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Cinema Couch Therapy for Emotional Blockages

by Brian Mills(more info)

listed in psychospiritual, originally published in issue 105 - November 2004

Is it possible that watching movies can heal emotional blockages? Does it make any sense that by seeing a character enact your issues in a film can cure you of that problem? I believe it can.

As a movie therapist, I use films to unlock paralyzing paradigms in people's lives. I call this therapy, Cinema Couch. My method differs a little from the psychotherapy technique explained by Franklin Seal in his article, Cinema Therapy. In Cinema Therapy films are prescribed to the patient from the outset of treatment, while in Cinema Couch, patients are asked to name the film or films that they love and never tire of watching. These films will reveal a paralyzing paradigm that creates an emotional blockage in their life. Further sequences or sessions reveal layers beneath the emotional issue and films are prescribed that reflect those issues.

What is Cinema Couch

Close Up

Cinema Couch consists of five sequences, each lasting a minimum of one hour and up to two hours treatment time. The first sequence is Close-up. The client is given a questionnaire consisting of twenty-two questions. The first four questions concern the client's favourite films and the remainder mainly concentrate on asking clients to imagine making a film of their life. Metaphorically, they are asked to give their film a title, cast someone to play himself or herself in the film, choose the theme, the music and even imagine the opening and closing scenes. They are expected to complete homework, which includes making a poster of their film and watching a film that they dislike and rewriting those sequences that disturb them. Homework is to be handed in at their next appointment, which is made thirty days after their first sequence.


Make-up is the second sequence of Cinema Couch. Here the movie therapist begins to peel back the layers that lay beneath the mask that the client has worn since childhood to reveal his or her true identity. The mask consists of the emotional blockages inherited from the client's father. Added to this is the persona of the client's mother. There could be many layers of emotional blockages i.e. denial, obsession, superiority, inferiority, guilt, pain etc. Films are prescribed that examine these issues.

Multiple Exposures

In Multiple Exposures, the third sequence of Cinema Couch reveals the shadow behind the mask and ego. The wounded child wants to be recognized, to be heard. You are shown how the child sets our self up. It is subtle and clever and knows how to get our attention. Recognizing the function of the wounded child allows it to destroy any remaining remnants of our paralyzing paradigm. Films are prescribed that highlight these issues.


The fourth sequence, Montage, reveals a new persona replacing the mask and ego – the auteur, allowing you to have complete control of your life. Films are prescribed that reflect this new persona, inspiring the client to maintain the metamorphosis that has taken place.

Key Light

Key Light is the final sequence of Cinema Couch and assesses the progress made in the previous sequences. A personalized programme is presented to the student on completion of Cinema Couch.


The methodology of Cinema Couch Therapy allows clients to discover himself/herself through films and unlock any emotional blockages that may have been stopping them from leading an ideal life. It places a great deal of emphasis on life experiences and the inherent impact and influence that parents have on us when we take on their blocked emotional patterns, creating a false identity.

Watching films allows us to embark on an emotional journey that starts in darkness and exits in light. In her enlightening book, Atlas of Emotion, Guiliana Bruno refers to film as 'emotion pictures'. Bruno discovered a map designed by a seventh century novelist Madeleine de Scudery that she called a map of the land of tenderness. The map visualized in the form of a landscape the embodied narrative of the female protagonist. Bruno explained that the exterior map outlines an interior journey and so "emotion materializes as a moving topography" so it is that "Scudery's map effectively charts the motion of emotion."

Interestingly, this is why the structure of the majority of films is based on the hero's mythical journey as expounded by Joseph Campbell in his books like The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The Hero's Journey was Campbell's metaphor for the inner journey of transformation that heroes take from the ordinary world to the extraordinary world. It will invariably be an adventurous journey where our hero will encounter mythical archetypes such as a Mentor and a Guardian. As in life he will be severely tested and will need to call upon his strongest traits to survive.

Our Shadow

Carl Jung, the eminent psychologist, was fascinated by myths and fairy tales, which he believed contained symbols and story patterns that were universal to all individuals in all cultures. Jung envisioned the potential of film in terms of imagery and narratives. He understood the power of images as the natural language of the unconscious; through images and dreams the psyche reveals itself.

There can be no change from darkness to light, from inertia to movement without emotion. Jung's guiding principle of individuation is illustrated in such films as Pulp Fiction and exemplified in Christopher Hauke and Ian Alistair's book, Jung and Film. One of the major issues that Pulp Fiction addresses is redemption, which can only be achieved by acknowledging our shadow.

An integral part of Cinema Couch Therapy is examining and accepting our shadow. You can think of your shadow as the injured child screaming for attention.

If we listen to that child it will be our greatest teacher. Within the shadow is all the pain that emerges in our emotions like fear, doubt, disappointment, loneliness, tiredness, rejection, inferiority etc. If we do not deal with our own inner ugliness and horror, then we give power to the very things we are trying to heal. Question 18 of Close-up asks: What films do you dislike watching?As homework you are asked to watch a video of a film that you dislike, that may even disturb you, and watch the film with the sound switched down and to rewrite the scenes that upset you. Within the film will be a lot of repressed darkness. Once you have rewritten the film you will be asked to watch it again with the sound on and ask yourself why do you think you made the changes to the film. This is one of the most powerful exercises in Cinema Couch Therapy. It allows clients to see the darkness that lies within them and to bring it into the light.

How Cinema Couch Therapy Operates

Let me take you through the first few questions of Close-up, the first sequence of Cinema Couch so that you can understand how it operates at a deeper level than most therapies. We will start with question 1.

What movie or movies do you never tire of watching? We will assume that you answered Casablanca, The Matrix, Lord of the Rings. These films are popular choices so we will imagine that I am working with a hypothetical client and these are the films they have chosen. The next question would be: What character or characters can you relate to in each one of the films that you have mentioned? Let us assume that you answered: Rick, the character played by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Neo (Keanu Reeves) in The Matrix, and Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) in Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The client would then be asked: What emotions rose to the surface when you watched each one of these films?

Answer: sacrificial love, passion, courage, excitement, inspiration, sadness, denial, joy, hidden power. Can you see a connection between these three films, a thread that holds them together? All the characters were courageous. There was an underlying theme of spiritual awareness, a deeper meaning, a greater purpose in life than first realized. All films were mythical, even Casablanca, because at the heart of the film's structure is the hero's journey, in this case a journey of the heart. Nobly, Rick sacrifices his love for Ilsa, for the cause of patriotism and lets her get on the plane at the end of the film with Lazlo. The shadow side was fear and denial, which ran through all the aforementioned movies. Gradually a pattern begins to emerge and a name is given to their paralysing paradigm. In the example given it might be something like sacrificially courageous and fearfully denied. The pattern would reflect the unblocked issues of their parents.

In summary, it would seem that the films offered above are disparate choices, but the thread is there and this is what attracts one to those particular films. Cinema Couch Therapy strips away the layers of our emotional blockages and allows us to be our true and powerful self, overcoming any paralyzing paradigms whether they be unrequited love, guilt, unable to forgive, always feeling inferior, abandoned, rejected, depressed, lonely, betrayed or staying in a relationship even though you know it is past its sell-by date. Cinema Couch Therapy is literally the new kid to unlock your emotional blockages.

Jung and Film edited by Hauke and Alister. Taylor and Francis. 2001.
Myth and the Movies by Stuart Voytilla. Michael Wiese Productions. 1999.
Atlas of Emotion by Guiliana Bruno. Verso.2002.


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About Brian Mills

Brian Mills is a Movie Therapist and author of the forthcoming book, Cinema Couch. He is available for private sessions and also conducts group workshops on his houseboat on the River Thames. Next workshops: Saturday Saturday 18 September. He can be contacted from his website:

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