The power of story, and people (and groups of people) can get put into “boxes”.

Twelve Excellent Movies About the Pain (and the Joy) of Parenting

When we are expecting, we have this idea that our babies will bring us happiness. I maintain that starting a family does not make a person “happy” (whatever that means). Parenting is painful and scary. Parenting hurts precisely because we love our children so much. As parents, we are capable of so much strength and love, even in the hardest of circumstances. The following movies about parenting depicts both the highs and the lows.

Despite the pain of parenting, having and raising children brings a sense of purpose, and that is so much more important than happiness. In the following movies about parenting, we see characters who are sometimes lost or struggling. But they find their reason for getting up each day in being the mom or dad their child needs them to be. (Or in some cases, being who they THINK their child needs to them to be!) Some of these parents need to focus a little more on their own self-care; some of them need to focus a little less on themselves. Our children grow and that dance changes over time. We don’t always know how much to help, and how much to step away and attend to our own needs.

How to Read the List

Speaking of growing children, the following list of movies about parenting is organized roughly in order of age of child. So parents of young children will find something of value at the beginning of the list, whereas parents of older children might want to skip to the middle and the end. (In order to gain the most therapeutic value from your movie watching experience, I suggest you read my other post about how to watch a movie mindfully.) In this list of movies about parenting, I have included everything you might find helpful when trying to choose what you want to watch tonight.

  • Where I found it (in summer 2020, given what services and platforms I have access to): You may have other streaming services, and this information may change over time. Renting off iTunes is usually a good last resort if you are having trouble finding it elsewhere.
  • Year: How old is it? Movies here were made between 2009 to 2018.
  • Running Time: Sometimes you have time for something longer, sometimes you don’t!
  • Rating: Sourced from Consumer Protection BC (British Columbia), who have the task of rating everything shown on the big screen in our province. So, movies not made for the big screen are not rated here.
  • Reviews: Sourced from Rotten Tomatoes. I have tried to go a little deeper than just whether it is “fresh” or “rotten”. You will find information about critics’ vs the audience, top critics vs all the critics, some qualitative comments, and more.

Twelve Movies About Parenting

A Kid Like Jake

(Netflix, 2018): In New York City, a four-year old’s mom and dad struggle with their child’s gender identity as the time for entering Kindergarten approaches,. Their child was assigned male at birth, but identifies as a girl. Starring Claire Danes and Jim Parsons (from Big Bang theory).

  • 92 minutes runtime. Made for Netflix, so not rated in BC.
  • Received 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 48 critics giving an average rating of 6/10. Generally, critics found that the movie took an “overly cautious approach”.

The Lighthouse of the Orcas 

(Netflix, 2016): In trying to help her autistic son find an emotional connection, a mother who has a “special relationship with nature” travels with him to Patagonia (“the end of the world”) to meet a ranger and wild orcas. This is an Argentinean (Spanish language) movie.

  • 110 minutes, made for Netflix, so not rated in BC.
  • Listed on Rotten Tomatoes as “The Lighthouse of the Whales”. Not enough consensus to receive a rating. However, three out of four critics liked it.

An Audience of Chairs 

(CBC Gem, 2018): A young mother in the throes of both manic and depressive symptoms, endangers her children safety and then has them apprehended. She is reunited with them twenty years later. Set in Newfoundland.

  • 94 minutes, rated PG in BC.
  • Unrated by Rotten Tomatoes, but two out of three critics liked it. One stated it was “a movie about empathy … an experience to be shared”.

Wonder

(Netflix, 2017): The story of a little boy entering grade five who lives with facial differences, and how his parents, his classmates, and the larger community all struggle with compassion and acceptance of his disability. Starring Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson.

  • 114 minutes runtime, rated PG.
  • Received 86% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 187 critics giving an average rating of 7/10. Critics found it sentimental, but “but this well-acted and overall winsome drama earns its tugs at the heartstrings”.

My Sister’s Keeper 

(Netflix, Crave, 2009): Based on a book by Jodi Picoult, and starring Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin. Two parents, desperate to save the life of their fragile and ill child, resort to desperate means.

  • 110 minutes runtime, rated PG.
  • Received 48% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 136 critics divided approximately in half on whether it was worth watching. But the audience score was significantly higher, at 72%.

No Letting Go 

(Amazon Prime, also available in full for free on Youtube, 2015/2016): Parents struggle to come to terms with their young teen’s mental illness. Based on a true story. “There is no letting go when you have a sick child.”

  • 104 minutes, not widely released.
  • A mental health professional writing for HuffPost reviewed this movie. Audiences on Rotten Tomatoes rated overall “fresh”, but no critics scores.

World’s Greatest Dad 

(Rent on AppleTV/iTunes or on YouTube, 2009): A middle-aged single dad, struggling with depression, undergoes the accidental death of his teenage slacker son. In his grief (and subsequent choices) he learns that “the things you want most may not be the things that make you happy and that being lonely is not necessarily the same as being alone”. Starring Robin Williams, only five years before his death.

  • 99 minutes runtime, limited box office release and not rated in BC.
  • Received 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, with the “top” critics assigning it 97%. Critics described it as a “risky, deadpan, dark comedy”. It may have been too risky, as it tanked at the box office!

The Descendants 

(Rent on AppleTV/iTunes or on YouTube, 2011): A movie for all Dads of daughters. An indifferent Dad is forced to re-examine his priorities, and his relationships with his children, when his wife dies unexpectedly. Starring George Clooney.

  • 116 minutes runtime; rated PG.
  • Received 88% on Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 8/10. Rated even higher by “top” critics (which is unusual!)

Beautiful Boy

(Amazon Prime, 2018): This story chronicles the heartbreaking and inspiring experience of survival, relapse, and recovery in a family coping with addiction over many years. It was based on the best-selling pair of memoirs from father and son David and Nic Sheff. Starring Steve Carrell.

  • 121 minutes, rated 14A.
  • Received 68% “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, with 170 critics assigning an average 6.5/10 rating.

Ben is Back

(Netflix, 2018): A 19-year-old son (who struggles with addiction) returns home on Christmas Eve morning. Over the next 24 hours, relationships are tested, new information is revealed, especially as his mom (Julia Roberts again) struggles to keep her son safe.

  • 103 minutes, rated 14A.
  • Received 81% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 213 critics giving an average of 7/10. Generally described as “understated … subverts family dramas”.

The Land of Steady Habits 

(Netflix, 2018): While this movie is mainly about a “deeply flawed”, lonely and depressed middle aged male, the story centres around how his mistakes impact everyone around him. Importantly, we see his efforts to be the Dad his young adult son, struggling to find his independence, needs him to be.

  • 98 minutes, made for Netflix, so not rated in BC.
  • Received 83% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 40 critics giving an average of 7/10. Critics consensus: “finely layered performances … one mid-life crisis worth watching”.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi 

(Rent on AppleTV/iTunes or on YouTube, 2011): You don’t have to care about sushi to enjoy this documentary about anxiety, perfectionism, parenting and aging. A story of a world class chef and his relationship with his eldest son and heir, “who is unable to live up to his full potential in his father’s shadow”.

  • 83 minutes runtime, rated G.
  • Received 99% on Rotten Tomatoes!! 94 critics assigned this movie an average of 8/10. Even audiences liked it, giving it 92%.

Finally …

Our children were not created to love us. Rather, it’s our job to love them without condition. After watching one of these movies about parenting, check out the riveting and emotional TED talk “Love, No Matter What”. You will learn more about how deeply parents love their children, even in the most difficult of circumstances. I highly recommend it!!

So what about you? You came here for a reason. If you are interested in watching movies about parenting, and how painful it can be, chances are you are a parent. Parenting is one of the most important jobs you have taken on. It may be that on some days, you’re beating yourself up, because it feels like you keep screwing up your job, when all you want to do is help. You might even be coping with your own issues, in addition to trying your best to help them with theirs. You would do anything for your child. But as a parent, you are scared of the future, and sometimes angry at this person you love more than anything. You might be lonely because others don’t understand. Regardless of whether your child wants their own help, you want to learn more about how to help them.

I’ve been there too, and I know we can’t do this alone. Need help? First, watch one of these movies about parenting. (Before you start watching, remember to read this.) Then, what are you feeling? We rarely watch a movie without feeling something. Last – need help with that? Get in touch with Rainstorm Counselling today.

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Cinematherapy Revisited: 95 Movies (and TV Shows) about Depression, Anxiety, Grief & Loss, Divorce, Disability, Parenting & Other Really Tough Things You Might Need Counselling For

While they are probably not considered “Cinematherapy,” I love superhero movies, time travel and other fantasy and science fiction. In fact, I love them as much (usually even more) than the next middle-aged woman. Give me Doom Patrol, X-Men, and Star Trek: Discovery any day. Yes, escape has its own therapeutic effect; escape is my jam. I am a true movie buff and a tv fangirl. At last year’s latest Terminator movie, I literally pumped my fist in the air and cheered when Sarah Connor showed up!

But sometimes you need a movie that feels a little too “real”. Those movies can be hard to watch. But they’re important, because they get you out of your comfort zone. For more reminders of why they are important, read my post from two and a half years ago. (I can’t believe it’s been that long!) In that post, I said I was starting a new series … then never came back to it. … Well I’m back!!!

One of the ways my collecting hoarding tendencies takes shape is in my Netflix “to watch” list. I wish I could sort it into categories the same way I do my Pinterest boards.One of the categories would be called “Cinematherapy”. I haven’t seen most of what’s on the following list myself. (More posts to come on that!) It reflects my interests (both personal and professional) in parenting, aging, illness and more. In this post I’m re-starting my blog series, and sharing my complete “to watch” list.

One Idea To Get Your Cinematherapy Journey Started

Right now, my husband and I are halfway through “The Land of Steady Habits” (2018, on Netflix). It’s about male depression, loneliness, divorce and family breakup, parenting, and addiction. It feels very real, and it got 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. And it’s funny! When we started it, I was really hoping the family in the movie would get back together, but I don’t think it’s heading that way. However, it’s working for us is because we can watch something that feels so close to home, while staying at a safe arm’s length distance. We can get uncomfortable, but not too uncomfortable. Getting brave about being uncomfortable is imperative for personal growth and development. That’s what watching movies mindfully (ie. Cinematherapy) can do for us.

95 Movies (and TV Shows) on Tough Things to Help You Grow

So put the escape aside for one night, and be brave! Get a little uncomfortable. Additionally, know your limits and do your own research. (For example, if you just had a parent die in the last six months, you may (?) not want to watch a movie about a parent dying.) Finally, if you are wondering how to make the most out of your movie watching experience, check out my first Cinematherapy post and scroll down to “How to Watch a Movie with Mindful Awareness”. (And don’t forget to scroll to the end to see what’s next on this series!)

MOVIES TO STREAM ON NETFLIX

  • The Leisure Seeker (Aging, Dementia)
  • Sister Cities (Family estrangement, aging, suicide)
  • The Meyerowitz Stories (family estrangement, men aging)
  • Our Souls at Night (aging, loneliness)
  • Marriage Story (divorce)
  • The Fundamentals of Caring (Physical disability)
  • A Kid Like Jake (gender nonconformity, parenting)
  • Brain on Fire (seizures, psychosis)
  • Wonder (stigma, parenting)
  • Like Father (family estrangement)
  • Ben is Back (addiction, parenting)
  • 6 Balloons (addiction, parenting, caregiving)
  • The Last Laugh (aging)
  • To the Bone (eating disorders, body image)
  • The Land of Steady Habits (divorce, midlife, depression, parenting)
  • What They Had (Caregiving, aging, dementia)
  • Concussion (brain disorders, concussions of course!)
  • Kodachrome (aging, family estrangement, grief)
  • Nappily Ever After (perfectionism, anxiety)
  • Phil (depression, suicide)
  • 100 meters (terminal illness)
  • Paddleton (terminal illness, euthanasia)
  • Irreplaceable You (terminal illness)
  • The Discovery (death, afterlife)
  • The Lighthouse of the Orcas (parenting, autism)
  • Asperger’s Are Us (Autism, documentary)
  • Crip Camp (disability, documentary)
  • Cracked Up (Childhood abuse, PTSD)
  • Unrest (chronic fatigue, documentary)
  • Silver Linings Playbook (Bipolar Disorder, anxiety)

MOVIES TO STREAM ON AMAZON PRIME

  • The Age of Anxiety (doc, 51 min)
  • After Everything (terminal illness, relationships)
  • The Sabbatical (burn out, depression)
  • Jacob (suicide, grief and loss, post traumatic strength)
  • Melissa (parenting, cyberbullying, suicide)
  • No Letting Go (parenting, anxiety and depression)
  • Beautiful Boy (parenting, addiction)
  • Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (disability, addiction)
  • A Big Love Story (body image, relationships)
  • The Descendants (grief and loss, parenting)
  • Cake (chronic pain, depression, parenting, grief)
  • Little Miss Sunshine (depression, family dynamics) *Also on Crave
  • The Soloist (Schizophrenia, burnout)
  • Robot and Frank (Dementia)
  • The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (anxiety, men) *also on Crave
  • An Unfinished Life (men and depression, grief and loss) *also on Crave
  • My Sister’s Keeper (parenting, illness, anxiety) *also on Crave

STREAM NETFLIX TV SERIES

  • Love on the Spectrum (reality show, autism and dating)
  • After Life (grief and loss)
  • Atypical (autism, adolescence)
  • Living with Yourself (Burnout, Depression, self-improvement)
  • Special (LGBT, disability)

RENT ON ITUNES/APPLE TV OR YOUTUBE

  • World’s Greatest Dad (depression, suicide, parenting)
  • The Hours (depression, women)
  • Helen (depression, women)
  • It’s Kind of a Funny Story (depression, anxiety, perfectionism, adolescence)
  • A Separation (Dementia, caregiving)
  • Inside Out (Anxiety, Childhood) *also on Disney+. Highly recommended!
  • Anomalisa (depression, men)
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower (Anxiety, adolescence)
  • A Beautiful Mind (Schizophrenia, anxiety)
  • A Fantastic Fear of Everything (anxiety)
  • Jiro Dreams of Sushi (anxiety, perfectionism, parenting, aging)
  • Forgotten Plague (chronic fatigue, documentary)
  • Ordinary Love (terminal illness, marriage, caregiving)

STREAM ON CRAVE (Mostly Movies)

  • Away From Her (Dementia, caregiving)
  • The Wife (Divorce, aging)
  • The Tale (childhood trauma)
  • Diagnosis Bipolar (parenting, bipolar, documentary)
  • Bipolar Rock n Roller (documentary, men, bipolar)
  • I Know This Much is True (schizophrenia, caregiving) *an HBO miniseries, not a movie, based on the book by the same name
  • Pain and Glory (chronic pain, aging)

MOVIES TO STREAM ON CBC GEM APP (or https://gem.cbc.ca/)

  • Love, Scott (Disability, LGBT, documentary)
  • An Audience of Chairs (bipolar, child apprehension, parenting)
  • Away From Her (dementia, caregiving)
  • Empire of Dirt (childhood trauma, Indigenous)
  • Goalie (chronic pain, addiction, family breakup)
  • Hector & The Search for Happiness (depression, men)
  • How She Move (addiction, grief and loss)
  • Man Running (euthanasia)
  • Meditation Park (infidelity, divorce)
  • Minding the Gap (family violence, childhood trauma)
  • My Life Without Me (terminal illness)
  • Mouthpiece (grief and loss, women)
  • Pretend We’re Kissing (anxiety, loneliness)
  • Still Mine (dementia)
  • The Other Half (bipolar, grief and loss, relationships)
  • Tom at the Farm (grief & loss, LGBT)

MOVIES TO STREAM ON CTV APP (or on https://www.ctv.ca/movies)

  • Stepmom (divorce, parenting, grief and loss)
  • Reign Over Me (PTSD, grief and loss)
  • Girl Interrupted (anxiety, adolescence)
  • The Skeleton Twins (depression, attempted suicide, siblings, childhood trauma)

What do you think? Is there anything on my list you want to warn me off of?

Where should I start? Is there anything you’ve seen here that was amazing?

What’s missing? Anything I should add?

What’s Next?

Next, follow up posts will be broken into categories. Examples might be “Movies about Autism Spectrum Disorder” or “Movies about Parenting”. I’ll share the Rotten Tomatoes Rating, the year, where you can find it, and a sentence or two on what each is about.

Then, I’ll start watching! When I do, I’ll let you know, from a therapeutic standpoint, my thoughts and impressions. In other words, how might I approach the issues raised by the characters, if they were my clients? Exciting, right? My hope is to deepen your Cinematherapy experience. I’ll keep you posted. (Follow Rainstorm Counselling & Consulting on Facebook to stay notified of upcoming posts.)

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An Intro to Watching Movies as Therapy

I love going to the movies, don’t you!? Movies make you feel things. “Who has not walked out of a movie theatre feeling sad, scared, inspired, or otherwise moved? Movies can potentially open a person’s eyes to new solutions to any number of difficulties. … They might offer hope, provide role models, and reframe problems” (from goodtherapy.org).

Hmm. Kinda sounds like counselling, doesn’t it?

This post marks an introduction to an upcoming blog series on “Cinematherapy” (or movie therapy). In the series, I will be recommending and reviewing a different movie each time. The only rule: the plot or theme of each movie will touch on something related to relationships, mental health and/or social issues.

I’m excited! Okay, let’s get started … (if you have come to this post just to see the directions how to watch a movie mindfully, please scroll down).

Background

The term cinematherapy has been used since the 1990’s, and is a close cousin of “bibliotherapy”. (Books make you feel things too!) According to Segen’s Medical Dictionary, “Cinematherapy can be a catalyst for healing and growth for those who are open to learning how movies affect people and to watching certain films with conscious awareness.”

Read those last words again. “… those who are open to … watching certain films with conscious awareness.”

How the heck do you do that?

Dr Birgit Wolz, a current guru in this field, acknowledges that it is easy to get caught up in the entertainment and forget to watch mindfully. She answers one viewer’s question: “What you are saying about movies is true for life in general. We often get “caught up” in things and become conscious only later when we look back. … Like in real life, your conscious awareness will increase and decrease at times. Learning to have control over this will benefit you greatly in life.”

Back in the mid-1990’s, I was a Drug Prevention Worker at a high school in northern BC. I didn’t know there was such a thing as cinematherapy, but I knew that teens liked watching movies! So I organized groups where they could come watch movies related to problem drug and alcohol use. When choosing the movies (before Netflix and Youtube) I looked for stories which were relevant to their lives. I also created suggested lists they could take home and use. My hope was that I could engage them in honest conversation about substance abuse, rather than teaching remote facts that did not connect with their everyday experiences.

How Can Cinematherapy Help?

While the research is still ongoing, here is a summary of what I and the current practitioners in the field believe:

  1. Watching a movie (or talking about a movie) with someone you don’t know very well can help build a rapport. It is an easy way to build a connection with someone (including your counsellor).
  2. How you respond to a character or a plot point in a movie can help you learn about yourself. Because talking about the movie is less threatening than talking about yourself, it’s a “way in” to the stuff you may find quite challenging otherwise. This helps to strengthen self-awareness. (*Note: most of the reflections questions below are designed to help in this area.)
  3. Talking about a movie with someone that you otherwise experience communication challenges with can help to build your communication skills.
  4. You’ve heard about feeling better after “a good cry”. Watching movies that make us laugh or cry can provide a cathartic emotional release. This can be a useful first step to therapy or counselling.
  5. Movies show us what is going on behind a character’s surface. We learn something about “why” they behave as they do. As viewers, we go along for the ride, walking beside them on a part of their journey. All of this helps to generate an empathic response – something we need a little more of in our everyday lives.
  6. Movies fight shame and stigma when they are about the lives of people who are marginalized or otherwise invisible. The recent popularity of transgender individuals in Hollywood is one example.

How to Watch a Movie with Mindful Awareness

Before you begin, find a comfortable spot. Pause. Take a moment to notice your breathing. It should be easy, and natural. Don’t force it. Do a quick body scan. Then if you notice any spots where you feel stress or tightness, acknowledge them. Dr Wolz writes, “Let your breath travel into these spots. To release tension you may experiment with ‘breathing into’ any part of your body that feels strained.” For now, set your judgements aside.

While watching, pay attention both to the movie and to your own physiological reactions. Observe whatever is happening – whether your heart is speeding up, or the pace of your breathing is changing. Do your best not to judge or analyze. Just “be fully present with your experience”.

The following are questions that cinematherapy.com suggests you ask yourself when the movie is finished. If you like, it can be useful to record your answers.

  1. Do you remember whether your breathing changed throughout the movie? Could this be an indication that something threw you off balance? In all likelihood, what affects you in the film is similar to whatever unbalances you in your daily life.
  2. Ask yourself: If a part of the film that moved you (positively or negatively) had been one of your dreams, how would you have understood the symbolism in it?
  3. Notice what you liked and what you didn’t like or even hated about the movie. Which characters or actions seemed especially attractive or unattractive to you? Did you identify with one or several characters? 
  4. Were there one or several characters in the movie that modelled behaviour that you would like to emulate? Did they develop certain strengths or other capacities that you would like to develop as well? 
  5. Notice whether any aspect of the film was especially hard to watch. Could this be related to something that you might have repressed (“shadow”)? Uncovering repressed aspects of our psyche can free up positive qualities and uncover our more whole and authentic self.
  6. Did you experience something that connected you to your inner wisdom or higher self as you watched the film?

I have to give grateful credit for these instructions as they have come from Dr Birgit Wolz, at www.cinematherapy.com. Although I struggled a bit with the layout, what a gold mine of content her website is! (She has in turn based portions of these instructions on Sinetar, Marsha (1993) Reel Power & Spiritual Growth Through Film. Ligouri, MO: Triumph Books.)

Finally … A Warning

Cinematherapy is an “add-on” therapy, much like art, music, or dance therapy. Similarly, it can be used as a self-help technique or with a counsellor. However, our problems show up in a spectrum. Self-help can be useful for problems that do not require a counsellor, but sometimes other expert eyes can be useful. If the problem is more severe, do not use cinematherapy in place of a trained counsellor!

The questions for reflection above encourage you to open yourself up to those uncomfortable thoughts and emotions that you might be closed off from. But watch out for negative triggers! Sometimes it can be too much. Make sure you have access to emotional support if necessary. If you end up feeling overwhelmed, is there someone you can talk to about it? (Or even get a hug from?)

Finally, there are no known contraindications for cinematherapy among most people. However, it is not advisable or helpful if there is a history of psychosis.

Further Reading

E-Motion Picture Magic: A Movie Lovers Guide to Healing and Transformation Birgit Wolz (2005)

Rent Two Films and Let’s talk in the Morning: Using Popular Movies as Psychotherapy John W. Hesley; Jan G. Hesley (2001)

Advanced Cinematherapy: the Girl’s Guide to Finding Happiness One Movie at a Time Nancy Peske; Beverly West (2000)

The Motion Picture Prescription: Watch This Movie and Call me in the Morning Gary Solomon (1995)