However, these nights grew into something more. Some students sneaked their friends in to watch along. Students who couldn’t come to Rotterdam because of lockdowns could still participate in these extra-class activities through Zoom, and those in the room could share snacks and engage in fruitful discussions about their field, their takeaways and, sometimes, their future.

Choosing your therapy style

Portrait of Ruth Van der Hallen (EM)
Ruth van der Hallen Image credit: Ali Alshamayleh

The final March screening of this academic year coincided with the end of classes, full lift of coronavirus measures and unprecedently sunny days – yet, there was still a number of dedicated students in the auditorium and online who joined. “In class, we talk a lot about pathology and client orientation, and I show short case study clips as examples, but there is never enough time. Students love seeing how therapists do it in real life and they asked for more clips, so this grew into movie nights”, said Van der Hallen.

While choosing films, she came across a series where one client – a hired actor – is assessed by different founding fathers in personality pathology. “I loved this series because the story of the client, a man who got separated from his girlfriend after her abortion and is now feeling hopeless, always stays the same, but not fully – every therapist brings out new details and methods into the session.”

As the series is unique but not well-known and getting older, Van der Hallen had to order a box of tapes from the United States and have them physically shipped to the Netherlands. “This is something unusual today, but what matters is that despite timeframes, fundamental things don’t change: how to build relationships or approach clients. Watching different therapists use different approaches allows students to start choosing their own styles in therapy, which they will use in their practice.”

Reignited passion

Portrait of Luisa Staden (EM)
Luisa Staden. Image credit: Ali Alshamayleh

Luisa Staden, a Clinical Psychology student, has attended all movie nights since October, and wishes they continued. “When the first screening happened, I was blown away by how much you can learn from a film. While theory in class is interesting, you get bored from only reading the articles. These films allow us to see which questions different therapists ask, what their styles are. This reignited my passion to become an expert in the field”. Since childhood, Luisa has enjoyed observing people, for example, when her parents had friends over. “I’ve always been curious about why humans do what they do, so I would hide in the corner and watch. When I grew up, I started thinking how I can best assist people and learning why some inflict pain upon others. Films like these help to see how to approach clients and understand human nature better”.

Portrait of Henriette Klandt (EM)
Henriette Klandt. Image credit: Ali Alshamayleh

Luisa’s classmate Henriette Klandt, who is currently working on her research on misophonia – a disorder in which sounds trigger extraordinary emotional or physiological responses, attended the movie night for the third time, because she also found films to be a great addition to the theory. “It is very interesting to see different therapy approaches. I now know that I want to become a therapist, so expert interviews are very valuable.”

As for the Symfora movie nights, Van der Hallen is planning to continue them next year. “In evaluations, students scored the films as 8.6. As students tend to be strict in their feedback, any lecturer would know it’s a success!”

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