(Updated 5/20/20) A list of movies about mental health and substance abuse – includes PDF printable discussion questions
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
The following is a list of films that are appropriate to show in treatment settings. This post includes movie summaries and downloadable PDF handouts with questions for discussion. Please note that some of the films on this list are graphic and may not be appropriate for children or adolescents.
Hint: The handouts contain spoilers; do not provide until after the movie ends.
Ben Is Back (2018)
103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes), R-rating for language and drug use
Summary: Julia Roberts plays a mother, Holly, whose 19-year old son, Ben, surprises her by returning home for Christmas. Ben is newly in recovery; his addiction has placed a tremendous strain on the family in the past. Ben’s younger siblings are happy to see him, but Holly, fearing that he is not ready, is apprehensive. That evening, the family attends church. When they return, they find their home burglarized and the dog missing. Ben blames himself, believing someone from his past took the dog to get his attention; he leaves to look for the dog. Holly goes with him, but they’re later separated, and Holly attempts to track Ben. Eventually, she ends up at an abandoned barn where she finds her son on the floor, unresponsive. The movie ends with her administering Narcan to Ben.
127 minutes (2 hours, 7 minutes), R-rating for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality, and suicide
Summary: Winona Ryder plays Susanna, a young woman with borderline personality disorder, who is sent to a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt in the late 1960s. She befriends Lisa (Angelia Jolie), who carries a diagnosis of sociopathy (antisocial personality disorder). Initially, Susanna is in denial about her mental condition and is not open to treatment. However, she reaches a turning point after a tragedy.
123 minutes (2 hours, 3 minutes), PG-13 rating for mature thematic elements including substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language, and brief violence
Summary: Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) starts a chain reaction of goodness for a social studies project with a plan to change the world for the better. In this film, Trevor is a high school student whose mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt), struggles with alcoholism and whose father is abusive. He rises above unfortunate circumstances with the kindhearted idea to do a good deed, but instead of requesting payback, asking the receiver to “pay it forward” to at least three people – and on and on. While the movie has a bittersweet end, the message is uplifting and powerful.
Summary: Charlie is an unpopular high school freshman, a “wallflower,” who is befriended by two seniors, Patrick and Sam (Emma Watson). The movie is about their friendship and Charlie’s personal struggles with the recent suicide of his friend and his own mental illness. Throughout the film, Charlie has flashbacks of his aunt, who died in a car accident when he was 7. It’s eventually revealed that Charlie’s aunt molested him; a sexual encounter with Sam triggers Charlie’s repressed memories. Charlie has a mental breakdown.
Other great resources for using clinical films as therapeutic interventions include the book Movies & Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathy, 4th ed. (by Danny Wedding and Ryan M. Niemiec) and the site Teach With Movies.
(Updated 2/10/20) A resource list for providers who work with youth and families. Free PDF manuals for clinicians and handouts/guides for families.
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
The original source for this list is my post, Free Printable PDF Workbooks, Manuals, & Self-Help Guides. However, the “Children, Youth, & Families” section was becoming too lengthy. The purpose of this post is to organize the youth and family resources so you can quickly find what you’re looking for. This post is divided into two sections: one for providers and one for families.
The Adolescent Coping with Stress Course: An Eight-Session Curriculum Developed for the Prevention of Unipolar Depression in Adolescents with an Increased Future Risk: Leader Manual (118 pages) | Adolescent Workbook (79 pages) (Source: Kaiser Permanete for Health Research) (Find more information here)
The Adolescent Coping with Stress Course: A Fifteen-Session Class Curriculum Developed for the Prevention of Unipolar Depression in Adolescents with an Increased Future Risk: Leader Manual (112 pages) | Adolescent Workbook (82 pages) (Source: Kaiser Permanete for Health Research) (Find more information here)
Growing Up Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender (Source: Department of Education and Skills and the Health Service Executive through the Social, Personal and Health Education Support Service, in conjunction with GLEN [Gay and Lesbian Equality Network] and BeLonG To Youth Services; and Professional Development Services for Teachers, 82 pages) (Find more information here)
Self-care is not a luxury; it’s necessary for survival when your loved one has a substance use disorder. By taking care of yourself, you gain the energy and patience to cope with your problems. Self-care promotes wellness and emotional intelligence; it puts you in a better space to interact with your loved one. Strategies include developing/building resilience, practicing distress tolerance, keeping perspective, and recognizing/managing your triggers.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
When your loved one has a substance use disorder (SUD), it can be overwhelming, distressing, and all-consuming. When we’re stressed, we forget to practice basic self-care, which in turn makes us even less equipped to cope with the emotional chaos addiction generates.
In the book Beyond Addiction: A Guide for Families, the authors discuss the importance of self-care. This post reviews suggested strategies. (Side note: I strongly recommend reading Beyond Addiction if your loved one has an SUD or if you work in the field. This book will increase your understanding of addiction and teach you how to cope with and positively impact your loved one’s SUD by using a motivational approach. This is one of the best resources I’ve come across, especially for family members/significant others.)
Based on the premise that your actions affect your loved one’s motivation, taking care of yourself is not only modeling healthy behaviors, it’s putting you in a better space to interact with your loved one. Chronic stress and worry make it difficult to practice self-care. Self-care may even seem selfish. However, by taking care of yourself and thus reducing suffering, you gain the energy and patience to cope with your problems (and feel better too). Furthermore, you reduce the level of pain and tension in your relationships with others, including your loved one with a SUD. Self-care strategies include developing/building resilience, practicing distress tolerance, keeping perspective, and recognizing/managing your triggers. Therapy and/or support groups are additional options.
“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.”
The definition of resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties” (Oxford Dictionary). Doctors Foote, Wilkens, and Kosanke wrote that having resilience is a way to “systematically reduce your vulnerability to bad moods, lost tempers, and meltdowns.” While you cannot “mood-proof” yourself entirely, resilience helps when facing life’s challenges, setbacks, and disappointments. To maintain resilience, one must practice at least the most basic self care practices, which are as follows:
Self-care is not something you can push in to the future. Don’t wait until you have more time or fewer obligations. Self-care is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. The authors of Beyond Addiction pointed out that self-care is something you have control over when other parts of your life are out of control. If you find it challenging to implement self-care practices, tap into your motivations, problem-solve, get support, and most of all, be patient and kind with yourself.
“Taking care of yourself is the most powerful way to begin to take care of others.”
On tolerance, Doctors Foote, Wilkens, and Kosanke suggested that it is “acceptance over time, and it is a cornerstone of self-care.” Tolerance is not an inherent characteristic; it is a skill. And like most skills, it requires practice. However, it’s wholly worth the effort as it reduces suffering. By not tolerating the things you cannot change (such as a loved one’s SUD), you’re fighting reality and adding to the anguish.
Techniques for distress tolerance include distracting yourself, relaxing, self-soothing, taking a break, and creating positive experiences. (The following skills are also taught in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), an evidence-based practice that combines cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and mindfulness. For additional resources, visit The Linehan Institute or Behavioral Tech.)
Switch the focus of your thoughts. The possibilities are endless; for you, this could mean reading a magazine, calling a friend, walking the dog, etc. The authors of Beyond Addiction suggested making a list of ideas for changing your thoughts (and keeping it handy).
Switch the focus of your emotions. Steer your emotions in a happier direction by watching corgi puppies on YouTube, reading an inspirational poem, or viewing funny Facebook memes. The writers of Beyond Addiction suggested bookmarking sites in your Internet browser that you know will cheer you up.
Switch the focus of your senses. This could mean taking a hot shower, jumping into a cold pool, holding an ice cube in your hand, walking from a dark room to one that’s brightly lit, looking at bright colors, listening to loud rock music, etc. Also, simply walking away from a distressing situation may help.
Do something generous. Donate to your favorite charity, pass out sandwiches to the homeless, visit a nursing home and spend time with the residents, express genuine thanks to cashier or server, etc. By redirecting attention away from yourself (and directing energy toward positive goals), you’ll feel better. In Beyond Addiction, it’s noted that this skill is especially helpful for individuals who tend to ruminate. Also, it’s important to brainstorm activities that are accessible in the moment (i.e. texting a friend to let them know you’re thinking about them) that don’t take multiple steps (such as volunteering).
“Body tells mind tells body…” Relaxing your body helps to relax your mind. It also focuses your thoughts on relaxing (instead of your loved one’s addiction). What helps you to relax? Yoga? A hot bath? Mindful meditation? (I recommend doing a mindful body scan; it’s simple and effective, even for the tensest of the tense, i.e. me.)
In Beyond Addiction, self-soothing is described as “making a gentle, comforting appeal to any of your five senses.” A hot beverage. Nature sounds. A cozy blanket. A scenic painting. Essential oils. A cool breeze. A warm compress. A massage. Your favorite song. Find what works for you, make a list, and utilize as needed. Seemingly small techniques can make a big difference in your life by creating comfort and reducing out-of-control emotions.
Take A Break
“Taking a break” doesn’t mean giving up; it’s a timeout for when you’re emotionally exhausted. Learn to recognize when you need to step away from a situation or from your own thoughts. Find a way to shift your focus to something pleasant (i.e. a romantic movie, a nature walk, a day trip to the beach, playing golf for a few hours, traveling to a different country, etc.)
Create a Positive Experience
Doctors Foote, Wilkens, and Kosanke refer to this as “making it better,” not in the sense that you’re fixing the problem (or your loved one), but that you’re making the moment better by transforming a negative moment into a positive one. Suggested techniques include the following:
Half-smile. Another mind-body technique, half-smiling tricks your brain into feeling happier.
Meditate or pray. As explained in Beyond Addiction, “meditation or pray is another word for – and effective channel to – awareness and acceptance. Either one can open doors to different states of mind and act as an emotional or spiritual salve in trying moments.”
Move. By moving, you’re shifting your focus and releasing energy. Stretch, run, play volleyball, chop wood, move furniture, etc.
Find meaning. The authors of Beyond Addiction wrote, “Suffering can make people more compassionate toward others. Having lived through pain, sometimes people are better able to appreciate moments of peace and joy.” Suffering can also inspire meaningful action. What can you do to find meaning?
Borrow some perspective. How do your problems look from a different viewpoint? Ask a trusted friend. You may find that your perspective is causing more harm than good.
Perspective is “an understanding of a situation and your reactions to it that allows you to step back and keep your options open… [it’s] seeing patterns, options, and a path forward” (Beyond Addiction).
When Trish married Dave nearly 20 years ago, he rarely drank: maybe an occasional beer over the weekend or a glass of wine at dinner. After their fist daughter was born, his drinking increased to a few beers most nights. Dave said it helped him relax and manage the stress of being a new parent. By the time their second daughter was born several years later, his drinking had progressed to a six-pack of beer every evening (and more on weekends). Currently, Dave drinks at least a 12-pack of beer on weeknights; if it’s the weekend, his drinking starts Friday after work and doesn’t stop until late Sunday night.
Dave no longer helps Trish with household chores or yardwork as he did early in their marriage. He rarely dines with the family and won’t assist with the cooking/cleanup; he typically eats in front of the TV. Dave occasionally engages with his daughters, but Trish can’t recall the last time they went on a family outing, and it’s been years since they went on a date. Dave struggles to get out of bed in the mornings and is frequently late to work; Trish is worried he’ll get fired. They frequently argue about this. Dave is irritable much of the time, or angry. Most nights, he doesn’t move from his armchair (except to get another beer) until he passes out with the television blaring.
Trish is frustrated; she believes Dave is lazy and lacks self-control. When she nags about his drinking, he promises he’ll cut back, but never follows through. Trish thinks he’s not trying hard enough. She can’t understand why he’d choose booze over her and the kids; sometimes she wonders if it’s because she’s not good enough… maybe he would stop if she was thinner or funnier or more interesting? At times she feels helpless and hopeless and others, mad and resentful; she frequently yells at Dave. She wonders if things are ever going to change.
A different perspective would be to recognize that Dave has an alcohol use disorder. He feels ill most of the time, which affects his mood, energy level, and motivation. He wants to cut back, but fails when he tries, which leads to guilt and shame. To feel better, he drinks. It’s a self-destructive cycle. If Trish understood this, she could learn to not take his drinking personally or question herself. Her current reactions, nagging and yelling, only increase defensiveness and harm Dave’s sense of self-worth. Alternative options for Trish might include learning more about addiction and the reasons Dave drinks, bolstering his confidence, and/or creating a supportive and loving environment to enhance motivation.
In recovery language, a “trigger” is anything (person, place, or thing) that prompts a person with SUD to drink or use; it activates certain parts of the brain associated with use. For instance, seeing a commercial for beer could be triggering for a person with an alcohol use disorder.
You have triggers too. For example, if your loved one is in recovery for heroin, and you notice that a bottle of opioid painkillers is missing from the medicine cabinet, it could trigger a flood of emotions: fear, that your loved one relapsed; sadness, when you remember the agony addiction brings; hopelessness, that they’ll never recover. It’s crucial to recognize what triggers you and have a plan to cope when it happens.
Therapy and Support Groups
Lastly, therapy and/or support groups can be a valuable addition to your self-care regime. Seeing a therapist can strengthen your resilience and distress tolerance skills. Therapy may provide an additional avenue for perspective. (Side note: A good therapist is supportive and will provide you with tools for effective problem-solving and communication, coping with grief and loss, building self-esteem, making difficult choices, managing stress, overcoming obstacles, improving social skills/emotional intelligence, and better understanding yourself. A good therapist empowers you. A bad therapist, on the other hand, will offer advice and/or tell you what to do, disempowering you.)
Regarding support groups, there are many options for family members, friends, and significant others with a loved one who has a SUD, including Al-Anon, Nar-Anon, and Families Anonymous. Support groups provide the opportunity to share in a safe space and to receive feedback, suggestions, and/or encouragement from others who relate.
“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.”
In sum, self-care is not optional; it’s essential for surviving the addiction of a loved one. Self-care enhances both overall wellness and your ability to help your loved one; in order words, take responsibility for your health and happiness by taking care of yourself.
Open-ended questions are important in therapy. They allow a client to explore his/her values, ideas, and beliefs. This is a list of 161 questions for group therapy, journal prompts, conversation starters, and/or icebreakers.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC
The questions in this post ask about recovery, spirituality, personal growth, and other relevant topics. As a counselor, I’ve used the questions with adults who struggle with mental illness and addiction, mostly in a group setting. Asking open-ended questions is a basic counseling skill. Open questions invite the client to explore his or her thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. In contrast, closed questions can be answered with a yes or no.
The first section, “Conversation Starters,” is comprised of questions that can be used as icebreakers, at a party, or even on a date. In a clinical setting, use a “Conversation Starter” as a group check-in. It provides an opportunity for group members to engage and to learn about their peers.
PDF handout that includes several questions from each category:
Choose 10-15 questions and either print them out or write them on small pieces of paper. Fold the paper slips and place in a container. Clients can take turns drawing and answering questions. Alternatively, they can choose questions for each other.
Select up to 20 questions. Pair the clients and have them take turns interviewing each other.
Select 5-10 questions. Each client writes out his or her answers. Read the answers to the group and have group members take turns guessing who wrote what.
What is the most interesting thing you heard this week?
What’s the one thing you really want to do but have never done, and why?
Would you take a shot if the chance of failure and success is 50-50?
Which one would you prefer; taking a luxurious trip alone or having a picnic with people you love?
If your life was a book, what would the title be?
If you could be any animal, what would you be and why?
What is your favorite day of the week and why?
What do you do when you’re bored?
Favorite band (or artist)?
One food you dislike?
Last movie you saw in a theater?
Last book read?
Favorite toy as a child?
One item you should throw away, but probably never will?
Superman, Batman, Spiderman, or Wonder Woman?
Chocolate or vanilla?
Morning person or night owl?
Cats or dogs?
Sweet or salty?
Breakfast or dinner?
Coffee or tea?
American food, Italian food, Mexican food, Chinese food, or other?
Clean or messy?
What is your favorite breakfast food?
What vegetable would you like to grow in a garden?
Tell about a childhood game you loved.
What’s your favorite dessert?
What’s your favorite month of the year and why?
Who is your favorite celebrity?
Which celebrity do you most resemble?
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Share about one of your hobbies.
What’s a unique talent that you have?
Introvert or extrovert?
Describe yourself in three words.
Tell about a happy childhood memory.
Name three things (or people) that make you smile.
Mental Health & Addiction Questions
On a scale from 1 to 10, where are you at in your recovery and what does that number mean to you?
Tell about a healthy risk you have taken this week.
What brought you to treatment?
How has your life changed since getting clean and sober?
What do you miss the most about drug/alcohol?
What would your life be like if you weren’t addicted to something?
What makes your addiction possible?
What are your triggers?
Name at least three ways you can cope with cravings.
Name three of your relapse warning signs.
Tell about someone who is supportive of your recovery.
What’s one thing you wish everyone knew about mental illness?
Is it okay to take medications if you’re in recovery?
Is it possible to get clean/sober without AA or NA?
Do you have a sponsor? What’s helpful and what’s not?
Do you think you’re going to relapse?
What’s the difference between helping and enabling?
Tell about a time you were in denial.
Do you have an enabler? Explain.
Is it possible for someone in recovery for drugs to be a social drinker?
How have drugs and alcohol affected your health?
Is addiction a disease?
Personal Development & Values
Are you doing what you truly want in life?
What are your aspirations in life?
How many promises have you made this past year and how many of them have you fulfilled?
Are you proud of what you’re doing with your life or what you’ve done in the past? Explain.
Have you ever abandoned a creative idea that you believed in because others thought you were a fool? Explain.
What would you prefer? Stable but boring work or interesting work with lots of workload?
Are you making an impact or constantly being influenced by the world?
Which makes you happier, to forgive someone or to hold a grudge? Explain.
Who do you admire and why?
What are your strengths?
What are your weaknesses?
Are you doing anything that makes you and people around you happy?
Tell about a short-term goal you have.
Tell about a health goal you have.
Tell about a long-term goal you have.
Tell about a value that is currently important to you.
What do you like most about yourself?
What do you like least about yourself?
What in life brings you joy?
What are you grateful for?
Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
Tell about one dream you have always had, but are too afraid to chase.
What is something you want to change about yourself and what are two things you can do to accomplish this?
Describe your perfect world. (Who would be in it, what would you be doing, etc.)
Where were you one year ago, where are you now, and where do you want to be a year from today?
Share about a character flaw you have.
What kind of a person do you want to be?
When is the last time you helped someone and what did you do?
Tell about a problem you have right now. What can you do to solve it?
Family & Relationship Questions
Have you ever failed anyone who you loved or loved you? Explain.
Who is your favorite person?
What was it like growing up in your family?
What makes someone a good friend?
What happens when you’re rejected?
What makes a relationship healthy or unhealthy?
Would you rather break someone’s heart or have your heart broken?
Education & Career
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Tell about something you do well.
What’s your dream job?
What are your career goals?
What classes would you be most interested in taking?
Tell about a job you would hate doing.
Would you prefer to work with people or by yourself?
Would you ever do a job that was dangerous if it paid a lot of money?
Would you still work if you didn’t have to?
What do you want to do when you retire?
If you have a job, what do you like about it? Dislike?
How do you deal with difficult co-workers?
What qualities would you like your supervisor to have?
When was the last time you laughed, and what did you laugh at?
If happiness was a currency, how rich would you be?
How do you express happiness?
What are three healthy ways you can cope with anger?
What are three healthy ways you can cope with anxiety?
What does being happy mean to you?
If your mood was a weather forecast, what would it be?
Tell about a time you were happy.
Tell about a time you were heartbroken.
What is the difference between guilt and shame?
Is guilt a healthy emotion?
Can guilt be excessive?
Is there a such thing as “healthy shame”?
What makes you happy?
What makes you mad?
When do you feel afraid?
When do you feel lonely?
Share about the last time you felt guilty.
What embarrasses you?
How does one practice forgiveness (of self and others) from a religious point of view and from a non-religious point of view?
What does it mean to forgive?
Do you have to forgive to move forward?
What brings you meaning in life?
How do you define spirituality?
What’s the difference between religion and spirituality?
When do you feel most at peace?
Do you meditate? Why or why not?
Additional Thought-Provoking Questions
If you could travel to the past in a time machine, what advice would you give to the 6-year-old you? Would you break the rules because of something/someone you care about?
Are you afraid of making mistakes? Why or why not?
If you cloned yourself, which of your characteristics would you not want cloned?
What’s the difference between you and most other people?
Consider the thing you last cried about; does it matter to you now or will it matter to you 5 years from now?
What do you need to let go of in life?
Do you remember anyone you hated 10 years ago? Does it matter now?
What are you worrying about and what happens if you stop worrying about it?
If you died now, would you have any regrets?
What’s the one thing you’re most satisfied with?
If today was the end of the world, what would you do?
What would you do if you won the lottery?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
How do you think others see you?
What is your biggest fear?
How do you get someone’s attention?
What masks do you wear?
Tell about a poor decision you made.
When is the last time you failed at something? How did you handle it?