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Therapy

How "The Quiet Girl" Can Educate Patients and Clinicians

For many reasons, the acclaimed film is ideal for therapy and education.

Key points

  • There is a consensus that films can educate clients and families about mental health disorders.
  • A recent film, "The Quiet Girl," meets the needs of discerning film viewers, individuals in therapy, and aspiring clinicians.
  • "The Quiet Girl" explores the survival purpose of "the lost child" role in dysfunctional families.

Film is introduced into therapy in primarily one of two ways. First, a person in treatment introduces a film they find meaningful, significant, and/or offering illumination about presenting concerns. I will honor their choice, even if I would not personally recommend the film.

In an introduction to a 2020 issue of The Journal of Clinical Psychology focused specifically on film and therapy, Geller states, "I welcome the times when patients lead us into discussions about remembrances of the films that have personal importance to them. I listen to their descriptions and explanations of a character's actions as if he or she was a real person" (p. 1427). As mentioned in a previous post, I found The Whale (2022) contraindicated for mental health treatment. Still, if a patient stated this film has meaning for them, I would certainly invite exploration.

Consider the work of Bernie Wooder. a vanguard in applied movie therapy and the author of Movie Therapy: How It Changes Lives (2008). His book is a series of case studies in which films are used during the course of therapy with his patients, including Mac, an adult male suffering from complex trauma. Mac spontaneously introduced films into sessions without prompting by Wooder, including Star Wars (1977) and Watership Down (1978). Wooder wrote that these self-selected films were invaluable during treatment and catalysts for positive change.

The second method of introducing film into the therapy process is by invitation from the clinician. How, though, do we determine which films are suitable for recommendation? This blog series has already described three precepts:

  1. Films should be accessible.
  2. Films should not misinform, miseducate, or stigmatize mental health challenges and/or the treatment process.
  3. Films should offer hope.

To continue building upon these guidelines, we need to consider what film can add to the therapy process. Note that watching films is not therapy and will likely never be. However, it can be an adjunct to the treatment process.

Foremost, there is general agreement that film can educate clients and families about mental health disorders, particularly early in the treatment process (Wedding & Niemiec, 2003). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the leading federal agency advancing the nation's behavioral health, already promotes the use of film for educating the public about mental illness, de-stigmatizing mental health conditions, and motivating people to seek treatment. Wedding & Niemiec (2014) wrote a college-level text book describing suitable films for educating aspiring clinicians about many of the recognized mental health conditions; for example, Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), The Hours (2002), and Garden State (2004) were suggested for mood disorders.

Consider The Quiet Girl (2022), nominated for best international film at the 2023 Academy Awards and declared best foreign film by the AARP in its Movies for Grownups Awards. Cáit (Catherine Clinch), a young girl raised by an alcoholic father and overwhelmed pregnant mother, is sent to live with distant family members. During her time away, our heroine blossoms. The prior two sentences accurately summarize this deceptively simple film. Watching Cáit experience compassion and love for the first time is a quiet gift for viewers.

Cáit is an example of a “lost child,” one of the main roles Wegscheider (1981) identified in alcoholic families but now expanded to encompass families struggling with mental illness, drug use, and sexual abuse. Children bear the “lost child” role in navigating these families' turmoil, emotional upheavals, and lack of safety. Lost children are almost invisible in families, remain isolated, and rarely engage in any behavior that would attract attention, including complaining. Unfortunately, lost children mature into lost adults unless some significant life transition or intervention occurs. Fortunately for Cáit, her all-too-brief stay with another family suggests a life-changing experience despite its (for many viewers) ambiguous ending.

The Quiet Girl is accessible, realistic, and offers hope for its main character. It also insistently but gently educates viewers about the insidious impact of family dynamics on children, particularly spotlighting the lost child role. I would use the film in therapy for individuals working through the impact of traumatizing family-of-origin dynamics on here-and-now functioning as well as for the training of aspiring clinicians, particularly those seeking to become family therapists. It is rare for a film to meet the needs of three audiences – discerning film viewers, individuals in therapy, and students – but The Quiet Girl does.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

References

Geller, J.D. (2020). Introduction: Psychotherapy though the lens of cinema. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 76(8), 1423–1437.

Wedding, D., & Niemiec, R. M. (2003). The clinical use of films in psychotherapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 59(2), 207-215.

Wedding, D., & Niemiec, R.M. (2014). Movies and mental illness. Boston: Hogrefe Publishing.

Wegscheider, S. (1981). Another chance: Hope and health for the alcoholic family. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books.

Wooder, B. (2008). Movie therapy: How it changes lives. Ontario: Rideau Lakes Publishing.

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