June 10th, 2010
05:26 PM ET

Health lessons from 'The Wizard of Oz'

By John Bonifield
CNN Medical Producer

The late actress Judy Garland, who portrayed the orphaned Kansas girl Dorothy Gale in the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," would have turned 88 today. You may love the film,  but you may not know that it contains lessons about health and medicine.

Nurses have used the story of Dorothy and her dog, Toto, to glean a better understanding of wisdom, passion and courage in patient care. A group of 33 nurses and nurse educators analyzed passages from the book and scenes from the movie for metaphorical meanings that apply to nursing. For example, the Wizard helps the Lion to realize that sometimes it is actually wise, and not cowardly, to run from dangerous situations.

"The distance between courage and folly is not great, thus nurses and nurse educators need to be cautious. Nurses and nurse educators do need to take risks to carry out their agency's mission... but they should strive to make those risks as well informed and thoughtful as possible," the researchers write in a study published in Nursing Science Quarterly. "A central characteristic of nursing is the process of giving respect and loving witness to the wisdom, compassion, and courage of others."

Psychologists have also used the film to help explain why, so often, impressions we make about the size of people based on their voices are wrong. Dorothy is initially terrified of the Wizard's large, booming voice, only to discover that he is, in reality, a short man.

"We all have had experiences roughly similar to Dorothy's in which we have formed clear, if implicit, impressions of people based primarily on the sound of their voices, only to have them dramatically contradicted when we meet them in person" psychologists note in a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. "They turn out to be considerably shorter or taller than we expected."

Hypnotherapists have even used the story of "The Wizard of Oz" to put kids into hypnosis.

When some 8-to-13-year-old children weren't responding to traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy, hypnotherapists in Montana developed an individualized hypnotic treatment based on metaphors found in Dorothy's adventures. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, to induce hypnosis the therapists suggestively told the children:

"In the Wizard of Oz, the Straw Man wanted brains, the Tin Man wanted a heart, the Lion wanted courage, and Dorothy wanted to take Toto and go home to Kansas. They wanted these things very badly. So, they went to the Wizard for help. At first the Wizard seemed bothered. He called himself the 'great and powerful Oz' and sent them away. Later, he sent them out to bring back the witch's broom. When the Straw Man, Tin Man, Lion, Dorothy, and Toto returned with the broom, they were surprised with their own success. They discovered that the Wizard was just a regular man and wasn't really a Wizard after all. They also discovered that they already had brains, a heart, and courage. Then, the Wizard gave them each something to show they were smart, loving, and brave. And Dorothy discovered she had within herself, the power to get her and Toto back to Kansas."

After hypnosis, by applying the metaphors, the children were more capable of defining their goals and realizing they already had within them some of the things they thought they were missing.

soundoff (93 Responses)
  1. Paul Bookbinder

    Loved the article. Wanted to share my monthly article, from 8/09 (The Kitchen & Bath Insider(c).
    I just watched The Wizard of Oz again, and realized for the first time, how closely the plot parallels our current global plight. Homes are being sucked up from families by an inexorable force that can’t be controlled. The wicked witches of the (middle) east want to destroy everything we hold dear, and our only hope is a bunch of world leaders with limited brains, courage, and heart. But, obviously, the most important theme in the film is that during troubled times there’s no place like home.
    Accepting this premise, its only logical to take it one step further, and agree that in the home, there’s no place like the kitchen. So, until the wicked forces of evil are destroyed, and our economy is restored, there are alternatives to make your kitchens as pretty as a pair of ruby slippers, without spending a small fortune. These choices include inexpensive cabinet restorations; painting; refinishing; custom refacing; and complete renovations.
    “Rub, rub here, Rub, rub there, that’s how we keep you in repair, in the Merry Old Land of Oz!” If you already have beautiful wood cabinets but they’ve been neglected, a good rub may be what they need. With cabinet restoration technicians remove all the grime that has been building up on the woodwork; touch-up nicks and scratches; and apply a new top-coat to the woodwork. The hinges can be adjusted and oiled (look what it did for the Tin Man), and the hardware can be changed, making a world of difference. The process usually takes a day or two and prices start at about $1,200. Keep in mind, however, that a restoration of this type will not make heavily worn cabinets look new again, nor will it change their color.
    When wood cabinets have deteriorated to a point where restoration isn’t possible sometimes they can be painted or refinished. Painting can make cabinetry look new again but it doesn’t last as long as some of the other options because the surfaces on the doors are subject to the wear and tear of everyday use. This can cause the paint can scratch, chip, and eventually fade.
    Refinishing cabinets is a traditional method of rejuvenating them and in some cases can lighten the color as well. A good refinishing job will last for years and will be more durable than painting. The procedure can take a few weeks to complete and involves sanding and harsh chemical “strippers” to remove the old finish and stain. As with painting your cabinets this options does not change the style of the door and drawer fronts and if that is your goal then other options must be investigated.
    Probably the least invasive method of a real renovation is refacing, (also known as resurfacing). If you’re ready for an exciting new look for your kitchen and you’re happy with the location of the cabinetry, custom refacing provides an attractive alternative to replacing them. You can have the look and feel of a new kitchen in about a week. Replacement components come in real woods like cherry, maple and oak; or easy-to-clean and economical thermofoil. With the addition of cabinet and drawer organizers your kitchen can also have the convenience of a completely new kitchen. Easily, the equivalent of anything you’d find in the Emerald City.
    If you want to change the layout of your kitchen then you must consider remodeling. If you select from the multitude of stock cabinets on the market, new cabinets can be a relatively economical solution for your project. Custom and semi-custom cabinets are available in numerous styles, colors and wood species but will cost considerably more than stock cabinets.
    If you’re considering updating your kitchen, I suggest that you watch The Wizard of Oz again to put things in perspective. If you’re worried that a tornado in Yonkers (or some other evil force) may suck up your home, but you still want to spruce up your kitchen without emptying your retirement fund, you may want to investigate some of the options that I’ve touched on in this month’s column. And, ignore that man behind the curtain.

    June 11, 2010 at 08:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Patricia

    Actually, 'Oz' was inspired by a filing system, as in this file is for papers from O to Z, hence, Oz.

    There are plenty of ways to teach people sympathy, compassion, hard work, and determination– four of the many, many things it takes to become a successful nurse. As someone who has spent more than her fair share of the hospital, I wish that all nurses would take a lesson or two from the book and movie.

    Furthermore, if a piece of literature helps children who have been through God-knows-what in their young life, then good on them. Any way of reaching a young patient is worth studying and attempting.

    Even the famous 'poppy scene' can be used by nurses and anestheologists–imagine trying to use this method as a way to describe to a child how they will feel when they're 'put under' (You'll fall asleep, just like Dorothy does, so close your eyes and think about when Dorothy fell asleep in a meadow...) and using it as a tool to explain how children will feel once he or she has awakened, telling them they'll feel groggy and sleepy, but that this is the way to get better and get to 'click your heels' and be able to leave the hospital.

    I like the idea of using 'The Wizard' as well as other books and movies (Star Wars pops easily to mind) that can be used to comfort and help children during difficult hospitalizations.

    June 11, 2010 at 08:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. George

    Wow Ehealthlinks! You're pretty deep huh? The comparison you draw is absurd. While I can certainly see your logic, it's flawed at best. Doctors have a responsibility to impart information and make recommendations to patients.
    You said:
    "After all, they scold us mere mortals when we are "non-compliant" because of silly little things like adverse side-effects of prescription medications."

    Doctor's don't take a judgemental position because they are superior or mystical. It's not about judging. It's about making sure that patients are safe and healthy, and reducing their liability in case a patient is harmed by side effects. I'm sure you're a bright, intelligent person–but your flippant remark doesn't really demonstrate that.

    June 11, 2010 at 08:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Deborah

    And sometimes, people read too much into a story, that's just it...it's a wonderful story that adults see things that aren't there. It's for kids and that's what L. Frank Baum wrote it for. Not for allegories, not for politics, not for anything.

    June 11, 2010 at 08:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Morkal

    I am a psychologist and work with children. I think this artcle is very useful. Good Job!!

    June 11, 2010 at 08:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Joe

    To all the people slamming this article ... Don' t you ever get tired of reading bad news? There are plenty of wars, murders, robberies, etc. elsewhere on this and many other sites. I read all the bad news too, but every now and then I really need a break. So please ... give me a break!

    June 11, 2010 at 09:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Abe


    The coroner's verdict was accidental overdose.

    June 11, 2010 at 09:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Brook zais

    The Wizard of Oz is a spiritual masterpiece that reminds us all that we are already home, we just have to realize it. Dorathy's journy to Oz gave here a chance to get out of her self and her life from a distance. Yes there are other movies that have spiritual truths burried in them but few are so obvious and presented in such a loving way. Remember there is no place like home and it is here and now.

    June 11, 2010 at 09:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Jorge Weedstrom

    One HUGE medical issue no one has noticed from this movie is the genetic engineering done to get those damn flying monkeys!

    June 11, 2010 at 09:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. PeachyKeen

    Everyone interprets everything differently. This being a movie of morals, I believe you can relate it to whatever you are going through in life and what was going on at that time, 1930's. That’s what makes it so wonderful! This article is basically giving one groups interpretation of the film. We all can watch the movie a million times and write our own article of how we perceived it. Not that the researchers are wrong, that’s just their perception. Regardless we can all appreciate what it has taught us growing up. A movie featured in 1939 is still being watched, researched, discussed and loved 70 years later! Amen to that!

    June 11, 2010 at 09:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Hexagon

    I think The Wizard of Oz was a public warning about the dangers of addiction and opiates. The story opens with Dorothy who is having a hard time at life during the dust bowl. A tornado her whips up (doing her first shot of heroine) and she goes into a dream state. This dream state is The Land of Oz. The Lion, Tin Man and the Scarecrow are the demons she must conquer in order to kill the wicked witch. Also, to see the truth as to what heroine is, who, in the story is 'The Wizard of Oz', a lier and illusionist. She must conquer all of these illusions in order to go back home and face her reality.

    June 11, 2010 at 09:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Skeletor

    Just because a person is short doesn't mean that they're not powerful.

    That person is so right. Look at Napoleon. He was short and he was able to successfully wage war against the Russians and return to his homeland with more than 20,000 soldiers left alive.

    June 11, 2010 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Pen Winslow

    The article was very interesting and useful. It may also be worthy to note that Judy Garland, during the making of this film, and beyond, was a chubby person, and was fed only chicken soup to keep her thin little girl figure. It affected her entire life, and helped her become a consumer of drugs to keep her thin figure for other more 'grown-up' roles. Hers is a legacy that carries over into today's young women in the forms of anorexia, bulimia, and other diseases in which drugs are used to maintain stick thin figures, not only for movie stars but for women in general. How sad to think one must be thin and possess a stunning figure to be loved. I'll bet Judy Garland wished more than a few times that she could click her ruby red shoes together and go home.

    June 11, 2010 at 10:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. BFOTO

    It's a childrens story. And, like most, it has a metaphorical theme as well. Couple this with the fact that people generally see what they want to see and you get a sorts of "interesting" interpretations.

    Some have theorized that the images and characters closely resembled political images while others point out the press never mentioned these perceived metaphors at that time. The consensus is that the book was written mainly for the pleasure of Baum's younger readers, to give them a sense of possibility and imagination.

    June 11, 2010 at 10:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Leo

    I thought the biggest health lesson of the Wizard of Oz was that you should seek immediate shelter during severe weather events such as tornadoes, or you will risk traumatic brain injury from flying debris.

    "It's not THAT the wind is blowing... it's WHAT the wind is blowing."

    Leo, from the University of Kansas Medical Center

    June 11, 2010 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Nelson Ross

    A truly classic story about good triumphing over evil by a little girl from Kansas with her friends who display the weaknesses of man. Amazing lessons to be learned for our journey through life! It will live forever as a plan for all. You can use it countless ways.

    June 11, 2010 at 11:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. db

    What a ridiculous story. How about the trees that slapped Dorothy? Did they teach us not to steal? And the witch/neighbor? Did she teach us to sic our dog on mean people?

    There are plenty of allagories out there....this isn't one of them (in terms of medical awareness)

    June 11, 2010 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Hoj

    health lesson #1 in the Wizard of Oz,

    stay the heck away from tornado's!!!!

    June 11, 2010 at 11:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Allison

    Paul Bookbinder, your comment was ridiculous. There are ways to garner personal attention without ruining your own image and annoying others. Perhaps you need a marketing class.

    June 11, 2010 at 11:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Boo

    So it's taken a team of researchers 71 years (movie made in 1939) to figure this out? i figured this out at the age of six when I first saw the movie.

    June 11, 2010 at 11:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Anne

    There is no point arguing, but I have to say that I appreciate the article because I have a medical condition that causes constant pain and there is no cure. When you have no hope and every person you look to for help says there is nothing else to do, that frightened child inside me reappeared.

    And just like the movie, I needed to take control and figure out what works and what doesn't help at all. One thing that never helps, doctors and nurses without compassion, imagination and love for their careers.

    I appreciate any attempt to reach the frightened child lurking right there inside all of us.

    June 11, 2010 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Anne

    One more thing, without the heart, you have nothing.

    June 11, 2010 at 11:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. sandy

    In our church (Unity), we utilize The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary as a source for (really) understanding what the Bible says...who the main characters are and what they represent. I love this metaphysical interpretation of the Wizard of Oz, and think that we can all learn that we do already have everything that we perceive to lack, we just need to learn to recognize it.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Fred

    Let's not forget the medicinal value of poppies in curing sleep disorders as attested by the Cowardly Lion in the opium field to the outskirts of the Emerald City.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. mike

    It seems that I recall the Wizard of Oz having a lot more to do with dealing with the fears of the Great depression, War, famine, and the general uncertainty of the World at the time. These trivial medical euphemisms arer simply over-analytical and contrived in the extreme.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Robert

    People have nothing better else to do than psycho-analyze, the movie was a movie, for entertainment, a fantasy, especially for people going through a rough time in the Depressed country.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Phil

    Oh yeah,,.... the Wicked Witch was reincarnated into my boss!!!!!

    June 11, 2010 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. TrudyBird

    I think this is an interesting article. I love the movie and all of it's hidden messages. By reading these posts, it appears some of you could use a a heart and some brains.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. polbear

    This isn't medical, but I thought the lesson of the Wizard of Oz is that "there's no place like home" where you are surrounded by loved ones. And you never ever run away from your "ugly & scarey" problems, you must face them, deal w/them & try to solve them.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Victoria

    It has been many years since I sat on my father's lap (the wicked witch was pretty scarey back then) and watched the annual viewing of this movie on regular TV stations ( I am old). I recently watched it with my grandson and noticed two things I never realized before. First, I was amazed at the constant kindness, support, and encouragement Dorothy and her friends showed each other. Even Aunt Em and the farm workers and the wizard in the guise of the gate keeper of oz were compassionate and moved by other people's unhappiness or fear. This seems very health, to not greet people with snotty sarcasm but with loyalty, compassion and at the very least, politeness. I was also aghast when Glinda, the "Good" witch, put the red shoes involuntarily on Dorothy. I suddenly thought how very mean that was, to put Dorothy in imminent danger of at least fearful situations or at most possible death. Bad Glinda. But, the friends were triumphant because of their fierce loyalty and kindness to each other. Maybe we do "get by with a little help from our friends' (Beatles) and "the kindness of strangers" (Tennessee Williams). So the next time you see an old person like me sitting on a bench, sit down and say "hello in there, hello" (song of John Prine) and it might make a big difference in someone's life because you shared yourself with someone who needed a little human companionship.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Snow White

    I'll get you my pretty, and your little dog too!
    Why can't they leave classic movies alone.
    Nonsense for what it is being used for.

    June 11, 2010 at 13:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. James Lovette-Black PhD

    An interesting perspective that uses a well-known film.
    Neither MDs or RNs are wizards: they are professional clinicians treating and helping others. Individuals are wizards when it comes to treating illness, creating health, and promoting wellness.

    Bright Wellness >>> http://brightwellness.net

    June 11, 2010 at 14:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Andy

    This is so silly. I teach nursing and would not ever try to pull this over on my students. They are much to smart to buy into this.

    June 11, 2010 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Classic

    I agree-these ideas can come from plenty of movies besides this one. This is a classic movie-don't mess it up by scrutinizing every single detail. Just enjoy it and sing along with the munchkins.

    June 11, 2010 at 15:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. lavillas

    I always found meanings in the movie, and everytime I still see it it reminds me that we all have courage,brains,and a heart. We just have to find it in ourselves. When we have compassion, the courage to stand up for ourselves and the intelligence to use compassion and courage. It is also a story between good and evil. notice that poppy flowers are used by the evil witch to keep them from reaching the wizard. Poppy flowers is what opium and coke is derived from, even back then, the flower was a metaphor for evil. The same as it is today, and no matter how evil tried to stop them, good over came evil.

    June 11, 2010 at 16:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Franni

    Hexagon–in the book, Dorothy was a small child. Are you insinuating she was doing heroin at the age of 8 or 9?

    June 11, 2010 at 17:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Deb

    Betty: as a social worker you should know how compassionate and dedicated nurses are. More often than not , it is the nurse who coordinates the patient's care, monitors and assesses for any changes in patient status and then notifies the physician, and as you know – it is the nurse who most often recommends social work referral. I think your comment about nurses straying from "their original purpose of caring for the sick" and only worrying about "big paychecks" is unfair and uncalled for. I have been a nurse for over 30 years. I care for my patients, and I leave each shift knowing that I have made a positive difference in their lives. That is what matters.

    June 12, 2010 at 09:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Brooke

    I'm a licensed and registered drama therapist who has worked with many populations: Multiple Sclerosis, autism, traumatized children, & mentally ill adults & have found that the metaphors from The Wizard of Oz to be effective & creative arts therapies to be evidence-based. I am collaborating with a licensed psychologist (PhD) to publish an article about this very topic & will use her statistical findings which prove that creative arts therapies decreases symptoms of anxiety, PTSD, depression & anger over verbal therapy. Too bad that many of the above comments appear to be ridden with pessimism & bitterness. The themes from Oz contain universal themes & metaphors that most films do not, based on the fact that Oz was first a classical book. I see this article as brilliant & inspiring & my hope is that many more of them are written & that they "fill the space"; the space in each reader's heart.

    June 12, 2010 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Pooky

    I am a nurse–and I have never heard of this "health lesson(s)" before.

    June 14, 2010 at 08:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. SANDY C


    BRAINS- will help you in life, think postively, read, learn, apply yourself
    COURAGE-achieve your goals, dare to dream, don't give up, always look them in the eyes
    HEART- volunteer for a non-profit, do good deeds, basically just be kind individual
    HOME-volunteer in your community, remember your roots, bottom line: there's no place like home.

    Now go watch the movie, again. Wizard of Oz rules!!!

    June 14, 2010 at 20:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Mark

    I would love there to be more research done into the psychological impact of storytelling. It has been used for centuries. In effect, when we're told a story, we create the pictures and associate with the feelings. In other words, we actually have a new experience, which can lead us to new conclusions, therefore new perspectives, new beliefs and values if you will. But hey, I can appreciate the challenges people have with the suggestions made here. I'm not necessarily saying I fully believe it one way or another. But I remain open to the possibility.

    Now, if you didn't like this article, you certainly won't like this personality quiz (also based on The Wizard of Oz) – http://www.uktickets.co.uk/quiz/wizard-of-oz – seriously, if you can't lighten up and let yourself have a minute of mindless fun, don't even go there! But if you want to know if you're more of a Lion than a Scarecrow (I actually was the scarecrow), knock yourself out.

    July 27, 2010 at 06:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Danielle Ruiz

    who died? was it the girl from the wizard of oz the one that plays dorthy how did she died? was the thing really true about the hanging munchkin ? i think that it's true.

    January 20, 2011 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. rcardenas1

    I don't agree. Read:

    January 20, 2017 at 08:58 | Report abuse | Reply
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