Feb 27

Movies As Therapy/The Psychology of Movies

Skip Dine Young, a professor and clinical psychologist, states in Psychology at the Movies, “All movies are psychologically alive, exploding with human drama. This drama can be seen from many different angles—in the movies themselves, in the people who make them, and in the people who watch them” (Psychology Today). He sees movies as therapy of sorts, “equipment for living.”

And, as Steve Martin once said, “You know what your problem is, it’s that you haven’t seen enough movies — all of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”

Films are so good at bringing out various emotions, they can be used as adjuncts in therapy. One professional who actually specializes in movies as therapy is Dr. Birgit Wolz, who wrote E-Motion Picture Magic: A Movie Lover’s Guide to Healing and Transformation (2004).

She conceptualizes three types of cinema therapy:

  1. Evocative: when a client raises the topic of having seen a certain film, Wolz can look at what the characters or scenes evoke in him or her
  2. Prescriptive: based on a client’s presenting problems, a certain movie may be prescribed as a learning tool
  3. Cathartic: when a certain film enables a client with blocked emotions to laugh or cry or both

Her website offers lots of good stuff, including special articles and links, movie reviews, and a list of films organized by the types of issues they represent. Likewise, you can click on the Zur Institute website for a comprehensive film list offered jointly by Wolz and psychologist Dr. Ofer Zur.

Therapist Enzo Sinisi at TherapyRoute.com also offers a long list of mental health-related films.

The book Positive Psychology at the Movies (updated 2013) by Ryan M. Niemiec and Danny Wedding is a resource for those who want to learn more about the field of positive psychology‘s view of character strengths and virtues (see previous post “A Good Life“) via film.

Another related phenomenon to the psychology of movies is the “sadfilm paradox”—when we value but don’t exactly “enjoy” certain films. Examples given by writer Sharon Jayson that fit this category are Hotel Rwanda and Schindler’s List

Others I can readily name include The Fault in Our Stars, Boyhood, Selma, Life Is Beautiful, and Terms of Endearment. And of course there are many more.

A study led by Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, a communications professor at Ohio State, monitored the feelings of people who watched one particular “sadfilm,” Atonement, a story about the long-lasting effects of a teenager’s wrongheaded and serious accusation against a young man. Why did viewers, including myself, so like this movie? According to the study, sadness “instigates life reflection.” Life reflection leads to greater appreciation of your own relationships. Greater appreciation of your close relationships leads to increased happiness.

Mary Beth Oliver, Penn State, conducted a different but related study about the sad-film paradox. She “argues that a key part of meaningful entertainment is that it elicits a sense of elevation, or the warm sentiment we feel when we witness acts of moral beauty or characters who embody moral virtues. People flock to sad stories not for the sadness, Oliver says, but to experience these feel-good moments that sadness brings out” (Sam McNerney, Big Think).

“Elevation” involves not only happiness but also such feelings as being “moved” and having a desire to help others.

So, to recap. Sad films—a path to happiness. Films in general–self-awareness, various emotions, and learning about life.

Feb 23

“The Devil Wears Prada”: Is Your Boss a Narcissist? Psychopath?

Is your boss a narcissist? Well, does his or her behavior resemble that of fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly (Meryl Streep), the demonic boss in The Devil Wears Prada (2006)? Because almost everyone seems to believe she’s a really good example of a narcissist.

Marco R. della Cava, USA Today, writes about asking Dr. Paul Babiak, co-author of Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, about the Priestly character“As the ability to diagnose psychopathic behavior has improved, we find there are more women who fit this profile,” he states.

So, then, perhaps she’s a psychopathic narcissist? A narcissistic psychopath? A psychopath who’s also a narcissist? This sort of parsing is precisely what the DSM folks have grappled with. (See Charles Zanor, “A Fate That Narcissists Will Hate: Being Ignored”).

But, do we really care that much about how to diagnose Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada? We’re more concerned with whether your own boss is a narcissist and/or psychopath.

Andrea, Anne Hathaway‘s character, does, of course, wind up experiencing the misfortune of getting hired after all. And of course is wildly mistreated by boss Priestley.

If you are unlucky enough to have a boss who’s a bully or a manipulator or a puppetmaster, these just happen to be the three types of psychopaths Babiak and Robert Hare, authors of Snakes in Suits, believe exist. Constructive advice is provided in the book about how to deal with them.

Below are selected quotes from Snakes in Suits:

When dramatic organizational change is added to the normal levels of job insecurity, personality clashes, and political battling, the resulting chaotic milieu provides both the necessary stimulation and sufficient “cover” for psychopathic behavior.

Rapid business growth, increased downsizing, frequent reorganizations, mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures have inadvertently increased the number of attractive employment opportunities for individuals with psychopathic personalities.

Companies are very pragmatic and respond to information about behaviors relevant to the work at hand rather than subjective feelings about another person.

Even in the face of contrary evidence, the psychopath can lie so well that listeners doubt themselves first, rather than question the psychopath.

Another characteristic of psychopaths is an ability to avoid taking responsibility for things that go wrong; instead, they blame others, circumstances, fate, and so forth.

In psychopaths’ mental world people do not exist except as objects, targets, and obstacles.

The real problem for others is when narcissistic features, especially a sense of entitlement and a lack of empathy, shade into antisocial and destructive behaviors. When this happens, the pattern might be described as aggressive or malignant narcissism, which is difficult to distinguish from psychopathy.

Feb 21

Movie Taglines: “Be Very Afraid” (Or Not)

Movie taglines have been used over the years by film studios as catchy ways to draw potential viewers’ attention. But did you know that many of the most memorable and effective movie taglines are those that play on our fears and anxietiesTagline Guru conducted a survey among advertising, marketing, and branding professionals, who came up with a top 100 movie taglines. Get a load of the top five:

  1. Alien (1979): In space no one can hear you scream.
  2. Apollo 13 (1995): Houston, we have a problem.
  3. Poltergeist II (1986): They’re back.
  4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977): We are not alone.
  5. Jaws 2 (1978): Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

See also Number 8, The Fly (1986): Be afraid. Be very afraid. Similar in nature is 16, Apocalypse Now (1979): The horror…the horror.

On the other hand, some well-known scary-type movies have gotten taglines that are actually more satirical or witty. Number 20 is Psycho (1998): The classic story about a boy and his mother. Number 28, Mommie Dearest (1981): The biggest mother of them all. Number 36, Jaws: The Revenge (1987): This time, it’s personal.

Some of the movie taglines in the top 100 address Minding Therapy-type issues:

  • Number 34, Forrest Gump (1994): Life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get.
  • 51. The Royal Tenenbaums (2001): Family isn’t a word, it’s a sentence.
  • 79. Waiting to Exhale (1995): Friends are the people who let you be yourself…and never let you forget it.

Finally, the following list includes movies previously cited on Minding Therapy, several of which made it into the survey:

  • At number 24, The Shawshank Redemption (1994): Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.
  • Number 35, Groundhog Day (1993): He’s having the day of his life…over and over again.
  • Number 48, The First Wives’ Club (1996): Don’t get mad.Get everything.
  • Number 50, Postcards from the Edge (1990): Having a wonderful time, wish I were here.
  • Number 54, As Good As It Gets (1997): A comedy from the heart that goes for the throat.
  • What About Bob? (1991): Bob’s a special kind of friend. The kind that drives you crazy!
  • Good Will Hunting (1997): Some people can never believe in themselves, until someone believes in them.
  • Prime (2005): She thought she could tell her therapist anything. But she’s about to discover that she’s already said too much…
  • Little Miss Sunshine (2006): A family on the verge of a breakdown. Also, Everyone just pretend to be normal.
  • 50/50 (2011): It takes a pair to beat the odds.
  • Silver Linings Playbook (2012): Watch for the signs.
  • Side Effects (2013): One pill can change your life. Also, This is your insanity on drugs.

Screen Crush provides an additional list of recent movie taglines that worked well. Below are several I’ve addressed on this site:

For whatever reasons, taglines are no longer as commonly used, but below are a few from films I’ve seen and/or addressed more recently:

Speaking of Barbie, although I believe awards shows like the Oscars are over-valued, I’ll just add, given the recent snubbing by the Academy of Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie for their respective roles while nominating Ryan Gosling, can “Kenough already” be a new favorite tagline (of sorts)?

Feb 07

“Single at Heart”: Bella DePaulo Removes the Stigma

Social scientist Bella DePaulo‘s latest book, Single at Heart: The Power, Freedom, and Heart-Filling Joy of Single Life (2023), follows a string of others she’s written about a similar topic. These include Singlism, Single with Attitude, Alone: The Badass Psychology of People Who Like Being Alone, and Marriage vs. Single Life: How Science and the Media Got It So Wrong.

And if you want to read her elsewhere, consider her website blog and this recent viral HuffPost article about her own choice to be single.

Singlism” is her term to describe stereotyping, stigmatizing, marginalizing, and/or discrimination against singles. “Tell new acquaintances that you are single and often they think they already know quite a lot about you. They understand your emotions: You are miserable and lonely and envious of couples. They know what motivates you: More than anything else in the world, you want to become coupled. If you are a single person of a certain age, they also know why you are not coupled: You are commitment-phobic, or too picky, or have baggage. Or maybe they figure you are gay and they think that’s a problem, too (Singled Out).

In list form, per her website, the following are some prevalent myths about being single:

  1. The Wonder of Couples: Marrieds know best.
  2. Single-Minded: You are interested in just one thing – getting coupled.
  3. The Dark Aura of Singlehood: You are miserable and lonely and your life is tragic.
  4. It Is All About You: Like a child, you are self-centered and immature and your time isn’t worth anything since you have nothing to do but play.
  5. Attention Single Women: Your work won’t love you back and your eggs will dry up. Also, you don’t get any and you’re promiscuous.
  6. Attention Single Men: You are horny, slovenly, and irresponsible, and you are the scary criminals. Or, you are sexy, fastidious, frivolous, and gay.
  7. Attention Single Parents: Your kids are doomed.
  8. Too Bad You’re Incomplete: You don’t have anyone and you don’t have a life.
  9. Poor Soul: You will grow old alone and you will die in a room by yourself where no one will find you for weeks.
  10. Family Values: Let’s give all of the perks, benefits, gifts, and cash to couples and call it family values

To be clear, DePaulo is not against non-singlehood for other people. “I defend single people because we are relentlessly demeaned by myths and pseudoscientific claims that say our lives are second-rate….This is the 21st century. We don’t all have to choose the same life path (“Everything You Think You Know About Single People Is Wrong,Washington Post).

Relationship expert Jaclyn Geller states of Single at Heart, “Myriad men and women interviewed describe the benefits and pleasures: freedom to manage one’s time and finances; privacy; pursuing meaningful work; discarding convention in favor of a life based on conscious priorities; dedication to important causes; investment in community; commitment to ‘intentional’ friendship networks that include cohabitation…the list goes on. Anyone who is immersed in the uncoupled life, who is somewhat single at heart, or who cares about someone single at heart must read this pathfinding book.”
Jan 31

“How to Know a Person” by David Brooks

The greatest thing a person does is to take the lessons of life, the hard knocks of life, the surprises of life, and the mundane realities of life and refine their own consciousness so that they can gradually come to see the world with more understanding, more wisdom, more humanity, and more grace. David Brooks, How to Know a Person

Current bestseller How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen (2023) by David Brooks, a frequent political commentator who’s “conservative” but also anti-Trumpism and not a fan of the current Republican party, is actually of the self-help sort of genre, not the political.

In developing his case for increasing our collective ability to relate effectively to each other, Brooks “draws from the fields of psychology and neuroscience and from the worlds of theater, philosophy, history, and education” (publisher blurb). How to Know a Person, in brief, is about Brooks wanting no individual in our society to be or to feel invisible.

Per John Dickerson, CBS News, Brooks contrasts “two distinct types of people, diminishers and illuminators.” While the former contribute to you feeling unseen, the latter’s curiosity about you “make you feel lit up.”

Selected Quotes from How to Know a Person

A person who is looking for beauty is likely to find wonders, while a person looking for threats will find danger. A person who beams warmth brings out the glowing sides of the people she meets, while a person who conveys formality can meet the same people and find them stiff and detached.

On social media you can have the illusion of social contact without having to perform the gestures that actually build trust, care, and affection. On social media, stimulation replaces intimacy. There is judgment everywhere and understanding nowhere.

Successful friendship, like successful therapy, is a balance of deference and defiance. It involves showing positive regard, but also calling people on their self-deceptions. The Buddhists have a useful phrase for unconditional positive regard: “idiot compassion,” which is the kind of empathy that never challenges people’s stories or threatens to hurt their feelings. It consoles but also conceals. 

The real act of, say, building a friendship or creating a community involves performing a series of small, concrete social actions well: disagreeing without poisoning the relationship; revealing vulnerability at the appropriate pace; being a good listener; knowing how to end a conversation gracefully; knowing how to ask for and offer forgiveness; knowing how to let someone down without breaking their heart; knowing how to sit with someone who is suffering; knowing how to host a gathering where everyone feels embraced; knowing how to see things from another’s point of view.

“What crossroads are you at?” At any moment, most of us are in the middle of some transition. The question helps people focus on theirs. “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Most people know that fear plays some role in their life, but they haven’t clearly defined how fear is holding them back. “If you died tonight, what would you regret not doing?” “If we meet a year from now, what will we be celebrating?” “If the next five years is a chapter in your life, what is that chapter about?” “Can you be yourself where you are and still fit in?”