Counseling Students and Professional Movies
- Terms of Endearment
- Ordinary People
- Antwone Fisher
- Patch Adams
- Hope Springs
While there may be some veracity to the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction, those with a penchant for counseling and associated fields can extract a wealth of anecdotal information from movies. A few cases in point are the five films listed here. Depicting intriguing studies of individual attempts to ameliorate the negative emotional effects of difficult circumstances, these films also include a few that feature the counselor’s role in that process.
Terms of Endearment
Reprising a common theme in movies and books, this film’s focus is on the relationship between a mother and daughter. An intense mixture of tension, frustration, and poignancy, with several dashes of humor to lighten the heavy emotions, what makes this a great study from a counseling perspective are several psychological issues. From dominance and submission to grief and loss, the movie envelops a wide range of human experiences, all of them centered on the impending death of the daughter. The five stages of grief, as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, also come to life in a very personal way in this film, adding to the areas of study.
Offering a strong case for the benefits of counseling, this film explores the myriad complex emotions within one small family after the death of the older son in a boating accident. Counseling issues abound in each of the remaining family members: the younger son, plagued by survivor’s guilt, attempts suicide and seeks counseling; the father, ostensibly meeting with the counselor to provide the family’s backstory, ultimately uncovers his own emotional turmoil; and the mother, steadfastly refusing to express emotion, leaves her family to avoid it. That counseling provides the key to self-awareness and peace is a takeaway of this film.
Based on a true story, this film illustrates the legacy of childhood trauma for one young man. Abandonment, abuse, and neglect are merely the beginning of the counseling matters portrayed, with identity crises, anger management problems and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) being among the results. While all of this makes for excellent cinematics, it is the transformation of the film’s protagonist, as he meets with a psychiatrist over a period of time, that is supremely fascinating to watch. As his life story unfolds during these cathartic counseling sessions, the young man’s self-perception evolves, resolving some of the anguish within him.
Another film based on a real person, this one underscores the power of humor to heal. For counselors and those who aspire to be, the early scenes in the mental hospital — when Patch contemplated suicide, and which then become the impetus for his medical career — Illuminate professional behaviors devoid of compassion and basic humanity, clearly demonstrating practices to be avoided. In sharp contrast, Patch’s injection of humor into his care for patients not only serves as a counterbalance to the initial scenes but as a means of projecting the role of doctor as caretaker.
With the counselor being central to the story line, this film focuses on a marriage that has lost intimacy on every level. The draw for counselors and counseling students is the detailed depiction of the counselor’s role and techniques. Retaining all the proper boundaries while also offering empathy and compassion, the counselor assists a couple in restructuring and rejuvenating their marriage. In addition to the counseling professionalism portrayed, which provides excellent fodder for those in counseling professions, the apprehensions, embarrassment, and awkwardness of the couple as they initiate and undergo counseling offer valuable insights into the patient’s perspective of counseling.
Virtually any movie can offer situations and behaviors that bear analysis by counselors. These five movies make counseling and the attendant issues integral to their plots, which is precisely why they are great movies for counseling students and professionals.
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