Updated: Dec 10, 2019
Earlier this year Traverse published an article called “20 Ways to Cope with Depression.” In this article, we recommended using film as a way to cope with a depressive episode. In light of this, we thought it would be a great idea to give you our top recommendations for films that promote psychological wellness. This selection ranges from documentaries to kid's films, with a little bit of everything in between!
Into the Wild - Andrew
The cinematography in this film alone is enough to shift your mood. You will find incredible landscapes ranging from deserts to mountains teeming with life. Based on the true story told in John Krakauer’s “Into the Wild,” the plot follows the life of Christopher McCandless as he abandons social norms, leaves everything behind, and lives isolated in the remote wilderness of Alaska. Andrew feels there are two important takeaways from this film: 1. Nonconformity in regards to social comparison and 2. The ultimate importance of community and the need for human interaction. This film is sure to tug at the heartstrings and teach some important lessons about interpersonal dynamics.
The Help - Andrew
Based on the bestselling novel by Kathryn Stockett, this film follows journalist Eugenia "Skeeter" Phelan as she navigates the complexities of racial tension with two black maids during the civil rights movement. Like Into the Wild, you will get a fresh perspective on going against social norms and establishing your own moral code. This also aligns with the “fighting evil” conversation Andrew and Josh had on the On Death and Living episode of The Counselor’s Chair podcast. Given the racial tensions in our current political climate, you will also find an inspiring lesson on equality and social justice.
Les Miserable - Leah
Leah was emphatic about this recommendation, and we understand why! Not only is this film based on one of the most redemptive stories ever told (Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable), it is accompanied by an absolutely epic musical soundtrack. The plot follows Jean Valjean through incredible ups and downs, joy, depression, anxiety, and moral development. Leah feels the main takeaways from the film center around forgiveness, sacrificial love, and forgiveness. Put the seatbelt on for “all the feels” in this film and be ready for some inspiration in the resilience department.
What Dreams May Come - Leah
In one of the late Robin Williams’ greatest performances, we find strong messages about mental health and the power of unconditional love. This film touches on our conceptualizations of the afterlife and their impact on our current state of living, particularly as it relates to tragic death and suicide. The redemptive message is centered around the family unit’s ability to fight together and ultimately overcome significant difficulty. Robin’s personal experience of debilitating depression offers gravitas and significance to messages conveyed through his performance.
Instant Family - Jacquelyn
Traditional family dynamics can be difficult to navigate in their own right, let alone when dynamics become more complex with blended families, foster care, or adoption. Instant Family tackles these dynamics beautifully as the plot walks through a family’s failures and successes with their three foster/adoptive children. Be prepared to have the heartstrings pulled, learn as a parent, and gain a better understanding of the uniqueness of non-traditional families.
Dan in Real Life - Jacquelyn
Need some redemptive messages along with occasional comedic relief? This may just be the film you need to que. Follow columnist Dan Burns as he tries to recover from the death of his wife, take care of his three children, and understand love after loss. Jaquelyn reflects on this family-centric film by saying it, “sheds light on the pain and complexities that can accompany loss, but also shows how it is okay to laugh through the tears… that happiness can often come in unexpected packages.” We couldn’t agree more, Jacquelyn.
The Little Prince - Josh
The Little Prince is an unexpectedly insightful children’s Netflix Original film. Based on the book by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the story follows the relationship between a young girl and her elderly neighbor. In reflection of the film’s meaning, Josh explains that “culture and society are pulling us all in every direction possible, and the pull is attractive. We lose ourselves in our jobs, phones, plans, emails, and the list goes on. This story pulls us back to the beauty and joy of human connection… connection with our inner child and our learned wisdom.” The animation is wonderfully done, and we are sure there won’t be a dry eye in the room as the screen darkens.
The Glass Castle - Josh
Based on the best-selling memoir by Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle gives an in-depth look into the impacts of alcoholism, trauma, poverty, family bonds, and the uncertainty of redemption. Walls’ father is an alcoholic and, while he is encapsulating when sober, his alcoholism drives his family to the edge of suffering. Laced with multiple layers of emotional complexity, the film drives home the power of human resilience and the long term practice of forgiveness. Walls gives us the gift of her story and the ways in which she found, and lost, peace throughout her life.
Inside Out - Wes
This classic children’s film follows Riley as she reconciles old and new ways of life following a cross country move. The viewer gets a unique glimpse into Riley’s mind to discover personified characters of her core emotions - Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness, and Joy. The characters interact with each other, memories, and current scenarios to provide a humorous and insightful look into brain development. Ultimately, Riley discovers that her emotions and memories serve as touchstones for a healthy life and the emotions discover some amazing things about themselves along the way!
Silver Linings Playbook - Wes
In one of Bradley Cooper's greatest performances, Silver Linings Playbook follows Pat as he tries to put his life back together after a stay in an inpatient psychiatric hospital. Having been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Pat explores various different options of coping while holding hope that he may be able to restore the relationship with his estranged wife. We don’t want to spoil this film, but it is worth noting that Pat is forced to understand the value and meaning of relationships. This also sets him on a path to discovering his own self-worth and the unlikely characters that can bring out the best and worst in all of us.
Moana - Julie
This is a powerful children’s film with a classic hero storyline. The story follows the main character, Moana, on an epic journey across the ocean to restore “the heart of Te Fiti.” If she can restore this heart it will bring peace and balance to nature, and subsequently to her people. As she struggles in her journey she develops identity, resilience, capacity for loss, a framework for failure, and the boldness to confront the chaos. She receives help from several guides along the way, who also discover important aspects of themselves through the process. The ending is beautiful and presents an immaculate framework for trauma recovery. We think the whole family will enjoy this one!
That wraps it up for now! We will probably have some follow-ups to this article in the future regarding other forms of counselor favorites, so keep up with us on social media. We included some extras below if you are interested in more great films.
Ad Astra - Understanding human emotions, fatherhood, and childhood wounds.
Beautiful Boy - Understanding the devastation and recovery process of Methamphetamine addiction.
Little Miss Sunshine - The beauty of family and the heart of a child.
The Shawshank Redemption - The power of human resilience and connection.
The Mind, Explained - An in-depth look into how the mind works.