(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 5/4/20) A list of sites with free printable resources for mental health clinicians and consumers
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
If you’re a counselor or therapist, you’re probably familiar with Therapist Aid, one of the most well-known sites providing free printable worksheets. PsychPoint and Get Self Help UK are also great resources for cost-free handouts, tools, etc. that can be used with clients or for self-help.
When I started blogging, I realized just how much the Internet has to offer when it comes to FREE! That being said, I’ve learned the term free is often misleading. There are gimmicky sites that require you to join an email list in order to receive a free e-book, PDF printables, etc.; I don’t consider that free since you’re making an exchange. I also dislike and generally avoid sites that bombard with ads. A third “free-resource” site that’s deceiving is the site with no gimmicks or ads, but turns out to be nothing more than a ploy to get you to buy something.
For this post, I avoided misleading sites and instead focused on government agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofits. I found some sites that offered a variety of broad-topic PDF resources and others that had fewer, but provided specialized tools. See below for links to over 50 sites with free therapy worksheets and handouts for both clinicians and consumers.
(Click here for free worksheets, handouts, and guides posted on this site.)
Please check back frequently; I update regularly.
Mental Health & Addiction (Sites with Worksheets/Handouts on a Variety of Topics)
Danger Assessment Screening Tool | Clinicians can download a PDF version of this assessment, which helps predict the level of danger in an abusive relationship; this screening tool was developed to predict violence and homicide.
A list of uncommon strategies for coping with stress, depression, and anxiety. Includes a free PDF version of the list to print and use as a handout.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
With Lauren Mills, MA, LPC-Intern (Contributor)
Effective coping skills make it possible to survive life’s stressors, obstacles, and hardships. Without coping strategies, life would be unmanageable. Dr. Constance Scharff described coping mechanisms as “skills we… have that allow us to make sense of our negative experiences and integrate them into a healthy, sustainable perspective of the world.” Healthy coping strategies promote resilience when experiencing minor stressors, such as getting a poor performance review at work, or major ones, such as the loss of a loved one.
Like any skill, coping is important to practice on a regular basis in order to be effective. Do this by maintaining daily self-care (at a minimum: adequate rest, healthy meals, exercise, staying hydrated, and avoiding drugs/alcohol.)
As an expert on you (and how you adapt to stressful situations), you may already know what helps the most when life seems out-of-control. (I like reading paranormal romance/fantasy-type books!) Maybe you meditate or run or rap along to loud rap music or have snuggle time with the cats or binge watch your favorite show on Netflix. Having insight into/awareness of your coping strategies primes you for unforeseeable tragedies in life.
“Life is not what it’s supposed to be. It’s what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.”
Virginia Satir, Therapist (June 26, 2019-September 10, 1988)
Healthy coping varies greatly from person to person; what matters is that your personal strategies work for you. For example, one person may find prayer helpful, but for someone who isn’t religious, prayer might be ineffective. Instead, they may swim laps at the gym when going through a difficult time. Another person may cope by crying and talking it out with a close friend.
Note: there are various mental health treatment approaches (i.e. DBT, trauma-focused CBT, etc.) that incorporate specialized, evidence-based coping techniques that are proven to work (by reducing symptoms and improving wellbeing) for certain disorders. The focus of this post is basic coping, not treatment interventions.
On the topic of coping skills, the research literature is vast (and beyond the scope of this post). While many factors influence coping (i.e. personality/temperament, stressors experienced, mental and physical health, etc.), evidence backs the following methods: problem-solving techniques, mindfulness/meditation, exercise, relaxation techniques, reframing, acceptance, humor, seeking support, and religion/spirituality. (Note that venting is not on the list!) Emotional intelligence may also play a role in the efficiency of coping skills.
A sport psychology study indicated that professional golfers who used positive self-talk, blocked negative thoughts, maintained focus, and remained in a relaxed state effectively coped with stress, keeping a positive mindset. Effective copers also sought advice as needed throughout the game. A 2015 study suggested that helping others, even strangers, helps mitigate the impact of stress.
Examples of coping skills include prayer, meditation, deep breathing, exercise, talking to a trusted person, journaling, cleaning, and creating art. However, the purpose of this post is to provide coping alternatives. Maybe meditation isn’t your thing or journaling leaves you feeling like crap. Coping is not one-size-fits-all. The best approach to coping is to find and try lots of different things!
The inspiration for this post came from Facebook. (Facebook is awesome for networking! I’m a member of several professional groups.) Lauren Mills sought ideas for unconventional strategies via Facebook… With permission, I’m sharing some of them here!
Unconventional Coping Strategies
1) Crack pistachio nuts
2) Fold warm towels
3) Smell your dog (Fun fact: dog paws smell like corn chips!) or watch them sleep
4) Peel dried glue off your hands
5) Break glass at the recycling center
6) Pop bubble wrap
7) Lie upside down
8) Watch slime or pimple popping videos on YouTube
9) Sort and build Lego’s
10) Write in cursive
11) Observe fish in an aquarium
12) Twirl/spin around
13) Solve math problems (by hand)
14) Use a voice-changing app (Snapchat works too) to repeat back your worry/critical thoughts in the voice of a silly character OR sing your worries/thoughts aloud to the tune of “Happy Birthday”
15) Listen to the radio in foreign languages
16) Chop vegetables
17) Go for a joy ride (Windows down!)
18) Watch YouTube videos of cute animals and/or giggling babies
19) Blow bubbles
20) Walk barefoot outside
21) Draw/paint on your skin
22) Play with (dry) rice
23) Do (secret) “random acts of kindness”
24) Play with warm (not hot) candle wax
25) Watch AMSR videos on YouTube
26) Shuffle cards
27) Recite family recipes
28) Find the nicest smelling flowers at a grocery store
29) Count things
30) Use an app to try different hairstyles and/or makeup
31) People-watch with a good friend and make up stories about everyone you see (Take it to the next level with voiceovers!)
32) Wash your face mindfully
33) Buy a karaoke machine and sing your heart out when you’re home alone
34) On Instagram, watch videos of a hydraulic press smash things, cake decorating, pottery/ceramics throwing, hand lettering, and/or woodwork
35) Shine tarnished silver
36) Create a glitter jar and enjoy
37) Tend to plants
38) Color in a vulgar coloring book for adults
Download a PDF version (free) of “Unconventional Coping Strategies” below. This handout can be printed, copied, and shared without the author’s permission, providing it’s not used for monetary gain. Please modify as needed.
Munn wrote this book because, as a nonbeliever, he felt the 12 steps of AA didn’t fully translate into a workable program for atheists or agnostics. This inspired him to develop the Practical 12 Steps.
Reviewed by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
Staying Sober Without God by Jeffrey Munn, LMFT
Published in 2019, 165 pages
I stumbled upon Staying Sober Without God while searching for secular 12-step literature for a client who identifies as atheist. Jeffrey Munn, the book’s author, is in recovery and also happens to be a licensed mental health practitioner. Munn wrote the book because, as a nonbeliever, he felt the 12 steps of AA didn’t fully translate into a workable program for atheists or agnostics. (For example, the traditional version of Step 3 directs the addict to turn his/her will and life over to the care of God as they understand him. If you don’t believe in God, how can you put your life into the care of him? Munn notes that there’s no feasible replacement for a benevolent, all-knowing deity.)
The whole “God thing” frequently turns nonbelievers off from
AA/NA. They’re told (by well-meaning believers) to find their own, unique
higher power, such as nature or the fellowship itself. (The subtle undertone is
that the nonbeliever will eventually come around to accept God as the true
higher power.) Munn writes, “There is no one thing that is an adequate
replacement for the concept of God.” He adds that you can’t just replace the
word “God” with “love” or “wisdom.” It doesn’t make sense. So he developed the
Practical 12 Steps and wrote a guide for working them.
The Practical 12 Steps are as follows:
Admitted we were caught in a self-destructive
cycle and currently lacked the tools to stop it
Trusted that a healthy lifestyle was attainable
through social support and consistent self-improvement
Committed to a lifestyle of recovery, focusing
only on what we could control
Made a comprehensive list of our resentments,
fears, and harmful actions
Shared our lists with a trustworthy person
Made a list of our unhealthy character traits
Began cultivating healthy character traits
through consistent positive behavior
Determined that the best way to make amends to
those we had harmed
Made direct amends to such people wherever
possible, except when to do so would cause harm
Practiced daily self-reflection and continued
making amends whenever necessary
We started meditating
Sought to retain our newfound recovery lifestyle
by teaching it to those willing to learn and by surrounding ourselves with
The Practical 12 Steps in no way undermine the traditional
steps or the spirit of Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead, they’re supplemental;
they provide a clearer picture of the steps for the nonbeliever.
Before delving into the steps in Staying Sober Without God, Munn discusses the nature of addiction, recovery, and the role of mental illness (which is mostly left untouched in traditional literature). He addresses the importance of seeking treatment (therapy, medication, etc.) for mental disorders while stressing that a 12-step program (secular or otherwise) is not a substitute for professional help. In following chapters, Munn breaks each step down and provides guidelines for working it.
The last few chapters of the book provide information on
relapse and what the steps don’t
address. Munn notes that sustainable recovery requires more than just working
the steps, attending AA meetings, and taking a sponsor’s advice. For a
balanced, substance-free lifestyle, one must also take care of their physical
health, practice effective communication, and engage in meaningful leisure
activities. Munn briefly discusses these components in the book’s final chapter,
“What the Steps Miss.”
Staying Sober Without God is well-written and easy to read. The author presents information that’s original and in line with current models of addiction treatment, such as behavioral therapy (an evidence-based approach for substance use disorder). Working the Practical 12 Steps parallels behavioral treatments; the steps serve to modify or discontinue unhealthy behaviors (while replacing them with healthy habits). Furthermore, a 12-step network provides support and meaningful human connection (also crucial for recovery).
In my opinion, the traditional 12 Steps reek of the moral model, which viewed addiction as a moral failure or sin. Rooted in religion, this outdated (and false) model asserted that the addict was of weak character and lacked willpower. The moral model has since been replaced with the disease concept, which characterizes addiction as a brain disorder with biological, genetic, and environmental influences. The Practical 12 Steps are a better fit for what we know about addiction today; Munn focuses on unhealthy behaviors instead of “character defects.” For example, in Step 7, the addict implements healthy habits while addressing unhealthy characteristics. No one has to pray to a supernatural being to ask for shortcomings to be removed.
The Practical 12 Steps exude empowerment; in contrast, the
traditional steps convey helplessness. (The resulting implication? The only way
to recover is to have faith that God will heal you.) The practical version of
the steps instills hope and inspires the addict to change. Furthermore, the
practical steps are more concrete and less vague when compared to the
traditional steps. (This makes them easier to work!)
In sum, Munn’s concept of the steps helped me to better understand the 12-step model of recovery; the traditional steps are difficult to conceptualize for a nonbeliever, but Munn found a way to extract the meaning of each step (without altering overall purpose or spirit). I consider the practical steps a modern adaptation of the traditional version.
I recommend reading Staying Sober Without God if you have a substance use disorder (regardless of your religious beliefs) or if you’re a professional/peer specialist who works with individuals with substance use disorders. Munn’s ideas will give you a fresh perspective on 12-step recovery.
For working the practical steps, download the companion workbook here:
Note: The workbook is meant to be used in conjunction with
Munn’s book. I initially created it for the previously mentioned client as a format
for working the practical steps. The workbook is for personal/clinical use only.
(Updated 5/21/20) An extensive list of support groups for recovery
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
There are a variety of 12-step support groups for recovery. 12-step meetings are not facilitated by a therapist; they’re self-run. Support groups are not a substitute for treatment, but can play a crucial role in recovery.
The following list, while not comprehensive, will link you to both well-known and less-familiar 12-step (and similar) organizations and support groups for recovery.
Click below for a downloadable PDF version of this post.
(Updated 5/22/20) A resource list for mental health professionals and consumers. Free PDF manuals/workbooks/guides for group and individual therapy or self-help purposes.
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
The following list is comprised of links to over 200 PDF workbooks, manuals, and guidebooks that are published online and free to use with clients and/or for self-help purposes. Some of the manuals, including Individual Resiliency Training and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Psychotic Symptoms, are evidence-based.
The Path to Humility: Six Practical Sections for Becoming a More Humble Person (84 pages) | The Path to Forgiveness: Six Practical Sections for Becoming a More Forgiving Person (83 pages) | Your Path to REACH Forgiveness: Become a More Forgiving Person in Less Than Two Hours | Moving Forward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free from the Past (70 pages) | Experiencing Forgiveness: Six Practical Sections for Becoming a More Forgiving Christian: 6-7 hour DIY Workbook for Christians Hurt by Other Christians | The Path to Patience: Six Practical Sections for Becoming a More Patient Person: 6-7 hour DIY Workbook | The Path to Positivity: Six Practical Sections for Becoming a More Positive Person: 6-7 hour DIY Workbook