Jonah Hill’s ‘Stutz’ documentary provides some useful if not fragmented insights into therapy

It is a hot weekend here in South Australia. A good time to grab a cool beverage and watch some TV [admittedly, I will use any weather situation to justify this combination].

On the recommendation of colleagues, I fired up Jonah Hill’s ‘Stutz’ documentary. It is available on Netflix.

It’s hard to describe what this film is about. This is because it runs a few parallel strands and doesn’t always successfully integrate them. An insight into the therapy process, a bit of a biography of the psychiatrist Phil Stutz, a chance for Jonah Hill to reveal a bit of his therapy journey, a discussion of therapeutic tools.

Despite what feels like a mixed bag of goals, I found the documentary quite moving and I suspect others will as well. Whilst not a deep dive on either character, their relationship is fun and engaging to watch. It also touches on topics that I think most people will be able to connect with at some level: loss, uncertainty, love, relationships, anxiety, fear, losing direction, getting stuck. There will likely be something in the topics discussed that resonate with your own experiences. I also found the close filming of Phil’s face made it feel very personal and close. In hindsight, how it was filmed, drives some of the emotional power of the movie.

Professionally, I gained a few therapeutic tools I can imagine teaching. For example, I particularly Phil’s ‘grateful flow’ exercise, which not only encourages a person to identify things for which they are grateful, but also tune into what it is like to shift one’s mind into a space of gratitude. His description of the tool as something you can use when you feel dark emotional clouds forming helps communicate when such a tool might be helpful. I also liked his approach of using simple diagrams to illustrate these tools, that he provides to clients. It is made even more touching by the fact that his Parkinson’s disease makes the illustrations difficult to do and a bit messy, but seems to contribute to them being prized even more by clients.

If you go into the film hoping for a comprehensive therapeutic toolkit, you’ll be disappointed. A bunch of other tools are explored in the movie, although not necessarily connected in a coherent way. Those with good therapy literacy will recognise the origins of some of these tools. Those who are new to therapy will get a taster for a few ideas that they could start using and perhaps the motivation to dig further. I did like that therapy was described as a context in which such specific tools can be taught. rather than just the presence of a compassionate listener. For those who may have avoided therapy because it doesn’t seem practical or grounded enough, this documentary might convince you that some approaches definitely teach actionable strategies.

At 90 minutes, its not an insignificant allocation of time, but it didn’t feel slow or plodding. It moves quickly which helps keep one’s attention, if not potentially disrupts the narrative a bit. For anyone interested in the therapy process, I think it is worth your time. You may not find answers to your questions explicitly in the content, but reflection on the experience of watching it will likely progress your wellbeing journey a little.

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