Some Of The Things We Do When We're Not Here...
What is the essence of a great therapeutic relationship with your psychotherapist? Is it all about where they got their training? Is it about the method of therapy they studied? Is it about all the data and knowledge they have stored in their heads? Is it about their years of experience?
All these things are valuable but they aren’t the essence. The essence is about being “partners in the moment” and on the journey, according to Rosemary Moulton, one of the three psychotherapists here at Freed Bodyworks. This is why she’s so excited about the improv class she’s been taking.
You probably know of improv primarily as a tool for comedy, so you may be asking yourself how comedy can be a tool for psychotherapy.
Improv “is a form of theater where most or all of what is performed is created at the moment it is performed. In its purest form, the dialogue, action, story, and characters are created collaboratively by the players as the improvisation unfolds in present time, without use of an already prepared, written script.” (Wikipedia)
If you think about it, that’s also a good description of life! Last time I checked, real life, and all its complexities, is what motivates us to sit down with therapists like Rosemary.
Studying improv has always been on Rosemary’s bucket list so she was thrilled to discover an improv class specifically for psychotherapists and other mental health professions. She says, “[this was] a perfect opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do but something I was nervous about at the same time.”
“My goal was to show up for all 8 classes, perform at the student showcase, maybe learn a few skills along the way and not die of stage fright!”
The instructor, Lisa Kays, is both a licensed clinical social worker and a trained and practicing improviser and improvisation instructor and coach. The classes attract psychotherapists from all stages of professional development who work in many different professional settings. “We were all there to learn how to play.”
Playing, Rosemary explains, is just another way to be present in the moment. “Play can be serious or silly. Allowing yourself to play in the moment can give you a great sense of confidence.” She insists that “the major skill in improv is not being funny. It’s being in the moment and allowing the moment to unfold.”
The biggest challenge to being present in improv is “turning off the inner critic.”
Improv is based on the idea of “yes and…” As a performer, you accept what your partner has said and build upon it, creatively. With her clients, that means accepting the truth of all the complexity of a client’s feelings (saying yes) and then exploring what more there is to say, do, or feel about that (saying and…).
“We all want to hear 'yes, and...' from someone important in our lives because we need that validation of our individual experience. It helps with healing. I also believe that often what we know about ourselves deep down is true and there’s more to it.”
To get past the inner critic and be fully present often requires a person to trust their intuition and respond from that place of confidence. Intuition is more than just “magic” knowledge that comes from some unknown or mystical source. Intuition is the full complement of everything we have noticed and learned, including all the information that comes into our brains but bypasses our conscious awareness.
When you rely on your intuition, you are working from a broader base of awareness and knowledge than you are conscious. In improv, the action can be quick which means often operating from instinct, and intuition, rather than the thinking mind. “I trust my intuition,” Rosemary says. “Improv makes me trust it more.”
In both improv and in her practice, she has a well-developed sense of being prepared. She’s observed, “If I can be OK with going ‘off-script’, what comes out of it is so much better than anything I had planned.” Post-improv, she finds herself much more comfortable coming up with creative exercise with her clients and being a more creative therapist.
“Improv is a reminder that we’re all creative beings. If we trust the process, we can be surprised by the results.” Rosemary reminds us, “Therapy is all about the process and what we learn about ourselves as a result.” Psychotherapy has a well-respected tradition of using practices based in the theater. Psychodrama, acting things out, and role playing are all long-established tools for the therapist. Adding improv is not a stretch for the profession. It’s simply a new tool from an emerging trend.
“I think we’re wired to learn and grow. If I focus on what is happening rather than what I think is happening. If I listen with all of myself and respond authentically, it’s a richer therapeutic experience.”