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  • Writer's picturePaul Matthew

Mindful Movies - A pluralistic mindfulness based grounding technique

"Relating a person to the whole world: that is the meaning of cinema."

Andrei Tarkovsky

Several months ago, I was talking to a long-term client who was extremely upset. They had experienced a significant loss in their life a few months prior. With about 20 minutes or so left in the session, it became pretty clear the client wasn’t able to continue with therapy 'as usual' so we began to talk about their cultural resources, particularly the resources they were using in between sessions. The client was a film buff, and often mentioned going to the cinema as a resource.

We had previously worked with the “What’s your playlist” grounding technique and so we played around with a few of the below questions a little. I asked the client rough versions of 5 of the below and we explored the shift the client felt as they moved from a place of despair to feeling more “light”.

I went away and wrote up a fuller version of this exercise. Consider it much like the playlist exercise, a light hearted entry route to mindfulness. This exercise much like the playlist exercise was tried with clients extensively.

Usually I would ask the questions in order. This lasts 15-20 minutes (though there's an alternative option I mention at the end of this blog). If you want to fill less time, then ask less of the questions. The questions are designed to be random, similar in parts and thoughtful and it’s absolutely fine for clients to add more or less answers or not have an answer at all. You might find the wording doesn't suit every client exactly so it's important to adjust as needed. With everything like this it's also important to notice if this sort of thing isn't suiting the client, and should be brought in when it feels right.

Without further ado, here are the questions:

What’s a film that lifts you up?

The answers have been everything from horror to silly comedy. I ask clients what a film is that they find uplifting. Or a film that lifts them up when they are feeling low. Often they sight a recent example of something that cheered them up, or sometimes it’s something from their past that they are reminded of. Clients can also answer a TV show or shorter piece of entertainment if they want (there really isn’t a right answer).

What's a film you watch when you're happy?

You’d think the answers to this one would be similar to the last and they often can be but the questions are just different enough for clients to answer differently.

What's the best film you watched in the last year?

This one started as a conversation around a camp fire with some friends earlier in the year. I found the variation of answers interesting and also the stories that came with them. This has been my experience with clients too.

What's you're go to feel good film?

Similar to the first two but again this is just enough variety to get clients thinking and again takes them to a positive place, helps shift their focus.

What's a film that reminds you of someone special?

Much like the same question in the Playlist exercise, this allows clients to externalise their thoughts, consider the perspective (in this case favourite film) of someone special in the clients life.

What was your favourite film as a child?

A very similar question to the one before, except this one can help the client externalise and remember their favourite childhood film.

It’s important to remember with this one that if the clients had a traumatic childhood you may want to consider skipping this question or asking in a slightly different way (what was a film from years ago that you loved? Or what was your favourite film as a teenager).

What's one film and TV Series you would take to a desert Island?

This one’s self-explanatory, some clients have found this question hard and with others I’ve had instantaneous answers. Like all the other question this provides stories and can often lead to deeper therapeutic places.

What film have you watched so many times you can practically recite it?

This question was suggested by a client. They came to the end of the original 8 question list and suggested this along with a story of their childhood, a lost loved one and a very happy memory. I added it instantly. What made it better is the client connected with family after about the story, which they brought back into therapy in the next session.

What TV show or Film best describes how you are feeling right now?

This is probably the hardest and most skipped question. Some clients are quite philosophical with the answer, some go with their gut or the top of their head. Some have gone away between sessions and the opening of the next session has been an answer which provided a helpful segue into the session.

What Film or TV Show do you wish everyone you met could watch?

There are three ways this goes usually (I often explain these to the clients too if they are stuck). A possible fourth way would be if the client can't think of one, and that's ok too:

1. The client picks a film with a message for the world (a great recent example was a client suggesting the film Get Out so everyone could better understand racism).

2. The client picks a film they just love, and they want everyone else to see it.

3. This is the funny option the client jokes about a film that was so bad they want everyone to ‘suffer’ like they did.

This exercise can also be used with clients who are struggling to open up as a full session or multiple session thing. Much like play therapy or narrative therapy, questions like the ones below (and the similar exercises I’ve published) can be used to open therapy up and encourage clients to tell stories which can lead to deeper places therapeutically. At very least it can do two things, help the client ground and get to a present, peaceful mindful place and deepen the therapeutic relationship.

Go ahead, try it yourself, feel free to comment the answers below or keep them for yourself. Try with clients, or friends. At very least you might find you have more films or shows on your to watch list.

Thanks for reading

Paul Matthew

MA, MSc, MBACP (Accred)


Harmony Counselling and Psychotherapy

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