The Blind Side: Cinematic Case Study
The movie narrates about Michael Oher, the big black teenager whose drug addict mother does not know precisely how many kids she has and the names of their fathers. By chance, he enters a decent school where he finds it challenging to study, given his illiteracy, isolation, and social status. A wealthy family, whose children attend Michael’s school, meets him freezing in the street and takes him into their care out of sincere compassion. Michael eventually becomes a family member because of his sincerity and kindness. Having great height and physical strength, he begins to play American football for the school team. His well-deserved success in sports, and then in studies, allows him to get an athlete’s scholarship and go to the budget department at the University of Mississippi. The movie concludes with documentary footage of Michael’s selection for the Baltimore Ravens professional team, as well as documentary photos of his foster family members that helped him find himself.
Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck were the originators of the cognitive behavioral therapy approach. Ellis created an A-B-C scheme that implied that certain activating events (A) lead to disturbing consequences (C), such as dysfunctional behavior, due to specific misleading beliefs (B) internalized by a person (Goldenberg et al., 2016). This approach suggested that irrational beliefs that intervene in relationships should be modified through cognitive restructuring. Beck has studied the issue very thoroughly and has concluded in the course of his research that many patients have specific errors in thinking or negative patterns that have been learned through adverse life experiences. This is especially relevant in the case of traumatic experiences in childhood (Cohen et al., 2018). A person’s behavior in family and relationships depends directly on acquired thinking patterns, which may include certain cognitive distortions. Thus, the primary objective of a cognitive behavioral therapist is “to modify thoughts and actions by influencing an individual’s conscious patterns of thoughts” (Goldenberg et al., 2016, p. 318). Accordingly, when dealing with family issues, the main targets are automatic thoughts and deeper beliefs of patients about family and relationships.
Identification of Family Members
It may be stated that there are two family systems in the movie. Michael has parents, but at the beginning of the movie, he is in a foster family because of his mother’s drug addiction and his father’s imprisonment. Thus, Michael’s biological parents are separated and do not form a real family. Michael’s foster family consists of the spouses: a businessman and former sportsman, Sean Tuohy, and designer Leigh Anne Tuohy, as well as two children – Sean Jr. and Collins. According to Goldenberg et al. (2016), a “cognitive-behavioral therapists who work with families” conducts a “functional analysis of” patients’ “inner experiences—thoughts, attitudes, expectations, beliefs” (p. 319). It can be assumed that the attitudes and thinking patterns of the Tuohy family members are not dysfunctional, as evidenced by the numerous adaptive and positive behavioral expressions. Leigh Anne helped and welcomed Michael many times, Sean Jr. was also ready to be friends with an isolated student, and the support of the rest of the family helped him eventually feel part of the family. The therapist’s main patient, in this case, is Michael, who, for a long time, could not trust family members and considered himself a stranger. It can be assumed that the protagonist had a basic belief about his needlessness and insignificance and was involved in reading other people’s minds, as well as the arbitrary inferences based on his beliefs.
It should be noted that the Tuohy family did not have diffuse boundaries and was not characterized by enmeshment. At the same time, it was an open system, which allowed Michael to become a family member. However, there were specific subsystems in the family, which were demonstrated by several episodes. For instance, the discussion between Leigh Anne and Collins about her safety in connection with Michael’s presence illustrates the mother-daughter subsystem. Leigh Anne preferred to discuss her relationship with family members openly, which resulted in overt rules. For example, in one scene, she discussed her relationship with Michael, who told her he did not like being called “Big Mike” (Hancock, 2009). The Tuohy family overcame many challenges during the storyline due to its high resiliency.
The interactions of all Tuohy family members were well established by the beginning of the story and remained relatively stable throughout the movie. At the same time, Michael’s relationships with them are of particular interest. According to Cohen et al. (2018), “children who experienced” any “traumas are particularly vulnerable to long-lasting negative impacts,” including “maladaptive cognitions” (p. 48). When Leigh Anne invited Michael to spend the night at her house, the next morning, Michael hurried to leave it, and Sean even subsequently noted that Michael “considers himself their worker” (Hancock, 2009). Initially, Michael had little trust in people and felt like an outsider, and that changed significantly over time. For example, episodes where Leigh Anne asks Michael to protect the family or where Michael and Sean Jr. sing in the car indicate increased intimacy. Eventually, Michael states openly that he considers himself part of the Tuohy family.
At the beginning of the movie, it is narrated that Michael had escaped from foster homes, and was actually an orphan. The African-American young man was very tall, large in stature, and almost illiterate. His mother was a drug addict, and his father was in prison. In addition, it bears mentioning that street criminals often surrounded Michael. These socio-cultural factors contributed to the fact that Michael could not feel comfortable for a long time in a nuclear wealthy white Tuohy family. There was a significant social gap between his familiar environment and this family. However, this did not prevent the family from welcoming Michael and supporting him in his endeavors.
Plan for Action
As noted earlier, in this case, it is Michael who needs a cognitive behavioral therapy intervention. Michael’s cognitive distortions and misperceptions may have survived even though his life story shaped in a better way. The therapist should first conduct a thorough assessment aimed at “gathering information about the symptoms and concerns” of the client and “determining the strengths and problem areas” (Dobson & Dobson, 2018, p. 17). Then, the therapist and client should jointly identify negative patterns of thinking that distort perceived reality. For example, Michael may have basic beliefs such as “No one needs me,” “I am worse than others,” which may be reflected in certain automatic thoughts about specific situations. The therapist can assist Michael in examining “the evidence for and against” these ideas and developing “of alternative thoughts” (Dobson & Dobson, 2018, p. 172). The primary outcome of the work should be the formation of Michael’s skill to respond adaptively to emerging negative thoughts. This skill should help to reduce his confidence in them and, as a consequence, the intensity of unpleasant emotions.
Cohen, J. A., Deblinger, E., & Mannarino, A. P. (2018). Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy for children and families. Psychotherapy Research, 28(1), 47-57.
Dobson, D., & Dobson, K. S. (2018). Evidence-based practice of cognitive-behavioral therapy. Guilford Publications.
Goldenberg, I., Stanton. M., & Goldenberg, H. (2016). Family therapy: An overview (9th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Hancock, J. L. (Director). (2009). The blind side [Video file].