Do movies make a difference in our lives? Of course they do. We are human beings and we learn from what we see, hear and feel. Movies offer it all.

Even when the experience is vicarious and we are only imagining ourselves in a role, movies affect us because of the combined impact of music, dialogue, lighting, camera angles, and sound effects that enable a film to bypass our ordinary defensive censors.

We can become emotionally receptive and energized by an uplifting message, or we can become desensitized to violent behavior. But, like no other medium before it, the popular movie presents the potential of a new power for therapeutic success. It is up to us to see that potential and use it creatively and beneficially.

Cinema Therapy is a tool for assessment. While many adults benefit from talking about problems, thoughts, dreams, or emotions in psychotherapy, most children and adolescents find it more difficult to express such feelings. A young child’s response to movies can help a therapist to understand the child’s personality, concerns, interests or current problems. In a child’s choice of movies, we can find clues to their working role models…ideal self-images, internal resources, potential goals, perceived obstacles, degrees of imagination and creativity, and their overall philosophy of life. Cinema Therapy allows children to express feelings that may be too threatening to express directly.

Films can also be used to get to the bottom of difficult issues. Films provide a common ground for discussions about problems related to family, friendship, school, anxiety, self-esteem or love. Issues can be addressed in relation to an outside element, and seeing how an individual in a movie handles a situation can offer children ideas how to deal with a problem in their own lives. Key scenes, watched over and over, can become the basis for practicing new skills. Many films enable children and adolescents to envision how their own problems might be solved when characters demonstrate behavior change.

Many films, like dreams, are full of metaphors and symbols that affect us on a deep level. Carl Jung believed that as the mind explores the symbol, it is led to ideas that lie beyond the grasp of reason. Metaphors and symbols stimulate bi-lateral thinking and creativity; creating a bridge to the subconscious and bypass normal ego defenses often found in traditional therapeutic approaches.

Myths and stories can help people place their own personal story and the stories of others into the proper context. All myths and stories have a villain, and tell great tales of a journey upon which a hero must embark. Likewise, young people are on a journey of the heart and soul.

Moviemaking can be considered the contemporary form of myth making, reflecting our response to ourselves and the mysteries and wonders of our existence. Movies can have a powerful effect on children and adolescents because they speak directly to their heart and spirit, avoiding the resistance of the conscious mind.

Cinema Therapy can offer insight, role models, and options for more positive behaviors, but its limit is in its vicarious nature. We are watching, perhaps internalizing, but we are not necessarily doing. Unless a child actively and consciously engages in behavior change, Cinema Therapy lacks the element of experiential learning.

While Cinema Therapy is a tool for assessment, The MovieMaking Process becomes a concrete tool for behavioral change. This is experiential learning at its best, because it is creative and requires a child or adolescent to actively participate in its creation by becoming self-aware. A child becomes the hero in his own movie and actively engages in his own journey toward healthy behavior and adulthood. In essence, a child now becomes his own teacher and is learning from him or herself as he watches the movie, again and again. He is becoming the behavior he admires and is solving his own problems as he acts within his own scene and as his own role model. The MovieMaking Process was nominated to SAMHSA’s Service to Science Academy in 2008 as one of the Midwest’s most promising prevention programs for its unique fusion of creativity, technology and human development.

The MovieMaking Process begins with the problem to be addressed, then turns its focus to the desired outcome. The movie becomes the hero’s journey toward resolving the issue and demonstrating more positive behavior. If the issue is bullying the focus of the movie is on kindness, the hero learns through his movie experience how this feels, how it looks and how it affects others. The movie is often based on a myth or story from antiquity, but our hero is the child.

The MovieMaking Process uses the techniques of gorilla filming, which is basically the resourcefulness of what we have available at any given moment in time. This can be in a child’s own home, backyard, neighborhood, park or the school playground. It’s the creative process of choosing a theme and gathering, or creating, the props that make the movie a movie. Children and adolescents love creating their own costumes and their costumes represent the hero they wish to become.

The movie is filmed as a silent movie, using gestures and expressions. This is an important part of child development, to learn and recognize the subtleties of human feelings, acted out non-verbally in facial expressions and physical postures. This also allows any child to participate. It is not necessary to learn and memorize lines, merely to act out the part, expressing emotion through physical expression.

The movie is often filmed through reflection. A child is looking back on something in his past, perhaps an incident that has caused emotional pain, to himself or others. The movie is the journey through the emotional pain to resolution, and a happy ending. The movie always ends with resolution and hope. The journey is completed and the hero is more aware, more skilled and can now see the incident in a new perspective.

Narration is added after the movie is edited. The narration is the storyline that tells the tale of the hero looking at his past, overcoming obstacles, learning new behaviors, seeing new perspectives, and coming to be more than he was before. Using voice over narration, rather than attempting to film a sound movie, keeps the focus on facial expressions, body language and action, plus it is very cost effective in time and money.

Music is added to the completed movie. Music that is meaningful to the child or adolescent is best and is intended to create the emotional feelings that are important to behavior change. We must feel inspired to change behavior, and we must feel hopeful. Music can take us to those heights. While using copyrighted music is a very serious issue these days, there are always musicians in every community who want their music to be heard and used. There is also a lot of royalty free music on the Web.

It is essential for a child’s completed movie to be Premiered with as much fanfare as possible. Inviting family and friends to see the completed movie is an important element in creating new behavior. Most children and adolescents like watching their movie, over and over. This strengthens the new learning and each viewing reinforces that learning. Now a child is learning from the movie he created. He is learning that he can be his own hero and can journey through the difficulties of life with awareness, skills and hope. He is no longer just viewing, he has actively participated, and that is the great power of experiential learning.

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