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by John W. Hesley
John Wiley & Sons, 2001
Review by William Indick, Ph.D. on Sep 5th 2002

Rent Two Films and Let's Talk in the Morning

Sometimes the most difficult step in the therapeutic process is “breaking the ice” – finding the inlet into the client’s primary psychological issues. In their book, Rent Two Films and Let’s Talk in the Morning, Hesley and Hesley suggest that prescribing specific films in therapy could help a reluctant or blocked client to open up. Therapy requires clients to discuss their most personal feelings and experiences in an open and frank manner. This is not an easy thing to do. But if a clever therapist can get clients to watch films that deal with issues similar to what they are going through, then impersonal discussions about the films can lead to deeply personal discussions about the clients’ psyche. Like ink blots or free association, prescribed film viewing can be an effective mechanism of engaging clients and gaining access to their unconscious issues.

            “VideoWork” – prescribing videos for therapeutic discussion, traces it’s roots to “Bibliotherapy” – using literature in the therapeutic process.  Each technique relies on the fact that it is often easier for clients to discuss a metaphor that relates to their issues than the issues themselves. The danger, as the authors thoroughly acknowledge, is that the clients may never bridge the gap between exploring the objective metaphor and the subjective self. This is when the skills and expertise of the therapist must come into play.

            The authors believe that “VideoWork” can provide benefits beyond the realm of therapy. Films can be inspirational, educational and emotionally moving. They can provide encouragement, hope, positive role models and a means of reframing one’s personal problems. The best stories and movies are those in which the protagonist undergoes a change in character… an “epiphany.” When clients practice “therapeutic viewing,” they pay close attention to a movie character’s epiphany in order to relate the protagonist’s change to a potential change in themselves.

The first part of “Rent Two Films…” addresses the process, benefits and possible pitfalls of therapeutic viewing. The second part, which comprises most of the book, provides an “anthology” of therapeutic films, divided into sections based on the films’ therapeutic value. For example, there are sections for couples therapy, individual therapy, psychopathology, etc. As such, the book serves mainly as a resource guide for therapists who wish to use the therapeutic viewing technique. This seems quite reasonable, as the technique is fairly straightforward, and in any case, must be specifically tailored for each individual client. While the authors give some interesting background and illustrations of their technique, most of the exposition in the first part would appear to be somewhat obvious to any intuitive and resourceful therapist. For instance, the authors advise therapists to “pick films clients enjoy” and “match content to therapeutic issues.”

            The second part of the book provides descriptions of over 200 films with recommendations for therapeutic usage. Some films are described in depth, while others are cursorily described in three or four sentences. The book would be much more useful as a resource guide if all of the films were described in a uniform format, with helpful sections such as “Suggested Viewers” and “Main Lessons” provided for every entry. Also, many of the descriptive passages are unnecessarily long and superfluous.

Another confusing aspect of the format is the arrangement of films into sections according to the type of therapeutic setting. Issues such as depression and divorce can be addressed in just about every type of therapeutic setting. Since films are not made to address specific issues, psychologically relevant films tend to touch upon many different issues at the same time. That’s why certain films such as “The Accidental Tourist” and “Terms of Endearment” are each listed in five separate sections. The format would be much less confusing if all of the films were simply listed alphabetically, with uniform subsections and a cross-listed index based on subject and therapeutic issue.

Finally, the major problem with the book is that the “anthology” provided is anything but comprehensive or broad. Just about all of the films are American, mainstream Hollywood movies made in the past 25 years. By limiting their research and focus to recently made “popular movies,” the authors overlook a plethora of lesser known, older, foreign and independently made films that usually do a better job at telling personal stories that deal with life issues and psychological distress.

            In conclusion, “Rent Two Films…” provides a much-needed introduction to a therapeutic technique that could be incredibly helpful and beneficial to clients and therapists alike. The authors, or their editor, seem to have realized that the technique itself is so wonderfully simple and straightforward, that a book on the topic would be most useful as a resource guide rather than as an instructive text. This, however, is where the book falls a bit short. While the first part of the book – a description and overview of the technique – could be summarized into a short chapter or long introduction, the second part – an “anthology of therapeutic films,” is not comprehensive and poorly organized. Though I would tentatively recommend this book to therapists who were interested in prescribing films for their clients and knew absolutely nothing about the process, the recommendation would come with the caveat that the book’s anthology would be less helpful than a well structured and comprehensive explanatory film guide.


© 2002 William Indick


William Indick, Ph.D., Department of Psychology, Dowling College, NY.

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