If I were to ask you to list your hobbies, would watching Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu be among them?
Is there a show or movie you watch over and over before bed to help calm you down and comfort you in the evenings?
Do you have an ever-growing list of “your shows and movies”? A series that you’re completely hooked into?
Do you tend to get lost in an episode or cinema experience and then feel a bit of loss when the credits roll and you transition back to real life?
If so, that’s perfectly okay! Far from any of this being a so-called “bad thing,” I want to share my perspective as a psychotherapist with you about why your deep love of certain shows and movies can actually be a perfectly legitimate tool for personal growth plus share some inquiries and resources with you that will help make your next round of movie or TV watching a little more therapeutic (yes, really!).
In Praise of The Digital Campfire.
Since time immemorial we humans have had a need to learn how the world works, what our place in it is, and how to navigate all the stuff of life.
As psychotherapist Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD talks about across her breadth of work, much of this life instruction was imparted through oral storytelling, local wisdom sharing, and swapped tales passed down through the generations. Today in our modern world, the act of gathering around a campfire to learn about life from an elder seems to have all but disappeared and, instead, I would argue, most of us now gather around a proverbial digital campfire consciously or unconsciously to seek out the same thing.
So is this really such a bad thing? Not necessarily.
While I think there are legitimate and pressing concerns about the type and amount of media that we collectively consume (and allow our children to consume), I don’t believe in pathologizing watching movies and TV shows as “all bad” because I truly believe that there’s a way in which this can actually be a very useful tool for our own personal growth thanks to the modeling and instructing, accessing and processing, and calming and containment movies and TV can provide for us.
Modeling & Instructing.
In a very legitimate way, movies and TV shows can help meet that basic need we all have to understand how this whole human life thing works. Shows and movies can model for us how to be in relationship, how to chase our dreams, what other lives and options for us might be possible, and passively and actively teach us about so many other elements of life.
For example, a young woman once shared with me that while she was growing up (largely emotionally neglected by her parents in childhood), it was thanks to watching Full House that she learned what might be possible between parents and kids, that warmth and concern and curiosity could exist, and that children could be deeply loved by the adults in their lives. To this day, Full House serves as an inspiration for her in parenting her own children and in parenting the “little girl inside of her.”
For example, in the early 19th century this type of teaching could be found in the Grimm Brothers’ old tales (pre-editing) which were tremendously dark and cautionary tales for children and their parents. A modern day equivalent that might fall neatly into that cautionary category could be Breaking Bad (whose arguable cautions for us all include paying teachers more and pursuing less high risk forms of entrepreneurship if we want to take financial care of our families).
I honestly believe that movies and TV (not to mention books and podcasts and songs and theatre) are our modern day storytellers and that when we login into Netflix (or Amazon Prime or Hulu, etc.), there’s a way in which we still unconsciously gather around our proverbial digital campfires to receive instructions and inspiration on the perennial stuff of life.
Accessing & Processing.
Another way that movies and TV shows can be therapeutic and help us in our own personal growth is that they help us access different parts of ourselves, allowing us to feel into those aspects, and safely give voice to and process those pieces of us that potentially don’t get to be expressed in our day-to-day lives.
For example, who among us hasn’t left the cinema after watching some superhero or science fiction movie feeling on top of the world and like we could take on anything? That movie likely touched us in some way, connected us to our own archetypal internal hero and made us feel stronger and more empowered in our own lives if even for a short while.
I recall how a women once shared with me that when she was going through a particularly painful and disempowering time in her life, watching and rewatching Kill Bill Volume 1 & Volume 2 helped her unconsciously process the pain and anger she held in a completely safe way while she watched The Bride seek revenge. The Bride embodied the part of her that was rageful and vindictive and empowered in a way she herself would never act out in her real life. Watching the movies didn’t solve the painful circumstances in this woman’s life, but they did give her some small sense of camaraderie and peace when she connected to that empowered archetype deep inside of herself.
Much like how we can experience some sense of relief and clarity when someone else does a piece of work in a therapy group, I think that when we watch movies and TV shows, we consciously and unconsciously allow the characters to act out and process what we might need in our own lives in a way that’s safe, contained, and risk-free.
Calming & Containing.
One thing I hear from people – often couched in a way that makes it delivered like a guilty confession – is that they have a certain TV series or movie that they turn on at night to help them wind down and fall asleep. While some might argue that screen time before bed is a bad thing, I actually think it can be quite clever to use TV shows or movies to self-soothe as part of your bedtime hygiene routine.
For instance, when our waking lives perhaps feel challenging or out of control, perhaps tuning into Downton Abbey might help us feel held and contained (literally by watching a show taking place within the walls of a house within a tight-knit family and their staff) or maybe re-watching an old series that deals with less rough stuff where the endings are predictive and always neatly tied up in bows – like I Love Lucy or Friends – soothes some part of you that needs happy endings and predictability, the very things you might be missing in your own life.
Whatever the movie or TV series is for you, if it calms and contains you and gives you some peace and a sense of the very thing you’re currently missing in your life right now, I think it’s could be a good and therapeutic idea to keep watching it.
Inquiries For You.
Now, of course, most of us probably default to watching Netflix/Amazon Prime/Hulu for entertainment purposes – which is great! – but if you’re curious and interested in using movies and TV more consciously as a tool for personal growth, I’ve drafted some inquiries for you below to deepen your self-awareness and to help make your next round of movie/TV watching more consciously therapeutic:
- What, historically, has been your relationship to TV and movie consumption? What role has this media played in your own life? Would you say your relationship to watching TV and movies feels largely positive or are there ways in which it doesn’t feel good?
- Growing up, did any shows have particular meaning and lessons for you? Are there shows that, when you watch them even today, you feel a sense of “coming home”?
- What qualities/characteristics/circumstances are you currently longing for in your own life right now? Peace? Romance? Community? Connection? Inspiration to be powerful? A boost of entrepreneurial can-do?
- Reviewing the list of those things you’re craving or longing for, what, off the top of your head, are some ideas of TV shows or movies that might be able to provide the essence of what you’re longing for? (hint: for more inspiration on generating this list, please check out the list of resources below to help you brainstorm!)
- What characters from TV and movies stand out to you as inspirational in your own life? Have their been characters who have deeply spoken to you before that you perhaps need to channel in your life more now?
- What would it be like if you asked yourself “What Would [insert character here] Do?” as a self-coaching inquiry the next time you’re faced with a challenge?
- Are there any characters out there who could safely give voice to parts of yourself that you’re longing to express but can’t or won’t in your waking life? Would watching something with them feel good to you right now?
Moving Forward & Wrapping Up.
When you consciously select or watch certain shows as a way of calming, soothing, inspiring or encouraging yourself, I think this can be a perfectly legitimate personal growth tool and it can even be deeply therapeutic.
Of course, with all things in life, context is everything. If you find your time with movies and shows is getting in the way of your life and feeling unhealthy – interfering with your relationships and responsibilities – I encourage you to be curious about this and examine whether or not you need to scale back. And, of course, therapeutic use of TV shows and movies are no substitute for actually therapy. Movies and TV can be a good complement to professional therapeutic support, but in no way are they a substitute for care from a licensed mental health professional. If you’re in need of skilled, expert help, please reach out. I’d love to work with you.
But if you, like so many of us, watch Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, etc, in a way that feels healthy and enjoyable but have felt maybe just a twinge of guilt about it, consider this blog post a big ol’ digital permission slip to stack up your queue – maybe with movies or shows that might weave in some of the above inquiries – and consciously enjoy the next time you partake in some therapeutic TV and movie watching.
And until next time, take very good care of yourself.
- TheCinematherapy.com Film Index
- AGoodMovieToWatch.com’s Mood Index
- Cinematherapy: The Girl’s Guide to Movies for Every Mood
- Cinematherapy for the Soul: The Girl’s Guide to Finding Inspiration One Movie at a Time
- The Motion Picture Prescription: Watch This Movie and Call Me in the Morning