Films for Teaching Cultural Psychiatry

Teaching Cultural Psychiatry with Films

Film has a unique ability to reach people with the color and texture of an emotional world, giving clinicians a chance to enter into the lived experience of people with mental disorders and people from radically different cultural backgrounds.

We present here an annotated filmography and analysis of three types of films useful in teaching cultural psychiatry: (1) films made specifically to teach cultural psychiatry; (2) ethnographic films that present cultural material relevant to understanding psychiatric disorders; (3) mainstream films that portray people with mental disorders or reveal importance dimensions of cultural experience.. Films in the first two categories are quite scarce, hence the value of drawing material from the mainstream. Even when the portrayal of psychiatric or cultural material is inaccurate in the popular media, it can provide a stimulating basis for discussion. Further, as an art form, film itself represents an effort to grapple with, synthesize and, at times, transcend the psychological dilemmas and cultural conflicts that affect our patients and our selves.

There are several useful lists and compendia of films for psychiatry. The present compilation differs in emphasizing the cultural dimensions. Most of the films included represent the intersection of cultural and psychiatric issues. We have also included many films with little or no explicit mental health content because they are especially good portraits of cultural worlds.

Clinicians need to understand not just their patients’ disorders but also their social predicaments. This requires a broad range of social and cultural knowledge that may be difficult to acquire. We are convinced that films — particularly when coupled with in-depth discussion and analysis —provide a way to achieve some of this contextual knowledge in an agreeable and efficient manner. Although, this films can be watched alone with profit, the most powerful way to use them is as part of seminars or discussion groups, ideally with the inclusion of individuals who can provide a personal link and elaboration of the material or social context in the film. This also provides for some error correction, insofar as the films often present idiosyncratic views or striking examples that may lead to stereotyping. Another way to avoid stereotyping is to view several films around a particular topic, presenting diverse perspectives.

In the case of locally produced films, documentaries and independent films it is sometimes possible to invite the film-maker to be present at the screening or on another occasion. This adds a fascinating dimension to the approach to the film, in that one can learn about the background, the filmmakers’ motivations and intent, and understand the artistic process which offers insights into the personal, emotional and social dynamics of the themes explored by the film as well as dimensions of the creative process relevant to healing and psychotherapy.


Andrew, G. (1998). The 'Three Colours' Trilogy. London: British Film Institute.

Askew, K. M., & Wilk, R. R. (2002). The Anthropology of media: A reader. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers.

Banks, M. (2001). Visual Methods in Social Research. London: SAGE.

Barbash, I., & Taylor, L. (1997). Cross Cultural Filmmaking. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Barlet, O. (2000). African Cinemas: Decolonizing the Gaze. London; New York: Zed Books.

Bateson, G., Mead, M., Belo, J., & Foerstel (Lenora) Collection (Library of Congress). (1951). Trance and dance in Bali. United States: New York University Film Library.

Benshoff, H. M., & Griffin, S. (2003). America on Film: Representing Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality at the Movies. Oxford: Blackwell.

Blashfield, R. K., & Flanagan, E. H. (1998). A prototypic nonprototype of a personality disorder. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 186(4), 244-246.

Bukatman, S. (1997). Blade Runner. London: British Film Institute.

Connor, L. (1996). Jero Tapakan : Balinese healer: An ethnographic film monograph (Rev. ed.). Los Angeles: Ethnographic Press.

Crawford, P. I., Turton, D., & Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology. (1992). Film as ethnography. Manchester; New York.

Flowers, J., & Frizler, P. (2004). Psychotherapists on film, 1899-1999: A worldwide guide to over 5000 films. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.

Gabbard, G. O., & Gabbard, K. (1999). Psychiatry and the Cinema. Washington: American Psychiatric Press.

Gharaibeh, N. M. (2005). The psychiatrist's image in commercially available American movies. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 111(4), 316-319.

Hale, N. G., Jr. (2001). New heads for Freud's hydra: psychoanalysis in Los Angeles. Journal for the History of Behavioral Sciences, 37(2), 111-122.

Heider, K. G. (1976). Ethnographic Film. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Hirabayashi, L. R., & Xing, J. (Eds.). (2003). Reversing the Lens: Ethnicity, Race, Gender and Sexuality Through Film. Boulder: University of Colorado Press.

Hyler, S. E., & Schanzer, B. (1997). Using commercially available films to teach about borderline personality disorder. Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic, 61(4), 458-468.

Kaplan, E. A. (1999). Fanon, trauma and cinema. In A. C. Alessandrini (Ed.), Frantz Fanon: Critical Perspectives (pp. 146-157). London: Routledge.

Kaplan, E. A. (2005). Trauma culture: the politics of terror and loss in media and literature. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.

Kaye, D. L., & Ets-Hokin, E. (2000). The Breakfast Club: Utilizing popular film to teach adolescent development. Academic Psychiatry, 24(2), 110-116.

Lewis, E. D. (2004). Timothy Asch & Ethnographic Film. London; New York: Routledge.

Loizes, P. (1993). Innovation in ethnographic film: From innocence to self-consciousness, 1955-85. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

MacDougall, D., & Taylor, L. (1998). Transcultural Cinema. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Merikangas, J. R. (2001). A review of Stephen Soderbergh's movie, Traffic. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 29(2), 241-242.

Mischoulon, D., & Beresin, E. V. (2004). "The Matrix": An allegory of the psychoanalytic journey. Academic Psychiatry, 28(1), 71-77.

Morris, R. C. (1994). New Worlds From Fragments: Film, Ethnography, and the Representation of Northwest Coast Cultures. Oxford: Westview Press Inc.

Prosser, J. (1998). Image-based research : a sourcebook for qualitative researchers. London; Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.

Robinson, D. J. (2003). Reel Psychiatry: Movie Portrayals of Psychiatric Conditions. London, Ontario: Rapid Psychler Press.

Rosen, A., & Walter, G. (2000). Way out of tune: lessons from Shine and its expose. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 34(2), 237-244; discussion 245-238.

Schill, T., Harsch, J., & Ritter, K. (1990). Countertransference in the movies: effects on beliefs about psychiatric treatment. Psychological Reports, 67(2), 399-402.

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Shohat, E., & Stam, R. (Eds.). (2003). Multiculturalism, Postcoloniality and Transnational Media. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Summerfield, E. (1993). Crossing Culture Through Film. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Summerfield, E., & Lee, S. (2001). Seeing the Big Picture: Exploring American Cultures on Film. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Uberoi, P. (1997). Dharma and Desire, Freedom and Destiny: Rescripting the Man-woman Relationship in Popular Hindu Cinema. In M. Thapan (Ed.), Embodiment: Essays on Gender And Identity. (pp. 146-171). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Walter, G., McDonald, A., Rey, J. M., & Rosen, A. (2002). Medical student knowledge and attitudes regarding ECT prior to and after viewing ECT scenes from movies. J of Ect, 18(1), 43-46.

Weijer, C. (1997). Film and narrative in bioethics: Akira Kurosawa's Ikiru. In H. L. Nelson (Ed.), Stories and Their Limits: Narrative Approaches to Bioethics (pp. 113-122). New York: Routledge.

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Documentary Film Distributers

Films Used in the McGill Summer Program

Between Two World
The Culture of Emotions
Frantz Fanon: Black Skin/White Mask
Jero Tapakan: Balinese Healer
Jupiter’s Wife
A Korean Shaman Initiation Kut
The Museum of the Unconscious
Not Yet Diagnosed
Poundmaker Lodge
Rape: A Crime of War
Return Home
The Spirit Possession of Alessandro Mamani

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