Tell Me A Story of Possibility: Applying Improv In Therapy
There is a storytelling-inspired improv game called “I used to be _____ but now I am ______” that we use to warm up a group and at the same time develop ideas and character to explore in scenes. It goes like this: if the group is taking place over zoom, everyone leaves their camera on but covered by something, so all the players’ “boxes” are onscreen but dark. The group leader demonstrates by removing their camera cover and saying a true thing in the format “e.g. I used to be____ but now I am _______; e.g. “I used to be so self-critical about every mistake, but now I view mistakes as valuable,” or “I used to struggle if I needed to say ‘no’ to someone I care about but now I would rather be honest than resentful.” Others in the group for whom this statement is also true remove their camera cover and say “me too,” then cover their cameras again. As the exercise goes on, people tend to be inspired by what others share and encouraged to add their own. Without a lot of context or conversation, the group members connect around a theme that is central to improv and also to successful psychotherapy — the idea that personal transformation is possible.
Some transformations are uncomfortable. We can have just as many “I used to have absolute trust in my partner but now I know what it is like to be betrayed” as “I used to hold onto everything but now I know I have to let go when something has run its course.” But painful awakenings and new clarity about old conflicts have real value. In improv scenes, this is the most interesting stuff to explore, mine for comedy and discover human truths. This also a model for how we claim an authentic life.
“Improv training focuses on principles that apply to the work we do in psychotherapy,” states Richard Berger, MA a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and part of the ensemble at Improv Therapy Group. “Connecting to the moment and to the other people in it, playing with and heightening reality to examine and have fun with it, for example, give your brain a first-hand experience of doing something you did not know you could do.” The spirit of possibility realized in action during a psychotherapy session can have a galvanizing effect. Rather than talking about the pressure, pain or problem, something actually happens that shifts perspective.