The Use of Cinema in the Counselor Education Curriculum: Strategies and Outcomes

By Toman, Sarah M.; Rak, Carl F. | Counselor Education and Supervision, December 2000 | Go to article overview

The Use of Cinema in the Counselor Education Curriculum: Strategies and Outcomes


Toman, Sarah M., Rak, Carl F., Counselor Education and Supervision


The authors discuss the use of motion pictures to provide learning experiences for students in counselor education programs. A review of the counseling literature revealed many references to teaching with films; only 2 articles, however, recommended using film in counselor education. This article includes activities for teaching diagnosis, counseling theories, interventions, and ethics. Positive feedback was received from 182 graduate students who responded to a 5-item qualitative and quantitative follow-up questionnaire after they completed such a course.

As counselor education programs step into the twenty-first century, postmodern or contextual teaching styles may appeal to both educators and counseling students. The use of motion pictures as a teaching tool can bring the personable and intimate study of human issues directly into the classroom, providing dialogue in the context of film characters' life circumstances. We recommend procedures for using cinema in four counseling classes, discuss the film selection process, and examine student satisfaction with the use of film in teaching counselors.

Although the teaching-with-cinema literature is sparse, a review revealed sources that provide a solid pedagogical base for incorporating cinema in the counselor education curriculum. For example, Greenberg (1993) noted that "psychiatric residencies, psychotherapy training programs, and not a few analytic institutes use cinema to illustrate psychopathology or psychodynamics" (p. 21). Koren (1993) discussed the use of film to teach pharmacology to medical students. In addition, Alexander (1995) coined the term cinemeducation to refer to the practice of using film to teach multicultural sensitivity to medical students. The potential for exciting cinematic classroom exercises in the counselor education curriculum extends beyond film character analysis, selection of pharmaceuticals, and multicultural education.

There are two relevant articles in the counseling literature. Pinterits and Atkinson (1998) described a forum for "promoting diversity sensitivity training" in counselor training programs (p. 203). Tyler and Reynolds (1998) also recommended using films in the instruction of a group counseling course. They, too, noted that documentation exists supporting the use of film to teach psychology courses (Anderson, 1992; Boyatzis, 1994; Fleming, Piedmont, & Hiam, 1990). However, they too, found no sources in the counseling literature that provided evaluations of the process of teaching with films.

We discuss the appropriateness of using cinema in four courses that are included in most counselor education programs. Class activities, film recommendations, and a description of the film selection process are presented. To assess student satisfaction, which is not addressed in previously published literature, results of a 5-item qualitative and quantitative survey completed by 182 master's level counseling students are presented.

USE OF FILM TO TEACH DIAGNOSIS

Films can be useful in enhancing the counseling student's recognition of diagnostic criteria. Many film characters portray behaviors that are associated with most mental disorders in such a compelling way that they help counseling students learn and remember the criteria. Because film depictions often exaggerate mental disorders, they can serve as catalysts for class discussion about symptom severity.

In diagnosis classes, motion picture excerpts can be used for class discussion, for visual depictions of behavioral symptoms, as a follow-up to traditional lecture material, or as a midterm or final evaluation question. Table 1 recommends films that illustrate symptoms related to bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, borderline personality disorder, delusion, anxiety, depression, antisocial personality disorder, and narcissism. These films can bring to life the subtleties and intricacies of observing, identifying, and diagnosing mental disorders. …

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