It’s that time of year again — the holiday season. Many of us are doing a lot of shopping, gathering with friends and family, and going to the movies. After all, so many good movies come out in December! Interwoven among the television commercials for toys and gifts are ads for all the upcoming films — movies for the whole family, dramas, and a myriad of other big-budget films.

Aside from being a few hours of fun with friends and family, watching films can also be a form of therapy. Apart from the obvious — escaping our own lives and problems for a short time — there are many documented benefits to watching movies. In fact, it even has a name: cinema therapy.

Birgit Wolz, PhD., MFT, who facilitates cinema therapy groups, says:

Cinema therapy can be a powerful catalyst for healing and growth for anybody who is open to learning how movies affect us and to watching certain films with conscious awareness. Cinema therapy allows us to use the effect of imagery, plot, music, etc. in films on our psyche for insight, inspiration, emotional release or relief and natural change.

While cinema therapy is a “real thing” sometimes prescribed by therapists, it is often self-administered. Being aware that movies can change the way we think, feel, and ultimately deal with life’s ups and downs can make watching them invaluable.

Gary Solomon Ph.D., MPH, MSW, the author of two books on cinema therapy, says the idea is to choose movies with themes that mirror your current problems or situation. For example, if you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, you might want to watch Clean and Sober or When a Man Loves a Woman. If you are coping with the serious illness or death of a loved one, one of the many movies dealing with these issues might be helpful.

How can watching movies that mirror our own struggles or experiences help us?

Some ways include:

  • Watching movies encourages emotional release. Even those who often have trouble expressing their emotions might find themselves laughing or crying during a film. This release of emotions can have a cathartic effect and also make it easier for a person to become more comfortable in expressing their emotions. This can be invaluable during counseling as well as in “real life.”
  • Sad films can make us happier. While it might seem counter-intuitive, I think many of us can relate to this. I know that after I watch a particularly sad or distressing film, I feel thankful for my own life and my “smaller” problems in comparison. Others’ tragedies make us more appreciative of everything good in our own lives.
  • Watching movies can help us make sense of our own lives. For thousands of years, knowledge and wisdom have been passed down through the art of story-telling. Stories offer us different perspectives and help us understand and make sense of the world. And movies are stories.
  • As mentioned in the second paragraph of this post, movies give us a break from whatever is currently bothering us. We are transported to a different time and place and can just focus on the present moment for a short time. This gives our brains a much-needed rest from “the usual.”
  • Movies bring us a sense of relief, even if they stress us out first. Watching something suspenseful releases cortisol (the stress hormone) in the brain, followed by dopamine, which produces feelings of pleasure.

Going out to a movie theater is not for everyone. Some of us struggle with sensory issues or being in crowds. And others just prefer to watch movies at home, on the couch and in their pajamas. The good news is it doesn’t matter if you’re watching Netflix at home or sitting in a crowded theater. The results are the same — watching movies is good for us.


Hampton, D. (2018, November 24). How watching movies can help your mental health [blog post]. Retrieved from