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Film/video-based therapy

Film/video-based therapy involves making movies with clients. It draws from several disciplines from cinema therapy, expressive therapy, narrative therapy, art therapy,[1] digital storytelling, and phototherapy[2] which requires a collaboration to integrate the many dynamic aspects of art and medicine. Joshua Lee Cohen, author and co-editor of Video and Filmmaking as Psychotherapy: Research and Practice (published by Routledge in 2015), helped to establish a collaborative effort in forming film/video-based therapy. This form of therapy is about making films with clients, as opposed to cinema therapy, which involves watching films. Josh Cohen has utilized watching films and mindfulness in his work.[3]

Film/video-based therapy is used in both research and practice. It has several names. Each name has a slightly different purpose for each population.

Therapeutic filmmaking is used for both veterans and therapists and is left intentionally ambiguous, so that the military will not be intimidated by the stigma of a diagnosis.[4] The lack of pressure to call it "therapy" opens up a space to allow for new and old healthy memories to form.[5]


Video remix therapyEdit

Video art therapy is used primarily in private practice with art therapists, drama therapists, and other expressive art therapists.[6]

Digital storytelling is also used in collaboration with film/video-based therapy and is used primarily for education.

Storytelling is an indigenous and ancient way for people to relate to one another and to understand the mysteries of life. Using modern technology, artists have used film and video for expressing ancient and modern images and sounds.[7]

Film/video-based therapy is a collaboration between clinicians and practitioners in art therapy, expressive therapy, phototherapy, psychotherapy, digital storytelling and other mental health and academic fields of study and practice. Currently art therapists, expressive therapists, psychologists, masters level practitioners, psychiatrists, anthropologists, filmmakers, academics, and other clinicians have contributed to this collaborative effort in building a global community to help further define this field. The use of film and video in, or as, therapy, has a decades-long history in practice. Early work in this field included the post-World War II use of experimental, non-narrative films to calm veterans suffering from shell shock. The 1970s saw boys in a group creating short films together to foster group cohesion, mastery skills, and better communication. With the advent of portable video equipment in the 1970s, female artists began turning the camera on themselves, making themselves the object of their own gaze.

There is a dearth of literature on the theory and practice of using film/video production as therapy and the multidisciplinary practitioners who support its use. Copious literature exists discussing the use of related media in a therapeutic context, such as photography, writing, drawing, music, and drama, but this body of literature is virtually vacant of film/video as a therapeutic medium.

Despite the fact that there is little writing in this area, numerous practitioners from around North America and Europe are quietly working with film/video-based therapy – often independently, as the community of practitioners is still quite small and geographically scattered.

This is an attempt to bridge that gap and bring people together as a global community and new research and practices are emerging. Cohen will be the program chair for the American Psychological Association's Division 31 and 46 in Washington DC in 2017 where authors are welcome to attend this conference from around the world.

Bipolar disorderEdit

Film/video-based therapy is also being used with virtual reality and specifically designed to treat bipolar disorder through somatic techniques which is different from the cognitive/exposure therapy being used today.[8][9] Medications and therapy may be necessary to use before one can take on triggers that could overwhelm the nervous system. If one is in a manic state and exposed to triggers before regulated, one could be re traumatized and put into a psychosis. To gain mastery of this skill, one would need to have a healthy environment in the real world before entering a virtual one.


One theory as to why film/video-based therapy works with trauma, may be due to the reprocessing that happens during the final moments of editing, similar to EMDR. In the moment of making a film, one can use somatic experiencing which was designed to regulate the autonomic nervous system.[10] Telling one's story can help to reprocess old memories while avoiding triggers or reprocessing them in a new way using the technology. There is some research in this area yet, but it is still in development.


Film/video-based therapy is also about building a therapeutic relationship with a person and a wider support group or community.[11] When dealing with any technology, whether virtual reality[8] or digital storytelling,[12] the theory remains the same, film/video-based therapy is about using technology for human purposes and building relationships to others and nature. Technology is just the language for understanding, appreciating, and honoring our nature.[13]


  1. ^ Cathy Malchiodi (April 2, 2013). "Defining Art Therapy in the 21st Century". Psychology Today. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  2. ^ "Related Techniques". PhotoTherapy, Therapeutic Photography, & LÖÖPS.
  3. ^ Bronwyn Robertson (March 29, 2016). "All things connect: The integration of mindfulness, cinema and psychotherapy". Counseling Today. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  4. ^ Adam Ashton (October 20, 2015). "JBLM veterans focus on filmmaking". The News Tribune. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  5. ^ Video and Filmmaking as Psychotherapy: Research and Practice
  6. ^ Jamerson JL (2013). "Expressive remix therapy: using digital media art in therapeutic group sessions children and adolescents". Creat Nurs. 19 (4): 182–8. doi:10.1891/1078-4535.19.4.182. PMID 24494383.
  7. ^ Alders, A., Beck, L., Allen, P. B., & Mosinski, B. B. (2011). "Technology in art therapy: Ethical challenges". Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association. 28 (4): 165–170. doi:10.1080/07421656.2011.622683. Retrieved July 30, 2015.
  8. ^ a b David Nield (17 July 2015). "Scientists are using virtual reality to treat bipolar disorder and phobias". ScienceAlert. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  9. ^ "Treating Bipolar Disorder With Virtual Reality". Al Jazeera English. 14 July 2015. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  10. ^ Somatic Experience, Felt Sense Video Art Therapy
  11. ^ What is Art Therapy?
  12. ^,
  13. ^ The Dalai Lama on technology