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You’ve probably heard about the new Netflix documentary Stutz, by actor and director, Jonah Hill. The film has been receiving rave reviews from critics and, even more interestingly, from those who’ve suffered from depression and anxiety or other mental health concerns. Could Phil Stutz’s unique ‘tools’ be the key to overcoming your own mental health struggles, as they’ve done for Jonah? To give our readers a deeper insight into the documentary and Stutz’s tools, we’ve broken them down into a two-part series. Read on to find out more. 

Who is Phil Stutz?

Phil Stutz is a therapist. A psychiatrist, to be precise. He’s been working with clients, including Jonah Hill, for decades. Unlike many other therapists, who prefer to sit back and do a lot of listening (or ask repeatedly ‘how does that make you feel?’ as Jonah puts it), Stutz prefers to take a more hands-on approach. Using a set of tools he’s developed throughout his career, he helps his clients to take meaningful action to combat their struggles with mental health. 

The documentary, interestingly, also takes a look at Stutz’s personal life, the struggles he has had with family, in his relationships, and how he’s dealing with his progressively worsening Parkinson’s disease. It’s an intriguing watch as a documentary in its own right, but if you’re someone who suffers from low self-worth (as Jonah Hill reveals), depression, anxiety, or any number of other mental health concerns that have come to affect your daily life and happiness, it could be life-changing. 

First, what do you need to use the tools by Phil Stutz?

Phil Stutz’s ‘tools’ are simple yet profound. These tools allow for one very important thing, according to Stutz – the ability to take steps forward, immediately, to make yourself feel better. As Stutz puts forward, anyone can use the tools, and how you use them is up to you. But first, there are some fundamental things to understand about yourself and your life: 

The reality: To understand how the tools can be used, one must understand the true nature of reality. According to Stutz, there are three aspects of reality that can’t be escaped by any of us. Knowing and understanding these is the first step to feeling better. These are pain, uncertainty, and constant work. Pain will happen, uncertainty is a certainty in life (and causes us discomfort), and there will never be a day when you’re done working on yourself. Accept these things and you can begin recovery. 

The life force: Phil Stutz teaches that three elements make up our life force – or those things that make us feel more alive. The bottom in the pyramid of these – is our relationship with our physical body, the next is our relationship with others, and the uppermost is our relationship with ourselves. Stutz says that, if you’re feeling lost, depressed, or not yourself, you should start by taking care of your life force. Take care of your body, take care of your people, and take care of yourself. Once you can do these things, even taking small steps (like eating something that makes you feel good that day, or going for a walk, or chatting on the phone with a loved one, or taking some time for self-care), figuring out your next move is much, much easier. 

Part X: Part X is the thing that can make all your work come undone if you’re not aware of it. Even if you’re coming to terms with the nature of reality and working on your life force, Part X will try to tear you down. Part X can be described as your inner saboteur – the part inside you that passes judgement, tells you that you’re worthless, and stops you from being happy or moving forward. Part X is the villain in the story. Have a think, what does your Part X say to you? 

The tools and how to use them 

At their most basic level, the tools by Phil Stutz are visualization exercises. The documentary is peppered with hand-drawn diagrams by Stutz (in his now-signature shaky handwriting, due to his Parkinson’s symptoms), which outline the tools and how to use them. Let’s get into more detail about these: 

The string of pearls: Stutz draws a string lined with small pearls. Each of these pearls is an action. And since each of the pearls is roughly the same size, he tells us that we can think of each action as having the same value, no matter what it is. This is particularly helpful if you’re suffering from crippling self-doubt, depression, or anxiety, which can sometimes make it difficult to take the ‘big steps’ you need. Sometimes, even getting out of bed or brushing your teeth is all you can manage that day. According to Stutz, that’s ok. Keep working on your string of pearls, adding action after action, working towards what it is you want. Stutz notes that each pearl has a dark mark inside of it (he hilariously calls it the ‘turd’), which reminds us that no action will ever be perfect. And that’s ok. The key is to acknowledge this and keep working away anyway. 

(source: https://www.netflix.com/tudum/articles/stutz-the-tools)

The shadow: The shadow, unlike Part X, is not a villain. It’s the part of yourself that you hide from the world – that you’re ashamed of, or wish didn’t exist. The problem is, no matter where you go or who you’re with, or how much success you have, your shadow is always with you. Stutz asks us to confront our shadow and ask it how it feels. Ask your shadow what it’s like to be avoided or have its existence denied. This process is similar to other approaches in psychotherapy that ask us to address our inner child, offering love and acceptance without judgement. The shadow was created by Part X, and all the things it tells us about ourselves. While we can never get rid of our shadow, we can acknowledge that it’s there and engage with it. 

The snapshot: Most of us are always aiming for a ‘perfect’ thing in our lives – be it a perfect experience, a point at which we reach the perfect life, the perfect job that will finally make us happy, or the perfect body that means we’ll stop hating what we see in the mirror. The trouble is, these things we’re convinced will make us feel complete are really just a snapshot, like a still photograph, and don’t show the full picture. They’re not a reality, they’re an illusion. They don’t represent a full human or a full life. Although they might look great, they don’t contain Stutz’s aspects of reality, which are unavoidable. The bottom line: Getting that snapshot won’t make you happy, it’s a fleeting moment in time, and nothing more. 

The maze: The maze is something created by Part X and its negativity. We get stuck in the maze when we cling to anger and resentment, or the things our Part X tells us about ourselves, in a futile quest. It’s like harbouring resentment for someone who did wrong by you. You feel angry and hard-done-by, you become trapped by these emotions, and you wait for an apology from that person. But it never comes, because you can’t control what other people do. Meanwhile, you’re trapped in a never-ending maze of emotional and psychological turmoil, unable to move forward. There’s no getting through the maze, so the key is to not let yourself become trapped in it. By recognizing Part X’s handiwork, acknowledging your shadow, and working on your life force, you can avoid becoming entangled in the maze. When you hear people say that forgiveness is not for the other person, but for yourself, this is what they mean. 


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(source: https://www.netflix.com/tudum/articles/stutz-the-tools)


Next up is ‘the work’ and how you put the tools into action. Stay tuned for the next blog in our series and find out more about the work, and how you can use it alongside the tools, to change your life for the better. 


Michelle van Namen
Author: Michelle van Namen