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Amy Stambuk, LCSW

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

303-895-5116

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Amy Stambuk, LCSW   303.895.5116

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books

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books

miscellaneous for adults

EMDR Essentials: A Guide for Clients and Therapists
Barb Maiberger
EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing offers a powerful way to work through unresolved trauma--the big scary stuff and the little traumas too. If you are considering EMDR, this easy-to-read guide will step you through the process and demystify this vital therapeutic modality. You can also check out emdria.org for more information, or simply talk with me further.

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mindsight
Daniel Siegel
Knowing how our brains work is an essential game changer for improving our lives. Siegel offers a practical guide for learning how our brains work and how we can shift out of rigid, automatic responses and live a more happy, fulfilling life. And Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are is a nice companion guide for cultivating mindfulness in our daily lives.

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Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance
Angela Duckworth
When we experience distress we often question what we are really passionate about and if we have the capacity to persevere. This book offers insight into this journey. It's through hardship and continual practice that we learn, by getting up again and again. It's also critical to figure out what excites us.

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Spark
John Ratey
The mind-body connection is truly real. In addition to tending to our minds, it's just so important to get moving. Ratey makes the case and presents sound research on regulating stress, improving mood, battling addiction, and increasing focus. If you are not someone who exercises regularly, you may want to read this book or just put it down and step outside.

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Re-Visioning Psychology
James Hillman
So I will out myself and share that I started college as an English Literature major and loved humanities classes too; so James Hillman is right up my alley. What I absolutely love about his work is he demands that we look at how culture and mythology--the old and the new--intersect and are actually part of the star stuff that makes us who we are. I love the fact that he looks at psychology from such a wide lens. He's also just plain artsy. What's not to love?

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When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Pema Chodron
I love the audio version of Chodron's work because you get to hear the simplicity of her voice, because you can't avoid slowing down and stopping, because what she is saying starts to sink into your being. This reflection is about moving toward the things we are running from. It's about finding a way to be curious and compassionate with our flawed, wonderful selves.

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relationship and marriage

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work
John Gottman
Gottman's principles are based on years of research with couples in his famous "Love Lab." This book provides practical tools you and your partner can use such as softening start-ups during times of disagreement and making good repairs. Other invaluable principles include being able to turn towards your partner and nurturing fondness and affection.

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Intimacy and Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your Relationship
David Schnarch
A candid book for those looking to re-ignite their relationship, particularly for couples that have been at it awhile. So much of what we bring to relationships is our "own stuff." This book offers clarity about what might be getting in the way as well as insight into increasing emotional depth in your relationship (without sacrificing the fun).

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After the Fight: Using Your Disagreements to Build a Stronger Relationship
Daniel B. Wile
Dan Wile is a master couple's therapist and really sums up why fights are so difficult to resolve, why couples typically apologize too quickly, or pretend the fight never happened. By offering a rich analysis of one couple's conflict we learn about the importance of returning to uncomfortable ground. When each partner can share in a more vulnerable way, something new and different can happen.

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After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful, 2nd Edition
Janis Spring
This book offers a helpful guide for those facing infidelity, for deciding to stay committed to your relationship or making other choices. It validates feelings of shame, hurt and outrage but also asks you to reflect on your part of the story. John Gottman's What Makes Love Last? is also a great read for couples needing to build trust or move through transgressions.

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parenting picks

Parenting From The Inside Out: How A Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children
Daniel J. Siegel and Mary Hartzell
Even loving, nurturing parents get swept away and overreact negatively. Gosh, we even have meltdowns! This book helps you to put your reactivity into context, to pinpoint your triggers, and to reflect on how you were parented. Ultimately it's about creating and sustaining loving, meaning-filled relationships with your children. I challenge you to read this with your partner and talk about it.

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The Everyday Parenting Toolkit: The Kazdin Method for Easy, Step-By-Step, Lasting Change for You and Your Child
Alan E. Kazdin
Many parents say to me, "We have tried positive reinforcement and it just doesn't work!" I say to them, "Read this book!" Kazdin will force you to rethink how you give praise and how you shape behavior for your children. If your child's oppositional behavior is driving you mad, you might also check out The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child: With No Pills, No Therapy, No Contest of Wills with DVD. Though it's uber-behavioral, I love this approach because it's research-based, effective, and most importantly, it really works. I am happy to be a member of your planning team!

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Brain-Based Parenting: The Neuroscience of Caregiving for Healthy Attachment
Daniel A. Hughes
Attachment is not just a fad; it truly is the cornerstone--the heart and the brain--of how we do relationships. It's the missing piece for all of us. If you read no other book on parenting, read this one.

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The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids
Madeline Levine
What is the end game? The review on Powell's website says it best: "Numerous studies show that privileged adolescents are experiencing epidemic rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse--rates that are higher than those of any other socioeconomic group of young people in this country. The various elements of a perfect storm--materialism, pressure to achieve, perfectionism, disconnection--are combining to create a crisis in America's culture of affluence. This culture is as unmanageable for parents - mothers in particular--as it is for their children. While many privileged kids project confidence and know how to make a good impression, alarming numbers lack the basic foundation of psychological development: an authentic sense of self. Even parents often miss the signs of significant emotional problems in their star children."

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Love & Logic Early Childhood
Jim Fay
Parenting Teens With Love And Logic: Preparing Adolescents for Responsible Adulthood
Foster Cline and Jim Fay
Parenting with Love & Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility, Updated Edition
Foster Cline
What's great about the Love & Logic series is you can get them on CDs from the library and listen in your car, while you do dishes or (my personal favorite) while folding lots of laundry! Delivering effective consequences takes way more than saying "bummer" empathetically (or with a straight face). It takes planning, calm, and a bit of craftiness. All three of these books are great. Pick the one that fits your child's developmental stage.

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How to Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
This falls under the 'oldie but goodie' category. It's based on the work of Dr. Haim Ginott. Practical, easy exercises. Fun cartoons. Busy parents will appreciate quick tips on how to grow more capable and emotionally grounded children (and keep your wits about you).

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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Marc Weissbluth
You might have difficulty with this book if you are from the "no-cry" end of the spectrum, but this book offers solid advice for sleep hygiene for babies throughout development. In the end, good sleep plus good eating equals good brain development. It's also about your sanity! Another critical ingredient to nurturing healthy children is love--the warm fuzzy kind--but you can't provide this if you are sleep deprived. As a parent of twins and someone who survived these early years, I would also highly recommend Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Twins: A Step-By-Step Program for Sleep-Training Your Multiples.

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The Courage to Raise Good Men
Olga Silverstein
Olga Silverstein is one of the pioneers of family therapy (and unlike most, she's a woman!). She asks us to look at what is it we are teaching our boys about communication and relationships. How are we shutting down our boys by putting them in a gender box? This countercultural critique asks mothers to rekindle their bond with their sons. They desperately need us. Other good reads related to this topic include Real Boys by William Pollack, and a book authored by The Colorado Center's Dr. Max Wachtel, The One Rule for Boys.

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Odd Girl Out
Rachel Simmons
As mothers, we are challenged to teach our daughters how to navigate the tricky undertow of aggression in girl culture. This book names what sadly continues to go on in our adult lives with women's relationships and how to empower your daughter to do things differently. The classic Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosaline Kind or the more theoretical book by Carol Gilligan, In A Different Voice are also good choices.

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Off Limits: A Parent's Guide to Keeping Kids Safe From Sexual Abuse
Sandy Wurtele and Feather Berkower
Sexual abuse happens. Sexual abuse is more likely to happen with someone your kid knows--a coach, a neighbor, a pastor, rabbi or priest, a relative, a step parent. It's critical to not be silent about this topic. It's our responsibility as parents to know who is in our village, and to pick wisely. Feather Berkower offers powerful workshops on growing your awareness about keeping your kids safe. You might consider getting a group together from your play group, neighborhood or spiritual community and attend together. You can purchase her book or sign up for this workshop through her website.

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Freeing Your Child from Anxiety, Revised and Updated Edition: Practical Strategies to Overcome Fears, Worries, and Phobias and Be Prepared for Life--from Toddlers to Teens
Tamar Chansky
A must read for parents of anxious kids! This book offers solid advice for how to understand your child's anxiety and the importance of not minimizing your child's concerns. It's really about riding the kayak between acknowledging your child's fears and helping them navigate their worries by taking on manageable risks. I love the description of how our "worry brain" works and kids get it too.

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Nurturing the Shy Child
Barbara & Gregory Markway
If you are concerned that your child is shy or socially anxious, get a copy of this book. While temperament and personality are certainly 'hardwired' to some extent, there is so much you can do as a parent to support your child's social and emotional development. Play therapy is also highly recommended!

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Taking Charge of ADHD
Russell Barkley
If you are wondering if your child may have attention and/or hyperactivity issues this book offers solid advice for navigating the maze of assessment. If your child has already been diagnosed, this book will serve as a guide for putting the right kinds of support in place at home and school. I also highly recommend Hallowell and Ratey's Driven to Distraction as it offers nuanced advice for kids and grownups who fit more neatly in the ADD bucket.

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The "What's Happening to My Body" Book for Boys
The "What's Happening to My Body" Book for Girls
Lynda Madaras
Maybe after scanning these book titles you are having flashbacks about how your parent unsuccessfully told you about the birds and the bees. The fact is that you made it this far and managed to have kids in the process! Perhaps through the generations we will all manage to pass on fewer hang-ups and distortions about our sexuality. Either read this book with your developing tween or simply give them a copy.

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A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak You Out
Joani Geltman
Perhaps you don't want to read this book because it will serve up TMI--too much information--or perhaps you will feel relieved that you are not alone. Knowing how to respond to the colorful episodes in your teen's life takes more than humor, though laughter helps immensely. It's important to arm yourself with what is possible and know what to do if your son or daughter takes the starring role in the miniseries called I'm Going to Kill My Teenager.

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Teens & Technology: The Ultimate Guide to Understanding Your Teen & Social Media
Wendy O'Connor
It is essential to get informed on this topic and to know how to do technology smartly and still find ways to connect in real time. What is your family policy on screens? How about yours? When is it OK for your kids to plug in? You might also consider reading It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens but know that it's written more from a tech perspective than a therapeutic one.

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for children

Reading books with young children about emotions and behavior is such a smart thing to do. It helps them name what's going on, it builds their EQ, and it provides a reassuring voice that they are not alone. Here is a list of my favorite feelings-oriented books, grouped by topic. I have also provided a general age range for each selection. If you come across a title that you simply love that is not on this list, please share. I love adding to this treasure chest.

feelings (general)

Feelings (ages 4-8)
Aliki
A fun way to introduce children to a wide range of feelings, and the illustrations are delightful.

The Way I Feel (ages 2-8)
Janan Cain
Expressive pictures and text teach kids they have a whole wheelbarrow of emotion to express.

On Monday When It Rained (ages 4-7)
Cherr Kachenmeister
Kids learn to express emotions through mirroring; the photos in this book capture this so powerfully.

Hurty Feelings (ages 4-7)
Helen Lester
Fragility the hippo has a tough exterior but is really super sensitive. She learns how to take a compliment.

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anger

When Sophie Gets Angry--Really Really Angry (ages 3 and up)
Molly Bang
Shows the importance of letting out anger and learning to calm down. Often as parents we forget the step where it's ok for kids to be angry (or we don't do such a hot job with the containing part).

The Grouchies (ages 3 & up)
Debbie Wagenbach
Helps kids recognize when they get grumpy and what to do about it. I also love Pete the Cat and His Magic Sunglasses as Pete learns to put on cool shades to change his thoughts and, voila, new mood.

Angry Octopus (ages 4-8)
Lori Lite
This is a great book to teach progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing skills.

Steps and Stone: An Anh's Anger Story (ages 4-7)
Gail Silver
After feeling left out, Anh wants to lash out but then discovers a walking meditation instead.

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sadness

The Boy Who Didn't Want to be Sad (ages 4 and up)
Rob Goldblatt
Great for budding existentialists…the boy in the story decides to eliminate everything in his life that makes him sad and soon realizes these things are also the source of his happiness.

Feeling Sad (ages 5-8)
Sarah Verroken
The lovely book from Belgium includes sparse woodcut illustrations and simple text. Sadness is truly evoked and felt but by the end of the story brightness re-emerges.

Why Do You Cry? Not a Sob Story (ages 3-7)
Katie Klise
Explains and normalizes why we cry. Great for over and under criers!

The Blue Day Book for Kids: A Lesson in Cheering Yourself Up (ages 12 and under)
Bradley Trevor Greive
This is a how-to-cheer-yourself-up book for kids that has been widely applauded.

The Color Thief: A Family's Story of Depression (ages 4-8)
Andrew Fusek Peters
Helps children understand and cope with a parent's struggle with depression.

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separation anxiety

The Kissing Hand For Chester Raccoon (ages 4-9)
Audrey Penn
How to say goodbye and stay connected--something we practice throughout our lives.

Will I Have a Friend? (ages 4-8)
Miriam Cohen and Ronald Himler
A book about separation anxiety and fathers. Also check out First Day Jitters by Julie Dannenberg and I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas.

The Runaway Bunny (ages 2-6)
Margaret Wise Brown
The game of hide and seek is a classic dance between parent and child. This book reminds children of the staying power of love.

The Invisible String (ages 3 and up)
Patricia Karst
Reassuring words about our special connection, a string made of love that ties children and parents together. Pairing this with books on being brave is a neat idea.

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fears & worries

You've Got Dragons (ages 6-10)
Kathryn Cave
Humorous tale about turning fears and worries into dragons. Another humorous take on responding to real and imaginary worries is Ferida Wolf's Is A Worry Worrying You?

Worry Glasses: Overcoming Anxiety (ages 5-8)
Donalisa Helsley
Teaches based cognitive behavioral techniques in a creative and child friendly way.

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes (ages 4-8)
Mark Pett
If your child has a perfectionistic streak, this is a great way to introduce balance and the concept that making mistakes helps us learn.

Pins & Needles (ages 3-5)
Stephen Krenksy
Needles is a porcupine who is scared a lot. What will he do when his risk-taking friend Pins needs help?

David and the Worry Beast: Helping Children Cope with Anxiety (ages 4-9)
Anne Marie Guanci
It's important for your child to take risks and conquer fears. This book offers a nudge in this direction.

Wilma Jean and the Worry Machine (ages 7-11)
Julia Cook
A humorous take on anxiety along with creative strategies for lessoning its grip.

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impulse & behavior

The Way I Act (ages 4-11)
Steve Metzger
A great sidecar for The Way I Feel, this book helps kids get how actions shape behavior. Qualities such as being friendly, brave, considerate, curious, imaginative, active, capable, and zany are reviewed.

Your Fantastic Elastic Brain (ages 4-8)
JoAnn Deak
Overview of how our brains work. Also covers the vital concept that mistakes are a part of learning.

My Mouth is a Volcano (ages 4 and up)
Julia Cook
You may have a talker, an interrupter, and a spirited child on your hands. If so, this is a book for you.

I Just Don't Like the Sound of No (ages 5-12)
Julia Cook
You may also have an attorney in your midst. This book will help your little one accept 'no' for an answer in a non-threatening way and perhaps you too will improve your neutral, no-nonsense delivery. Check out other titles by Julia Cook that fit your experience.

Hands Are Not For Hitting (ages 4-7)
Martine Agassi
Great for help with curbing aggressive toddler behaviors, often a sign of autonomy but still something to keep in check. Elizabeth Verdick caught this train and came up with a whole series of board books for curbing kicking, yelling, and biting and for promoting listening, sharing and calming down. If nothing else, this series will help you come up with calming mantras at times when you feel a grown-up fit coming on.

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divorce

Two Homes (ages 3-7)
Claire Masurel
Often children experiencing a divorce struggle with moving between two spaces.

It's Not Your Fault, Koko Bear (ages 3-8)
Vicki Lansky
Highlights how things change in families with a divorce and emphasizes that it's not the child's fault. Great discussion questions are included.

I Don't Want to Talk About It (ages 5-9)
Jeanne Franz Ransom
This book powerfully taps into feelings. The child in this story doesn't want to talk but would rather roar like a lion to drown out the fighting, or be a fish to hide her tears, or a bird to fly away.

My Stick Family: Helping Children Cope With Divorce (ages 4-8)
Natalie June Reilly
Many children I work with draw a broken heart in their pictures to represent how torn and divided they feel. They are trying to make sense of the separation and still stay connected to love.

My Parents Are Divorced, My Elbows Have Nicknames, and Other Facts About Me (ages 4-8)
Bill Cochran
Kids moving through divorce often feel weird, and different from other kids. This light-hearted story celebrates uniqueness and normalizes divorce.

Do You Sing Twinkle: A Story About Remarriage and New Family (ages 3 and up)
Sandra Levins
Told from a young boy's point of view--an insider's view of coping with remarriage and blending families.

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other difficult topics

Topics such as alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual abuse, violence, and grief are sensitive. For this reason, I have only listed one book for each of these topics. If you suspect or know that something like this has happened in your child's life, we will talk about timing and the best way to introduce these and other books. We may read them together.

Wishes and Worries: Coping with a Parent Who Drinks Too Much Alcohol (ages 5-8)
Centre For Addiction and Mental Health
Great way to springboard a discussion with your child. Answers to common questions like: Why does my parent drink? Will this problem happen to me? Is it my fault?

When Mommy Got Hurt (ages 2-7)
Ilene Lee
Tells the story about a young child who witnessed domestic violence and how she leaves with her mom to live at her grandma's house.

I Said No! A Kid-to-Kid Guide On Keeping Your Private Parts Private (ages 4 and up)
Zach King
Written from a kid's perspective--teaches kids how to be direct and strong about setting boundaries.

A Terrible Thing Happened (ages 4 and up)
Margaret Holmes
Appropriate for children who have witnessed any kind of violent or traumatic episode. Reviews PTSD symptoms like bad dreams and hurting tummies and how sharing helps.

The Fall of Freddie the Leaf (ages 4 and up)
Leo Buscaglia
Compares fear of dying with fear of the unknown and frames death in the context of changing seasons.

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films

films for adults

Certain movies evoke emotion so powerfully and resonate with our own life stories and personal struggles. I have picked some of my personal favorites but there are so many good films out there. The Zur Institute has quite a comprehensive list of "Therapeutic Themes and Relevant Movies." Find one that works for you.

The Tree of Life
One of my favorite directors is Terrence Malick. I love his ambitious focus on all things spiritual and existential. It's kind of like watching poetry on film. You will either love or hate this film. I love the way Malick films the parents, played effortlessly by Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain, and their everyday life with their children in middle-America during the 1950s. You immediately enter the son's struggle who attempts to sort out his parent's opposing ideologies. You can't help but drink in the scenes and simultaneously be taken back to scenes from your own childhood, to how you made sense of your parents' dance, to how you came to understand the goodness and perhaps the darkness in your home. This film is expansive--it will make you question memory and time and your place in the universe. Other Malick films include: Badlands, The Thin Red Line, Knight of Cups, To the Wonder and Days of Heaven.

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Crash
This Paul Haggis film about racism asks us to think about how we intersect and interact with people who are different from us. Different cultures. Different belief systems. Different economic brackets. What do we quickly assume about others' stories? What do we really know about others? How are we similar? How are we changed by the experience of "other" and how do we ground a true self that is comfortable across contexts? Even in our own family systems, difference or conflict exists in parent-child relationships, amongst siblings or cross generationally. I love the way this film demands so much of us: that we wrestle with our internalized prejudices and fears, that we pause to consider a multiplicity of perspectives, and that we honor what binds us together, our humanness.

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Little Miss Sunshine
This is a road trip movie, a satire about a family trying to find connection. It's also a movie about finding your voice. This movie makes me laugh out loud, and I hope you laugh too. The premise is that a beleaguered but well-meaning mother, played unflinchingly by Toni Collette, convinces her family to take a road trip so their young daughter Olive can compete in a beauty and talent contest. Olive is clearly not the girly type but through the direction of her unconventional grandfather (Alan Arkin) proves to bust gender stereotypes and put on quite a show. The father in the film played by one of my favorites, Greg Kinnear, is a pretty lousy motivational speaker and ironically coaches his family on winning and losing. Paul Dano plays the shaggy-haired teen who refuses to talk--because he's into Nietzsche and has taken a vow of silence to get into flight school. That, and he's pissed at the world. And then there's Uncle Frank (played by Steve Carell), and he's just attempted suicide because his graduate student lover dumped him for the Number Two Proust scholar in the world (you guessed it, he's the Number One Proust Scholar). I just love this zany family and how much comes across in their nonverbal communication. The opening scene of the family eating at the diner is sublime. We all have a little craziness in our families. I like the way this one comes together.

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Antwone Fisher
Good Will Hunting
I picked these movies because both involve main characters who resist going to counseling and who, in the end, are changed for the better. The dearly-loved Robin Williams plays the therapist in Good Will Hunting and the one-and-only Denzel Washington portrays a therapist who works in a military setting in Antwone Fisher. I really just love the exchanges that happen in movie versions of "therapy" in these two films. It demystifies and normalizes the experience. Both main characters also successfully confront their past and move on to write new chapters.

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True West
This is a movie version of Sam Shepard's play, and stars Bruce Willis and Chad Smith. Or if you are more the theatre type you can check out the videotaped performance of the play on "American Playhouse." I picked this because it's such a great exploration of sibling relationships. One of the unfortunate fallouts of dysfunction in families is that polarization often happens---basically the tendency to stake out opposing views. In this movie/play, Austin is a comfortable Hollywood screenwriter, and psychologically dukes it out with his brother Lee who is a criminal and the quintessential prodigal son. Their intensity of conflict may resonate with you. Other good sibling flicks include: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, A River Runs Through It, Hannah and Her Sisters, and Lovely and Amazing.

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Crazy Heart
Jeff Bridges is so believable in this movie about alcoholism. His role is Bad Blake, a worn out country music star. The film opens with Blake being interviewed by a newspaper reporter played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. What I appreciate about this film is that it's not trite or self-pitying. It reveals an honest look at a man struggling with addiction. The lyrics to one of his songs is telling: "I used to be somebody, but now I'm somebody else." You can feel the chemistry between Bridges and Gyllenhaal. They are able to be real with each other-vulnerable and broken. Other favorite films that explore themes of loss in life and relationships include: Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers, Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, and Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz.

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American Beauty
Kevin Spacey shines in this satire about the American family. Spacey plays Lester Burnham, a man who's lost his power, his place in his family, and his center. He tells us in the beginning of the movie, "I'll be dead in year." Annette Bening plays his perfect, coordinated wife and Thora Birch plays their teenage daughter who's saving up for breast implants. Burnham's world spins after encountering Mena Suvari, a high school cheerleader, at his daughter's school. This angelic visitation is not really about sex per se but really represents a spiritual smittening of sorts, a desire for youth, power, and beauty. Soon after his awakening, Burnham announces that he is quitting his job and embarks on a rebellious journey. What I love about this film is that it unnerves the viewer. What parts of ourselves are withering? Where do we truly experience power and beauty in our lives? I also really am moved by Ang Lee's The Ice Storm, which reveals the tragic unravelling of an East Coast family with all their distance and coldness.

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The Hours
This movie is about three different women at three different points in time. It's about suicide and sexuality. It's about duty. Their lives are linked by a Virginia Woolf novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The real reason I selected this film is the importance of women being able to create what Woolf called "a room of one's own." As a woman, I identify with the complexity of balancing multiple roles, of the roles we carve out for ourselves and the ones we leave behind. So often the roles that we choose or that are chosen for us require a lot of responsibility. They also can limit our potential in many areas of our lives. Essentially what I find interesting about this film is that it explores the notion of women having multiple selves.

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Wild
The book is better, but I like this film because it's a quest-- a personal journey. The movie and book are based upon real-life experiences of the author, Cheryl Strayed. Still reeling from her mother's death, a drug habit, and series of meaningless encounters, she decides to go it alone and hitchhike the Pacific Crest Trail. I admire the grit that's in this story, the decision to simply be with oneself for the long haul, to enter the darkness. So often we get caught up in sorting out relationship grievances and family-of-origin wounds. Though a worthy trek, we sometimes lose track of the central player--in other words: our relationship to self. Sean Penn's film version of Into The Wild is also noteworthy. Both films speak to the centrality of knowing oneself in a grounded way and of needing connection with others.

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films for teens

Whiplash (2014 - R)
This movie has an electrifying edge, good music too. The film is really about a relationship between a top performing drum student at a NYC music school and his hard-driving teacher. Andrew, the student, is both confident and unsure of himself at the same time. It's unclear who is driving harder: Andrew or his teacher. What does it take to be a success? What is the cost? Is it worth it? Who's it for anyway? Fletcher, Andrew's teacher, uses mind games and harsh, almost torturous methods like throwing furniture to demand more out of his protegé. Is he psychologically abusing Andrew or is he just pushing him to be his best? There's an insane drum solo that may provide resolution for you or you may just have more questions. One cool thing is Andrew gets his nerve up to ask out a girl he really digs...other cool things happen for him too. Another film on a similar theme that's also worth a watch is Searching for Bobby Fisher (1993 - PG).

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The DUFF (2015 - PG-13)
The DUFF stands for Designated Ugly Fat Friend and it's not a fun thing to be. Mae Whitman (you may know her from the awesome series, Arrested Development) really carries this movie. You can't help but love Bianca. You love her slouchy overalls and the way she makes biting, well-timed jokes with her BFFs. You feel her angst when Wesley, her good-looking next door neighbor and football team captain, informs her that she is a DUFF, that she is being used for social information so others can hook up. In outrage she cuts herself off from her friends and goes solo. She experiences shame…also not fun. Eventually she decides to help Wesley pass his chemistry class and accept his help with improving her looks and her outlook. She makes the choice not to go at it alone-that she needs others. Though the self-esteem cheerleading at the end of the movie is a bit much, it's true…you gotta be ok with yourself to join with others and really ok with yourself to not care so much about which group you're hanging with. For an 80s version this movie, heard of The Breakfast Club (1985 - R), anyone?

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Mean Creek (2004 - R)
A lot of films about bullying are all about getting back at the bully. This one is not so simple. It's got lots of layers. Introverted Sam, played by Rory Culkin, is being bullied at school by George, an overweight tough kid who is basically feeling pretty lonely. When Sam tells his other brother Rocky about this ongoing abuse, he and his crew devise a tricky plan to get revenge. But it doesn't end here. The boys start to put themselves in George's shoes. They question their plan. Why does George bully others anyway? They start to talk morals and justice and the rightness of things. What's so great about this movie is you get to listen in on this rich debate. You get reminded that power struggles in the schoolyard, just like in life, are complicated. You might also check out the 2011 documentary Bully (see http://www.thebullyproject.com/ for more info and resources).

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3 movies about divorce

The Parent Trap (1998 - PG)
Author! Author! (1982 - PG) (1982 - PG)
The Squid and the Whale (2005 - R)
The original Parent Trap came out in 1961. Lindsay Lohan stars in this modern re-make. The premise is that identical twins who are raised separately by their divorced parents meet by chance at camp and hatch a plan to switch places. They don't just swap parents and cultures; their ultimate plan is to get their parents back together. This film puts a funny spin on what a lot of kids dealing with divorce long for-they want their parents back together. Author! Author! also has lots of laughs but serious parts too. This is divorce, New York style. Al Pacino is a playwright whose wife leaves him with four kids from her many failed marriages. The kids in this movie are truly the stars of the film…they deal with feeling homeless, they stick together, they learn to get what they need. Finally, in The Squid and the Whale two boys, one 12 and one 16, takes sides when their artsy, dysfunctional but loveable parents split up.

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Speak (2004 - PG-13)
Based on a novel by Laurie Halse, Speak is about date rape. Kristen Stewart plays a high school freshman, Melinda. She returns to school after experiencing a date rape at a party over the summer. She is traumatized and can't speak. Her art teacher finally reaches out and helps her express herself. This is such a common occurrence in dating relationships. In fact, sexual abuse is more likely to occur with someone you know. My advice to anyone who has experienced date rape or sexual abuse is to speak up, and take the risk to share your story. Even though some people out there don't give the right kind of support, there definitely are many people out there who will support you.

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Real Women Have Curves (2002 - PG-13)
Better Luck Tomorrow (2002 - R)
Hoop Dreams (1994 - PG-13)
Culture is a huge part of who we are, and we are affected by the stereotypes and the reality of being who we are. I think these three movies do a great job of exploring how important culture is in our lives. In Real Women Have Curves a first generation Mexican-American teenager woman is torn between pursuing her education and helping her family. Ana, played by America Ferrara, also comes to terms with her body-image as a young woman and a Latina. Better Luck Tomorrow is a comedy and a social commentary about a group of Asian- American affluent kids who live in an Orange County suburb of LA. They are on track for the Ivy League. They are polite. They are also leading a life of crime. Hoop Dreams is a stellar documentary that follows the lives of two boys who grow up in the inner city on the South Side of Chicago. What does it take for William Gates and Arthur Agee to make it to the MBA? This work is about so much more--it's about class and race, it's about ambition, it's about family. All of these movies are fantastic and well worth watching. They ask to look at the cultural soup you were born into. They ask you to think about your own values. What's important to you? How does it show up in your life? What do you need to change?

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Cover Girl Culture: Awakening the Media Generation (2008)
NOVA: Dying to Be Thin (2000)
Cover Girl Culture is a documentary that explores the influence of the media on girls and women. From an early age, girls learn what the standards of beauty are--skinny, big boobs, long hair, pouty lips….the list goes on. Who sets these standards anyway? Why do girls and women wind up spending so much energy on our looks? Why do we judge our peers and do the constant comparison or compliment thing? Dying to Be Thin is also interesting documentary on the rise of eating disorders. Learning to love your body is really challenging given the culture women swim in from such an early age. I think the choice to swim upstream is the best way to go. I think it's time to celebrate our uniqueness and to value all the parts of ourselves that make us who we are. These films will hopefully get you thinking.

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Guyland: Where Boys Become Men (2015)
I think there is a lot of talk about media culture and its impact on girls and not enough energy devoted to guys. The new film Guyland is based on a book by sociologist Michael Kimmel. Basically he makes the case that boys are not given a clear road map for how to make it to manhood. It's confusing. It can be overwhelming. It can even be scary. He talks about why guys are trying so hard to prove their manhood to other guys. He talks about violence and how guys learn to treat girls. So you won't find this on Netflix or Amazon, but you can pay to stream it if you go his website. A related resource is Jackson Katz's homepage. Jackson Katz is one of the leading activists working to educate and advocate about topics related to gender. He's super cool. He is the co-founder of the Mentors in Violence Program (MVP) and also has created some crazy good documentaries. You can find full list of his videos on the website.

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Boyhood (2014 - R)
I remember as a young girl I used to love laying in the grass and making pictures out of the clouds. I sometimes would contemplate my life, but mostly I was just being. Boyhood is unique film about growing up, about being. Over a period of twelve years we get to watch Mason, the lead character, at various stages in his life. We get to see how he deals with his parent's conflict, how he navigates his relationships, and how he finds his way in the world. I love the honesty of this film. I love the way that Mason gets to be a complex person, someone with grit and fragile and lost parts too. I love the way Mason wrestles with all the advice he gets along the way from the somewhat lost grown-ups in his life. I love the relationship that emerges between Mason and his bohemian but loving father, played so well by Ethan Hawke. I love the fact that it's not so clear if Mason is steering the kayak or if he is shaped more by water that washes all around him over time, or if it's all true.

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Juno (2007 - PG-13)
This movie is like eating really good ice cream--the real stuff, not the fake kind. You just want more. In fact, I think this is what I love about this film is that Juno is so incredibly real. She's funny, authentic, bold and vulnerable. The story goes like this: sixteen year old Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) decides it's time to have sex. She cons her not-too-eager best friend Paulie (Michael Cera) into this "experiment" and winds up pregnant. In searching for the world's perfect parents to adopt her soon-to-be-born baby she stumbles upon Mark and Vanessa Loring (played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner) and their perfect house and perfect life. In getting to know Mark, Juno experiences a deep emotional connection with this soon-to-be-adoptive father. Really this is what we see Juno do throughout the film, connect with herself and the people in her life. This movie has so many laugh-out-loud and tender moments but there are also more philosophical questions. Can we truly find connection and love in life? How do we serve up this kind of ice cream and make it last?

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