Intrigued by therapy? – Consider watching Stutz

“There is a pearl around every turd as through everything bad, there is a lot to learn and this can lead to a lot of good around an event”

Jonah Hill

I’ve just spent my Sunday evening watching Stutz on Netflix. I didn’t know what to expect but the idea of learning something about someone else’s therapist had me hooked. The trailer flashed on to my screen with Jonah Hill stating that by going to see this therapist, his life was made increasingly better as a result and if there was a chance this film could do the same for someone else, he wanted to try.

The first thing to note is this isn’t just any therapist. The documentary’s namesake, Phil Stutz is certainly not your average therapist. Those in the field will most likely agree that he goes against the status quo, has an obvious personal relationship with Hill and thrives on wanting people to leave his sessions feeling better.

The main take-home from the film is a series of tools that Stutz himself has created. Many of which are extremely straightforward and can instantly allow you to think about your life, your way of thinking, and yourself differently. I am going to repeat them all for you here. In fact, this is why Stutz himself agreed to do the show. He wants more people to learn these tools. He wants people to become better versions of themselves. The film gives insights into the therapist himself, showcasing his own faults and misgivings. A broken human helping others to mend. Let’s kick off with the first.

Your life force – “the only way to find out who you are or what you should be doing is to activate your life force because your life force is the only part of you capable of guiding you when you’re lost”

If you think of your life force like a pyramid – you will start to feel well when you change your relationships with all three levels. First off, Stutz talks about the lower tier. Your physical body. I myself learned the impact and importance of my physical well-being and the link with my mental health when I found fitness during the lockdown in 2020.

When you look after your own body, you find this newfound respect for yourself. It’s pride but not in how you look, which Jonah mentioned – this is where he and others around him got it wrong. It’s pride in taking good care of your physical self.

The second tier is other people. Your relationship with other people can massively impact how you feel and who you want to be. If you’re depressed, you may start to back away from relationships, close doors on friendships, or be less polite to strangers in need. Not surprisingly, none of this helps. Building better relationships with other people can have a profound positive effect on who you become. When I started to feel better physically, I spent more time with people. I networked better and listened more.

Finally, the top tier is your relationship with yourself. When you start to have a better relationship with yourself, life gets better. It just does. Learn to like yourself. Learn to love yourself and most importantly, learn to manage the negative feelings you have towards yourself.

This moves us on nicely to tool number 2.

Part X. Part X is the villain in your own story. It tries to f**k shit up. Part X is the voice of impossibility. Whatever you try and do, Part X will always tell you it’s impossible.

You can’t get rid of Part X. You can suppress it for a small amount of time but it will always come back. We need Part X in order to understand who we are. According to Stutz, there are three aspects of reality that no one gets to avoid.

The first is obvious. Through pain, we learn to recover. We’ve all heard the term ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ and we need suffering to make us better. We need bad things to happen to us in order to help us understand someone else’s pain. I myself for example needed to experience the utter darkness of poor mental illness in order to guide others to health. Without my personal experience, I couldn’t empathise with others. I need empathy to listen.

Uncertainty is life in general. None of us know what can happen next. And constant work means we are always looking for ways to improve.

It’s interesting to wish away Part X however, if heroes didn’t have villains, there would be no story. There would be nothing learned and therefore nothing gained.

Interestingly, we learn from everything we do. Life is one long lesson. Not always pleasant but we learn from it nonetheless.

Around 25mins into the film, there is this beautiful moment. A moment where the flakiness of TV and film is stripped away. Hill appears uncomfortable to talk about his own experiences throughout the first half with Stutz openly talking about the death of his own brother and turning the focus to Hill who shifts awkwardly in his chair before turning it back to Stutz.

You can see at these moments within this film, it was not Hill’s intention to have a public therapy session but to learn more about the life of a therapist. However, the vulnerability of Hill in this midway scene, when he talks about how he’s lied to Stutz, reveals the green screen, and even removes his wig (a prop to create continuity) instantly pulled me in further, and made want to see more.

This brings us on to tool number 3.

The string of pearls. The pearls represent our experiences. To boost your motivation, you have to tell yourself ‘I am the person that puts the next pearl on the string’.

None is greater than the other, but they all add up together to be our experience. However, inside every pearl is a turd. This is the moment when Jonah’s quote impresses Stutz who originally says inside each pearl is a turd but what we learn from this creates the experience.

Not every experience will be perfect. Something will go wrong and learning from it rather than letting it beat us will allow us to take control of it and allow us to come out of it improved rather than defeated.

Hill moves into the next section talking about his lack of self-esteem and his need for happiness. This leads to the next tool.

The Shadow: Here you need to visualise a part of yourself or a time in your life when you were ashamed of yourself. A part of you that you didn’t or don’t like. This part of you comes up every now and then despite you improving those parts of you.

According to Stutz, this part of you only wants attention from you. No one else. He says to consider how you treated that part of you. How did you feel about yourself when that part of you was prominent? And what can you do now to make up for how you treated that version of you? Don’t hide that version of you. If you’re content with your whole true self, what other people think matters less.              

If you do not give your shadow attention or respect, your shadow will disrupt your life and can be quite disruptive.      

Hill reminisces on how he met Stutz five years prior and talked about his lack of self-esteem and how he just worked to achieve success. This leads on to tool number 5.

The Snapshot (a.k.a. The Realm of Illusion). You’re looking for a perfect experience. An illusion of fantasy that will not happen.

Hill talks about how success and awards at work allowed him to feel better but it didn’t ‘fix him’. When it didn’t work, it made him even more depressed. The media joined in talking about his weight and kept him from moving away from his shadow. He states that Stutz allowed him to develop a new opinion of himself and to move away from the snapshot. The snapshot will never improve you and is most likely not related to the things that are causing you most damage.

If you imagine a person down on their luck, living in poverty with no support, winning the lottery. They may now live in riches however, the support they now have might not exist without the money so is it real support? If it was the friendship and supports this person was missing, the money is not the answer to fixing it.

I went through a period where I believed I was crap at my job and I needed to be better at my job to feel good. I wasn’t crap at my job. I was crap at celebrating myself and ignoring my imposter syndrome.  Sometimes the snapshot isn’t always what you want it to be or it’s not the thing you need to strive for to make yourself feel better.

In the next scene, we meet Hill’s mother. They do a joint short session together talking openly about what they need from the other to have a better relationship. This leads Hill to ask Stutz about the relationship with his mother, who saw her own father beat her mother and siblings and not her. She lived her life hating men and regularly said this throughout dinner conversations. She was stuck in the maze.

The maze. A period that always involves other people. It involves Part X who always wants fairness.  You tell yourself I’ll move past this once they admit their wrongs. Being in the maze is essentially being trapped in the past and not allowing yourself to move forward.

The average person wants to be paid back. The only way you can get out of this is through Active Love. Stutz goes on to tell us to ‘imagine yourself taking in all of the love in the universe. Gently but firmly place all of it in your heart. You are now the master of love in the universe. Now picture the person you’ve learned to hate/despise and face them, sending all that love you’ve concentrated toward them.

You hold nothing back. You give everything. You feel your love enter the other person’s body, and you become one with them. If you can become one with that person, you can become one with anyone. This will free you from the maze. So do you want to be right or do you want to become something more? You can get the days/hours back that you wasted on hating them.

There is then a moment where Hill takes on the role of the therapist, and we learn a little more about Stutz. His relationships and how Parkinson’s has stopped him from going for what he wants. They both joke about how they hide pain with comedy and I myself am certainly guilty of this. Hill mentions that relationships only work if we are only ever truly vulnerable but we hold ourselves back. They lead on to the next tool.

Radical Acceptance. Find a state of not getting into negativity but figuring out what am I going to do about it right now. Find something positive about the situation, and although there are negative elements, you are not allowed to say them to yourself. Squeeze the juice out of the lemon. Find the good in small things. Look at all events as having value. If you can do this, you are then in the zone of tremendous opportunity.

The Grateful flow. Sometimes when the black cloud is hanging over us, we forget the sunshine is above the cloud. The question becomes…how do we penetrate the cloud? The answer is gratefulness. There is always going to be something good up there, even if you can’t yet see it. If you create the good things in your mind that you’re grateful for, you say them to yourself and say it slowly. You need to feel it. Next, feel like your going to think of something else but don’t. Feel the thought of it and let it overcome you. Don’t say things over and over. Don’t argue with your own thoughts.

Loss Processing. This is a tool that allows you to process loss. Most people are bad at this. It doesn’t involve you preparing yourself to lose everything. It’s about understanding that you are still you without what you’ve lost.

If we put too much emphasis on ourselves based on something we fear losing, we allow it to control us and who we are. This was a simple task when Stutz told Hill to imagine you were holding on to something you’re afraid to lose. Like hanging off a tree branch. Then imagine letting go and falling but not fast, gently. He then says you now fall softly into the sun and your body becomes the rays. Your physical body is now gone but you are still part of something more.

This one I struggled to comprehend as when he said to imagine something you’re scared to lose, I pictured my children. I couldn’t help it as they are the thing that I would be terrified to lose most. This tool didn’t help me here as without my children, I don’t believe I would still be me. Perhaps I could try it with other things – my job, my home, etc and have a different outcome. Who knows. Maybe I’ll try again later.

In conclusion

This film is a beautiful picture of human relations. It’s a deep insight into the power of therapy but also about the intimacy of a therapist and a patient who have a deep level of love and respect for each other.

There are moments of genuine laughter and smiles from the people I’m watching and myself. There are also touching moments of deep vulnerability between both therapist and patient. I looked into myself a lot during the film and I’m grateful for seeing it. All in all, I genuinely found it beautiful with some extremely useful tools that could help anyone approach life a little differently.

Published by Em@InsanelyNormal

I am Em, the Author of Insanely Normal. A mother of two, a marketer and copywriter and huge advocate for normalising the conversations around mental health.

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