Good Recent Films on Grief Counseling

There are few good movies on counseling. In the past, I have looked up movies that are focused on counseling or psychotherapy. For the most part, I found those rather disappointing. Often if one looked for an Internet list of movies on counseling, at the top of the list is Good Will Hunting. I watched the movie and felt that there were many good things about it. There is a lot of good things about that movie, but I don’t really see it as an example of good counseling.

Upon reflection of it, I think it may be a cultural issue. I live in the Philippines and that is where we do counseling. The movie takes place in the United States, and boy but does it feel like it. The main character, Matt Damon, is encouraged to not only be differentiated, but to literally disconnect from all of his social network and leave without even acknowledging those relationships. It almost sounds more like malpractice than good counseling. In the Philippines, a healthy person may need to redefine their relationships and boundaries, but they would not be seen as healthy if they simply dumped everything and ran (rode) away.

However, there are a couple of good movies I have seen lately that I think are better examples of counseling— especially in the context of loss. I won’t give a full review here. You can watch them yourselves.

#1. Worth. This movie stars Michael Keaton, and deals with the US government payments to the families of victims of the 9/11 tragedy. There is no professional counseling in this movie. However, as the movie moves forward, the people involved with working on this program learn that they have to listen to the stories and focus on the struggles and pain of the loved ones who must live on rather than focusing on money. It definitely shows not only what to do, but what not to do. It is a valuable watch.

#2. The Starling. Unlike the first movie, this is a comedy. Well, it is more of a dark comedy. The main couple (played by Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd) suffer the loss of a child. One of them becomes institutionalized and receives counseling there. The other has to try to hold things together at home, but also does receive counseling through a support group and later by a veterinarian (it actually kind of makes sense in the movie). Both of them work their way slowly through grief. The process seems pretty believable with no trite realizations or answers. Perhaps one of the best features of the movie is that the counseling was… a bit uncertain. Both the husband and wife questioned whether their counselors were competent. Counseling is not really about showing off one’s awesome skills but helping their clients grow and soon not need them. As such, the fact that the counselees question their counselors’ skills is not bad. The fact that both of them grew through the experience, and eventually found they could support each other instead of relying on their counselors, suggests a level of competence. (To be fair, if I remember correctly, Matt Damon, in Good Will Hunting also learned to doubt the competence of Robin Williams, his counselor. In some forms of care, like paradoxical psychotherapy, the goal is to intentionally try to make the client doubt the competence or even sanity of their therapist. )

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