Over the last few years, actor Jonah Hill was working on a movie that is currently streaming on Netflix about his therapist, Phil Stutz. He decided to make this movie because his therapist has helped him so much that Jonah wanted to share his teachings with the world and make therapy a bit more accessible to people.
As a mental health professional, I watched this movie to see how mental health and therapy were portrayed. There are many books, movies, documentaries about mental health and honestly, not all of them are great, so I wanted to see what this movie was all about. As a therapy client myself, I wanted to see what Phil Stutz was sharing with Jonah that was so impactful.
I have watched this movie a few times since it's release and have truly enjoyed it. I think it's a wonderful depiction of therapy, how powerful the therapeutic relationship can be and I enjoyed and fully endorse the teachings of Phil. I truly feel he and Jonah made a wonderful movie and hope people view therapy a little bit differently after watching it.
FULL DISCLOSURE - I took 4.5 pages worth of notes the last time I watched it.
The first reason was in order to have points to discuss in this blog and the second is because it was just that good. I hope to accomplish a few things with this post:
1. reiterate some of Phil's tools and points that I loved
2. share my thoughts as a mental health professional and
3. encourage people to watch it,. so here we go!
My 5 Biggest Takeaways
The Therapeutic Relationship
One of the first things we learn in graduate school is how important the relationship between client and therapist is. We learn how to foster and maintain this relationship, as well as, the ethical considerations around this relationship. One of the main things that I enjoyed watching Stutz is how casual and seamless the relationship between Jonah and Phil is. They laugh together, crack jokes at each other, tell each other they love each other and you can see the compassion, respect and genuine joy between them. In the beginning, Phil mentions that he was taught not to intrude with his clients and remain neutral in sessions, which he says "sucks". He essentially states that he gets involved with his clients and offers the advice and tools he knows will help them to reach their goals, rather than, sit back and be a silent partner. Jonah shares that this approach was "something I've never experienced in the therapuetic world," and credits the relationship and approach to some of his therapuetic success.
I, 100% agree with this approach. I value the relationship I create with my clients and try extremely hard for them to feel comfortable and safe with me. I want a client to be able to speak freely, feel respected and feel that I am someone who can help them reach their goals without judgment and with a lot of compassion. I know many therapists can relate to trying to understand how to create their own approach while also maintaining the foundational building blocks we were given in school. I believe you are doing your clients a disservice if you keep too many walls up and sit back too much rather than simply treating your client as a human who needs connection to thrive.
A major theme in this film is the acknowledgement of generational trauma. Phil vulnerably shares that his brother passed away when Phil was 9 years old. He goes on to share about how the impact of his brother's passing effected his family and effected the relationship he had with his mother. "I'm just a kid; my parents collapsed, they couldn't function as parents emotionally," is a quote said by Phil when describing the aftermath of his brother's passing. He was very honest about how the impact of his parents not receiving help, turned into, him not receiving the proper help at 9 years old and being a bit shut out. Generational trauma is essentially the continued trauamtic effects on subsequent generations after a traumatic event occurs. If someone does not heal properly from their trauma, they will not move about the world in the best way they can. In turn, this can effect people in their lives when making connections and life decisions.
As a clinician, I discuss generational trauma almost daily. We all have something that has impacted us and all need help in unpacking the effects and developing new, adaptive skills. Without treatment, we can effect others in our lives. Needing help is nothing to be embarrassed of or ashamed of (even though many people feel this way), it's more about living life in the best way you can and not repeating the same, maladaptive patterns from generations before.
Communication with Children
"My parents didn't tell us, it was a mistake", "she didn't even look at us", they were "quick to deny what happened," are all things said by Phil about his brother's illness and passing. As a child therapist and a trauma therapist, one message I want to clearly send to parents/care-givers:
TALK TO YOUR CHILDREN...
Sweeping things under the rug, keeping secrets or denying things (whether conscious or unconscious) is not helping your child understand the difficulites of the world. Traumatic things will happen and it is okay to talk to your children about them with age-appropriate language.
Children are very smart and intuitive, they pick up on way more things then we give them credit for and they need to know it is okay to talk about bad things or sad things. They need to know how to appropriately manage their emotions and that it is okay to feel them. I promise, the not talking about the big, scary thing, has more of an impact than talking about it openly and honestly.
Secondly, I want to make clear to model appropriate emotion expression and regulation. Your child learns how to deal with their emotions by watching you. If you get angry and start to scream and yell, most likely, your child will mimic your behavior when they are angry because they think that's what your supposed to do. If we teach children to express emotions regularly and appropriately, they will be able to move about the world a bit easier and make stronger connections.
Jonah has always been very open and honest about his struggles around weight and body image which started when he was a child. "There's something wrong with how you look", "you're saying there's something wrong with me", were phrases Jonah used in the film when describing the messages he received about his body. He goes on to say "I wish it was presented differently" regarding food, exercise and mental health, as he and Phil touched on the benefits of diet and exercise on one's mental health.
As an eating disorder therapist, I talk daily about people’s relationship with their bodies, food and exercise, and how it is impacted by family and society. We, as a society, are taught so many untrue things about food that most people have a distorted relationship with food which can result in an eating disorder. Honestly, the same goes for exercise. We more typically hear about how exercising can help you lose weight and not that simple exercise can significantly impact someone's mental health.
I, just like Jonah, wish food and exercise was taught differently in our society. We have a lot of "clean" food talk, diet talk, and weight loss talk under the ruse of health, however, we tend to take things to the extreme and people develop many issues with body image, self-esteem and nutrition. Eating healthy and working out is an individualized experience and many different combinations are the picture of health.
Tools: Visualization and Journaling
A main part of this film is the tools that Phil Stutz has taught Jonah throughout their time together. They list and explain the tools many times throughout the film and explain how everything ties together. Rather than explain each tool individually, which I probably would not do justice, I wanted to share my biggest takeways about Phil's tools: visualization and journaling.
Most of the tools shown in the film are Phil asking Jonah to visualize different things and Jonah sharing the impact of the tool in the present moment. Visualization is an extremely powerful tool because the individual is imagining themselves doing the activity and can, in real time, see how it effects them and how they move about the world.
Journaling is also something Phil brings up. I practically jumped out of my seat when he brought it up because I tell clients to journal all the time and I get a very unenthused response back. Writing can help improve the relationship you have with yourself. I totally understand where a client is coming from when I get the groan about journaling; most say they don't know what to write about or they get stuck midway through the exercise. I try my best to explain that journaling can be fairly simple and used to gather information about yourself and develop one's awareness.
The most important relationship we have is the one with ourself! So why not try to strengthen it and treat ourselves like our own best friend.
Before I wrap up, I just wanted to say thank you to Phil Stutz and Jonah Hill for creating this movie. I think it was a wonderful addition to the mental health world and I hope people who watch it take away something helpful. I also want to thank you, my reader, for reading this whole blog and again, I hope you take away something helpful. If you are interested in watching the movie, check it out on Netflix!
If any of the things I mentioned in this post resonate with you, please reach out for help. Whether it's eating disorder related, trauma related or child related, we at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling are here to help.
You deserve it, you are worthy of it.
Stephanie Polizzi is a licensed psychotherapist (LMHC) in Scarsdale, NY at Peaceful Living Mental Health Counseling, serving clients living in NY, NJ and FL.
Stephanie specializes in working with children, teens and adults struggling with anxiety,eating disorders, behavioral challenges, life transitions and trauma
Stephanie is available weekdays and afternoons Monday-Friday, virtually and in person.