We all know that movies can provide a profound experience, be it a form of escape, relief, enjoyment, or catharsis. This is why we are drawn to them. Used in a therapeutic context however, innovative mental health professionals have effectively demonstrated that film can take on a powerful role in the healing process for both Mental Health and Substance Abuse Disorder Treatment. When considering the larger approach that we at Paradigm Malibu take toward creating and providing the most holistic, individualized treatment programs possible, we consider all aspects of the adolescents, in order to attain this level of precision and thoroughness. In order to address the experiences of different teens to this degree of precision, we draw upon all different avenues and opportunities within the treatment field, including the Expressive Arts Therapies programs. Along these lines, we consider Teen Cinema Therapy to be an excellent therapeutic tool, similar to the Expressive Arts Therapies in its indirect, creative approach to helping adolescents access the thoughts and emotions of their experience, and then using that insight toward the greater goals of their treatment plan.
Teen Cinema Therapy has the capability to help engage and connect adolescents on numerous different levels. On a simplistic level, movies are a form of storytelling, an art-form that reaches back as long as we know and has connected people to others, as well as themselves. From stories, we have the opportunity to learn, to laugh, to see ourselves, to better understand others, to recognize struggles, to gain courage, to be inspired, to gain insight, and more. There is an abundance we can learn from movies because of their ability to serve as allegories, much in the same way as jokes, allegories, fables, or dreams, all of which are commonly utilized in the therapeutic context. In a word, when we watch movies, we can connect with ourselves, which is a fundamental and primary aspect of all successful treatment.
In more specific terms, the cognitive effect of teen cinema therapy can be best explained through the most recent theories of learning and creativity, which suggest that we have seven “intelligences.” The greater number of these intelligences that we can access, the more quickly and successfully we learn, as they employ different methods of information processing. There are a number of different treatment modalities that specifically aim to engage one or several of these intelligences, especially the approaches within the Expressive Arts Therapies. However, watching movies can engage all seven of them: the logical (plot), the linguistic (dialogs), the visual-spatial (pictures, colors, symbols), the musical (sounds and music), the interpersonal (storytelling), the kinesthetic (moving), and the intra-psychic (inner guidance). The result, therapeutically, is similar to the result that we instinctually experience emotionally, which is, essentially: they hold great power. Under the guidance of a therapist, this power can be used to help adolescents continue and grow in their treatment process.
Mythic stories explain the purpose and place of humans in the grand design. Many films contain a mythical message that reminds us of our virtue and our authentic self. At Paradigm Malibu, we find that “Mining the gold” in movies requires that teens uncover their finest, hidden attributes by understanding how they project these virtues on to film heroes and heroines. Identifying with a character can help teens to develop inner strength as well as self-confidence, as they recall forgotten inner resources and become aware of the right opportunity for those resources to be applied. In doing so, cinema therapy allows teens to move toward new perspectives or behaviors as well as healing and integration of the total self.