Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Using the Film the Hours to Teach Diagnosis

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Using the Film the Hours to Teach Diagnosis

Article excerpt

The popular film The Hours (S. Rudin, R. Fox, & S. Daldry, 2002), which portrays several characters struggling with mood disorders and other mental health problems, is discussed as an effective tool for teaching diagnosis. The author discusses the movie and characters, the methods used to incorporate the film into instruction, and students' reactions to and evaluations of the process.


Whether with clients in counseling offices or students in classrooms, the use of popular movies in therapeutic and educational settings has gained increasing acceptance. Emphasizing the power of metaphors in films, several authors (e.g., Heston & Kottman, 1997; Schulenberg, 2003; Wedding & Niemiec, 2003) discussed the efficacy of using films in clinical practice, citing the ability of films to simultaneously entertain and educate through a process of identification with and empathy for movie characters. Similarly, educators have espoused using films to enhance training for counselors and other clinicians in a variety of topics: counseling theories and techniques (Koch & Dollarhide, 2000), family systems concepts (Hudock & Warden, 2001; Maynard, 1996), therapeutic process (Purkey & Gerber, 1997), diversity sensitivity (Pinterits & Atkinson, 1998), personality theories (Paddock, Terranova, & Giles, 2001), schizophrenia (Rosenstock, 2003), and mental illness (Badura, 2002; Wedding & Boyd, 1999).

Movies are an excellent medium for providing complex pictures of psychological symptoms and their personal and interpersonal impact. "Film is particularly well suited to depicting psychological states of mind and altered mental states. The combination of images, dialogue, sound effects, and music ... mimics and parallels the thoughts and feelings that occur in our stream of consciousness" (Wedding & Boyd, 1999, p. 4). According to Badura (2002), providing students with "clear mental pictures of psychological disorders" (p. 58) is a critical component of effective teaching, because students often have "limited exposure to broad-based pathology" (p. 58). By showing the complexity of problems as they occur in "real life," films provide an experience seldom provided in either case studies or role plays, which tend to be more linear and straightforward (Hudock & Warden, 2001). Finally, by providing a gripping emotional experience involving multiple levels of communication, films can provide an excellent tool for engaging student interest and enhancing student empathy for clients who struggle with mental illness (Hudock & Warden, 2001; Rosenstock, 2003).

The purpose of this article is to describe an instructional activity in which the film The Hours (Rudin, Fox, & Daldry, 2002) was used to expose students to the power and subtleties of various mood disorders as displayed among diverse characters and in diverse contexts. The purpose of the activity was to allow students the opportunity to supplement technical readings about mood disorders with the engaging experience of diagnosing character portrayals of mood disorders of various types and severity. In order to maximize the effectiveness of incorporating film into the classroom, several of the authors previously cited (i.e., Hudock & Warden, 2001; Maynard, 1996; Rosenstock, 2003) emphasized the importance of three strategies: choosing movies carefully, providing means for interacting with and discussing movie content and reactions, and using movies as a supplement to traditional methods and academic readings. What follows is a discussion of the movie and characters, the methods used to incorporate the film into assignments and classroom activities, and survey results of student reactions and evaluations.


The Hours (Rudin et al., 2002), a critically acclaimed film, received Academy Awards nominations in several categories, most notably best motion picture of the year, achievement in directing, and screenplay based on material previously produced or published (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 2004). …

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