7 Ways Therapy Is Like Going to a Movie


We all engage in a form of theater. Therapy will help you to lift the mask and see who you truly are.

I love going to a good movie. These days, we watch most of our movies at home, but I still love seeing big blockbusters in the theater. It can be expensive, but the experience can bring back the magical feeling.

Movies are make believe. The actors act and the scenes are set up, then taken down. But really good movies go beyond the make believe and capture your imagination and your senses. They become real because they evoke something within you. And they can even teach you something about what it means to be a human, or they may awaken something inside of you that wants to dream or reach beyond the life that you live.

Seeing a therapist can be a little like the experience of going to a good movie. Here are seven reasons why.

1. You begin in the dark.

Lights go down and the screen lights up. The movie starts and you are intensely focused on the screen. The rest of your life is left in the dark as you focus your attention on the action. You may have come to therapy because you want to change how you face your stress, anxiety, grief or other areas of your life. At times, we can all become intensely focused on one area of life, emotions or behavior. Therapy will help to spread light to other areas and give you a new way to “see” yourself. You will learn that triggers or heavy emotional storms do not need overwhelm your life, that changes or transitions in your life do not need to hijack your mindset but can be transformational, and support you to accept and make room for areas of grief or loss.

2. You watch people who act in a role, but whose personal lives can be very, very different than the character they are portraying.

Movies are fantastic experiences and they can transport you to another time and reality. The actors, action, mood and setting are masterfully manipulated to take you away for a few hours. But then the lights come back on.

Actor’s, director’s and famous personalities personal lives can be littered with addiction, insecurity, image management, secrecy and affairs. Who they are on a screen is often very different than who they are in real life.

In life, we all engage in a form of theater. We present our best side to others. You notice it when you are dating or when you prepare for an interview. You spend hours on your make up, hair, clothing and planning how you will act and where you will go for your date. You invest yourself in presenting the acceptable sides of your personality, your past and your deepest self. It can take a great deal of time before you are ready to show another person your truest self.

Good therapy will help you to be ready to reveal more of yourself. The lights will come up and as much as you are willing, the mask will drop. Therapy is a partnership where you invest yourself by being honest, taking risks, practice acceptance and being willing to open up one step at a time. As you invest yourself, you will grow.

3. When you go to a good movie, the experience is best shared with a friend or a partner.

Therapy will help you to form a relationship with a highly trained counselor who will help you gain new skills, see yourself in a different light and teach you to both accept and adjust to reality. Therapy is not self-help. Self-help can be isolating and it can make you think lingering problems are your fault because you haven’t worked hard enough or you are not positive enough. Therapy will help you to lift the mask and see who you truly are.

4. Good movies have sequels, prequels and spin offs.

Good writers can keep a movie franchise alive for generations. Just consider Star Wars or James Bond and how they continue to appeal to generation after generation, even though some of the individual movies are loved and others are hated (Jar Jar Binks).

Sometimes life can feel like the evolution of a movie series. Your live moves in one direction and it feels pretty good. But then your relationship ends or transitions into a new phase. You change or you lose a job. Your children leave home or maybe they return home.

You do your best to piece together scenes, plot lines and both new and old versions of who you are. At times it can become confusing which direction you are headed. Therapy can help you to accept the parts of your life you are less proud of and learn from experiences that you would rather forget. It can help you to make sense of and create a new sense of focus and direction.

5. Good movies have characters you can identify with.

Good actors make their character come alive. They are not one dimensional or invincible, but feel like they are real people. Superman is unreal until you see he cares about humanity and feels deep emotions for the people he knows. You can relate to him when he finds the courage to drop his own disguise. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator is more than a machine. He is sent from the future, which is cool and mind-blowing. But he is able to go beyond his programming because he cares about John Connor and all of humanity. Therapy will help you to see yourself in a new light. You will see yourself as multi-layered, complex and real. You will be able to see your own emotional life, how you cope, understand when and with whom you want to drop your disguise. You don’t have to be a hero, and you don’t have to be like anyone else to build the life you want.

6. Movies have just enough weird to make them interesting.

Behind the scenes, movies are created with writing, acting, set design and atmosphere. Good movies have just the right amount weird to make them fun. If a movie is too weird, it is more difficult to relate to and probably will take a lot of work to capture you. Other movies may feel weird and engage you for a while but then you begin to see the gaps in story line or character development.

You are a mix of normal and weird. In reality there is no such thing as normal. We can get so caught up trying to fit in and be “normal” that we miss the importance of being comfortable with who we are. Therapy will help you to own your inner weirdness and find ways to care for yourself and live more genuinely.

7. Movies are not real, but they capture your imagination.

A good movie will pull you out of your normal life, away from parenting, away from financial stress, away from all of the work that you have to do, and away from your fears.

Movies can capture you and make you feel a little more alive.

Therapy will do more than make you feel alive for an hour or two. Therapy can give you an experience where you realize you are capable of more than you imagined. You are not perfect and no, you cannot accomplish everything you want to. Therapy can help you to focus your attention, your time, your energy so that you accomplish what is most important to you.

Follow this journey on Getting High on Recovery.

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Lead image by Kenneth Lu


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