a flexible framework that can be used in different counselling settings, in counsellor education and as supervised self-help,” she added.

The model is described as one that integrates elements of mindfulness, experiential therapy and narrative therapy, and one that can be used in conjunction with different counselling approaches. So, film therapy can bring these elements together cohesively, explains Hamilton. 

All in all, it can help encourage patients to immerse themselves in the moment to be aware of what is happening inside and outside themselves, helping re-enact and re-experience past emotional situations, and connecting with feelings in a ‘once removed’ way that feels safer and less intense, Breaking Perspectives was told. 

Identified benefits are said to include emotional processing, greater ease of dialogue, increased empathy, interpersonal learning, and obtaining new perspectives. In addition, unlike some more traditional treatments for mental health conditions, film or cinema therapy is said to be highly accessible for many diverse groups. 

The MOVIE model was first published in May this year and some counsellors have since received training on how best to introduce it into their therapeutic practices.

So, are you planning to watch a film tonight? Jenny Hamilton has a suggestion for you: "Next time you watch a movie, try pausing to reflect on what was helpful about watching. For example, maybe watching helped you to process your feelings or maybe you gained a new perspective on an issue. Think about how this changed mood or perspective could help you going forward."

“I noticed that methods from mindfulness could help to reflect on thoughts and feelings in relation to the movie, and narrative therapy could help to consider our own self-stories and how they fit in with wider narratives in society”

Little additional note: Watching theatre players displaying acts and emotions we recognise from our own lives whilst being completely engrossed (or: forgetting about the world around us), has long been considered as having a purifying and healing effect on our soul, mind and body. The process is often called Catharsis, and it said to date from Greek Aristotelian theatre and to have been developed further by Freud. 


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