November 19, 2023


For those of you who watch movies, you often see and relate to characters and plots. Sometimes they are accurate and other times sensationalized by Hollywood. We cry, laugh, become sad and happy as we watch movies. What movies do you identify with, and why? Start noticing what draws you to a movie and why. Many times, it will be your relationships to characters. If it taps into an emotional response, take note, and do some sole searching. You may get an insight that can help you in your journey to trauma resolution and self-awareness.

People often say that art imitates life. I have used numerous movies to help clients understand how their pasts have impacted them. A picture is worth a thousand words they say, and I have found it to be absolutely true. A movie can translate clinical information into understandable language and art. I have also seen how movies can inaccurately depict the impact trauma can have on our lives. Remember, a movie is about 2 hours long and can make it seem possible to move on from a trauma quickly. That is surely not the case.

Movies that have had a major impact on my life are Forrest Gump, Mystic River, The Horse Whisperer, 21 Grams, Delores Claiborne, Silver Linings Playbook, The Unsaid, to mention a few. I have often used examples from Forrest Gump in my groups and personally related to the emotional roller-coaster ride both characters Jenny and Lt. Dan experienced. Their transition through past traumatic events captures what I felt during my 4-year ordeal. I believe Forrest Gump accurately depicts the pre and post impacts of traumas/life events. I have felt both the pain and joy of my past and the peace I was able to find, and so did Jenny and Lt. Dan.

Forrest Gump is probably the most accurate depiction of the time needed to resolve the life events depicted. Most movies accelerate the time, and we do not gain as much insight into the difficulties of trauma resolution. In the movie “The Unsaid” with Andy Garcia the writer does an interesting thing to depict the 4 years of agony he suffers after the loss of his son to suicide. After learning his son was sexually abused by a therapist, Garcia goes to a dark place and they fast forward 4 years showing him with a long beard depicting his lack of self interest in grooming and life. Once again, we lose the emotional difficulties during those 4 years, but it does capture how we shut down and torture ourselves with the shoulda, coulda, woulda’s about past events.

Deloris Claiborne is another interesting movie. One scene I use in my groups is when the daughter returns home and immediately starts flashing back to the abuse she endured by the father. The scene that accurately captures how trauma survivors use drugs and alcohol as an unhealthy ground to escape the pain of the memories. I call it “just give me 5 minutes and I will be fine” scene. While she is saying it, she is taking pills and washing them down with alcohol to endure the painful memories.

Movies and books are helpful tools in our journey to trauma resolution. I know they were for me, and I have used them for reference in my groups every chance I get. They help everyday people understand the emotional ups and downs of working through past unresolved trauma. However, many movies do not depict trauma recovery, mental health, or substance abuse accurately. Hollywood can sometimes distort the journey to recovery from our pasts. Sometimes, they sensationalize mental health disorders and give an inaccurate perception of those disorders. But for this blog, my focus is on those movies that can help people understand the complicated process of trauma resolution and substance abuse recovery.

Movies are only as good as the writers who give them life. I have no doubts the movies I have mentioned were written by people who have experienced their own resolution of past traumas or life events. There is just no way you can capture the emotional difficulties of that journey without having experienced it. I sit and watch Forrest Gump every time it comes on and still shake my head at how accurate the portrayal of unresolved trauma was depicted.

I wholeheartedly believe that using movies in my clinical approach to treatment has had a positive impact on my clients. I can only hope that some of them were able to take the lessons learned and run with it in their lives. But, if they gained nothing more than some insight into their lives, I will take it as a positive.

Mind, Body, Spirit…Balance!

Vinnie Strumolo, CEO, CCO, LMFT