Wo – Pixar just made a movie about the inner emotional life of a child!

I love it!  I love that the topics of mind and memory and pre-adolescent development and the role of parenting made their way into a popular animated movie, “Inside Out”. And I love the movie too.

I agree with the reviews and articles I’ve read that the science is solidly based in what we know about the developing brain and interpersonal neurobiology. (Here is one article I liked.) I think it’s really exciting to have an accessible reference for talking with kids, parents, and quite frankly a very wide range of clients about their emotional lives.

My personal and professional experience of the movie has been really fantastic.

My family went to see the movie together and it has provided material for rich (and funny) discussions about feelings and memory and how the mind works. It’s given us a code for talking with each other about what’s going on – hey, I think your “red” might be taking over the controls a little too much, or “I wonder if we can find out where your joy went – it seems to be lost right now”.

It has also served as surprisingly meaningful fodder for conversations with my husband about our family life, our parenting, and how our own inners lives do and don’t sync up with each other.

As a therapist, I have recommended it to my clients young and old alike to learn about themselves or their children or, as in the case of my own family, to be a tool for communication about emotional experiences and family relationships.

I have adapted my discussions to fit particular clients and their needs. I have used it to help parents understand their children’s behavior and to help adults appreciate the role and value of their complex or painful emotions. I have talked about how our memories are colored by current experiences and how working with memories in therapy can help to change our fundamental experience of ourselves and the world around us.

And, by thinking about the concepts in the movie in these ways, I have been challenged to consider what I do and don’t know about the workings of mind, memory and relationships and the ways in which I am and am not skilled in exploring them with clients. What a fun way to do some professional development!

Moving it from a 2-D screen to 3-D life.

Whether you see the movie in 2-D or 3-D, it is animation on a screen. When we look at the concepts to our own lives, it’s really valuable to put them into the context of our whole selves. Our feelings, memories and relationships don’t just happen in our heads – they all have body-based aspects that make them the rich, complex experiences they are.

For example, when you feel sad, you may experience tears around the eyes, tingly feelings in your heart or a sense of wanting to move closer to be with someone. When angry, you may feel a tightening of the jaw, tension in your shoulders or notice an image of a brick wall in front of you.

Helping our clients to notice their sensory experiences, body sensations, and movement will help them to be more fully aware of their experience and give them more information about how they might respond to it. We can guide them in making sense of their experiences, discovering the meaning in them, and developing resources and skills to manage them effectively.

The movie offers many jumping off places that can lend themselves to exploration of the body level of experience and can be tailored to age, issues and situations. Did you notice the face Riley made and how she stomped off when she got mad? How about when she was sad? Did you see how the character of fear moved when he wanted to get Riley to do something? When you feel those feelings what happens for you? What do you think or feel? What happens in your body? What do you do? Could you relate to the mom’s face when she was trying to communicate to the dad with her facial expression?

New resources and inspiration are really important in a therapist’s journey.

Books, journals, movies, games, workshops, consultation, hobbies, travel. We can make use of just about anything life has to offer, whether it is found within the explicit scope of our professional spheres or elsewhere.

We can seek them or they can land in our lap. “Inside Out” was a nice unexpected surprise, a care package that landed on the door of my practice, and I’m saving each and every little goody that was included. Whether this movie is the same for you or not, I hope you find similar gifts and delight in what they have to offer.

Let’s turn to the body for some inspiration.


Read through the guidelines below and then spend as much or as little time as you’d like exploring the ideas.

First, get comfortable. Take some nurturing inhales and relaxing exhales. Stretch, shake out your hands, sigh. Smile or relax your face. Do what works for you.

1. Take a moment to reflect on your own experience of the movie or these thoughts about it.

See if you can sense a way in which the movie or this post resonates with you personally or inspires you professionally.

2. As you consider the movie or this post, allow yourself to become curious about how your inspiration or thoughts might be a resource for you.

If you’ve seen the movie, are there ways you are inspired to bring it into your practice? Perhaps you might want to see the movie if you haven’t. Maybe you just like the idea of finding new ways to think about or work with the themes.

3. As you do take the time to play with these ideas, notice what happens in your body.

See if there is information in your sensory experience or your body feelings or movement that might help consider ideas or next steps.

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This article is intended for informational purposes only.

It is not to be considered as legal, ethical, clinical, treatment planning, treatment recommendations, or any other business or clinical practice advice related to your work as a therapist, or business advice on how you choose to use this material.

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