December 22, 2021

The Power of Creativity Part 2: Improv as Therapy

Mental Health & Wellbeing
Written by Clinical Resident Sarah Heinss

“There’s power in looking silly and not caring that you do.” — Amy Poehler

The History of Improv Comedy

Improvisational theatre is a tale as old as time. It existed long before writing did, because we have been acting out stories long before we were writing them down. But improv comedy as we know it came on the scene around 1920 led by Viola Spolin, who simply wanted a way to make acting more fun and approachable, so much so that even a kid would want in on the fun! Now there are theaters all over the country combining the craft of acting, with the childlike nature of games.  But Improv is more than just fun, it’s therapeutic! 

Improv teaches us how to listen

Humans are bad at listening to each other. We spend so much of our time in conversations merely waiting for our turn to speak, and many of our relationships leave us feeling unseen and misunderstood. One of our most basic human needs is to be seen and understood, but you can’t be seen and understood without first being heard. Improv helps build listening skills, which helps in relationships with friends, family, and co-workers. And to really be listened to with someone’s full attention can be life changing. One major benefit of therapy is having one person, for one hour, truly attuning and listening to just you. In improv, you can have a whole group attuning, listening, and supporting your ideas and stories. 

Improv teaches us how to support each other 

All improv is based on the concept of, “Yes, and.” But this is harder than it sounds! When we hear something unusual or unfamiliar, our instinct is to negate it or think hard about what’s being said to see if we agree. In Improv, it’s all about agreement, which means we can be free to take risks and know we’ll have the support of our scene partners. This principle of agreement allows people to practice trusting others and themselves in a safe, creative environment. This type of skill is especially important in the development of social skills, reestablishing safety after a traumatic event, or creating and maintaining better relationships. 

Improv decreases social anxiety and perfectionism (and helps you be more present!) 

Have you ever experienced a racing pulse before a social event, or right before you are about to speak to a large group? Have you had people call you shy, awkward, or introverted? Or maybe, though you appear confident, you are secretly terrified of how you look to others, and find yourself avoiding social events. A key component of Improv is the art of being in the moment, and you can’t be in the moment if you’re dwelling on how you’re coming off to others, or afraid to open your mouth. Improv comedy provides a safe environment where you can take risks in a judge free zone. This opens up your creativity and gives you tangible practice at being in the moment and overcoming your fears. 

Listening, supporting one another, feeling heard, and decreasing perfectionism are all therapeutic, which is why Improv can be a fun and helpful supplement to seeing a professional mental health counselor. And frankly, laughter can be the best therapy!

If you want to improve your relationships, learn how to listen, or decrease your social anxiety, I’d love to connect with you and support you on your journey to wellness. Give me a call today to ask questions, inquire on availability, or schedule an appointment.


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