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Reel Therapy and its role as a Therapeutic Tool

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Movies? Therapy? Yeah, right – I can just hear you say those words! The fact is, movies have been used as an adjunctive therapy to traditional psychotherapy for the last fifteen years, it’s just that it hasn’t been widely publicized.

The use of movies as therapy have been experimented with since the mid-70’s and have now become extremely popular in countries like the USA, Canada, Europe and the United Kingdom. So how exactly are movies used as a medium of therapy?

Let me first give you some examples of movies that affect our feelings, so as to help you understand the effect that movies have on our psyche.

Remember the movie Psycho, and the scene in which the murderer attacks the lady in the shower? Remember the suspense? How we jumped in our seats when she screams? Or remember the Hindi movie Vaastav, when the mother kills her son – the pin-drop silence and the tears in our eyes? Or, on a more positive note, movies like Chak De India and Bend it Like Beckham,how we get goose-bumps when the heroine(s) score a goal from a losing position?

This is how Reel Therapy works. Reel Therapy uses a combination of light, sound, imagery, plot and characters to influence our emotions thereby our reactions throughout the movies.

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This proves very useful as a therapeutic tool, since, for example, a patient suffering from depression may have feelings that are bottled up, but after watching a truly engrossing film, he or she may just let go and start crying, thereby letting go of their bottled-up emotions.

Having said this, however, some forms of Reel Therapy may need to be supervised rather than just prescribing a film for a client to watch, or certain scenes may need to be edited.

Personally, I have experienced Reel Therapy work wonders for me. I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, which was earlier known as Dissociative Identity Disorder / Multiple Personality Disorder. At the age of 38 years, I watched a film titled “Sybil”, and that film turned my life around. Borderline Personality Disorder is a cruel illness that can be as harrowing for the patient as it is for the family.

For 35 years, I had suffered non-stop from a series of episodes that included running away from home and not remembering how I got to where I was, slashing myself at random, violence, trouble with the law and many more incidents that I would rather forget.

After watching this film, I remembered many incidents from my past that I had forgotten, I developed an insight into certain behavior patterns of mine, and it was only after watching the film that I understood why my family had suffered an equally harrowing time.


Book screening with our director of triage,  Kamlesh Verma

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This was truly Reel Therapy at work. In the last two years since watching the film, the frequency of my outbursts have reduced, I have become calmer and more productive, my relationship with my family has improved multi-fold, and I am a much happier person.

As a living example, and firm believer, I would recommend Reel Therapy to anyone who suffers from a psychiatric / psychological problem (not as a replacement to medicines).

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