I’m an improv nut. As a child, I would get so excited when it was time to visit my friend who had Comedy Central – we would watch episode after episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? I longed for the sharp wit and spontaneity of Greg Proops, Ryan Stiles, and Colin Mochrie. How did they do it?
So when I moved to Los Angeles, I couldn’t wait to take classes at the renowned Groundlings theater – not because I wanted to become an actor, as did many of my classmates, but because I wanted to have the experience that so fascinated me as a child: of improvising, making up scenes and characters, and feeling the electric buzz of excitement as we created on the spot.
Many years later, as I trained to become a therapist, I began to notice striking parallels between the process of improvising and the skills needed to conduct a therapy session. Both require spontaneity, flexibility, creativity, playfulness, relatedness, and presence. I began to develop improv workshops for therapists to cultivate these skills. Some years later, I conducted even more improv workshops with early childhood educators and parents, with the help of my skilled collaborator and Improv Parenting founder Karen Gudeman.
I’m not the first one to consider improv’s high degree of applicability to other life skills. In her wonderful book Improv Wisdom, Patricia Madson states simply,
Life is an improvisation; if we’re lucky, a long one.Patricia Madson, Improv Wisdom
In that lovely little manual, Madson offers many gifts, including the exercise I’m sharing with you here, which I’ve come to view as an incredible tool for awareness, healing, and self-regulation. For the past few weeks, I’ve been using it with children, parents, and therapist interns, all of whom report striking, unexpected imagery emerging from their minds. As a psychodynamically informed therapist, I would say these images come from the subconscious. The ancient Greeks would have said they were a receipt of inspiration from the muses. Those who do this exercise simply say it’s wonderful, noting the uncanny way in which our minds, when asked to be still and invited to surprise us, can give us the exact thing we need most in any given moment.
Press play and allow yourself to be delighted, filled with wonder. Allow tears to come. Accept a gift from a long-lost friend or loved one. Allow that gift to heal the parts of you that are in most need of extra care today.
Rebekka Helford is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Los Angeles, California. With over a decade of experience working with parents and young children, Rebekka specializes in short-term intensive parenting consultation, using a variety of tools including home, office, and school visits to help families navigate developmental hiccups and get back on track.
Click here to schedule an appointment or contact Rebekka with a question – who knows, she might even answer it in her next post!
For additional reading:
- Dictated, not read: The power of note-taking to help small children move on
- A Tashlikh Meditation for the Self and the Nation
- Green eggs and super strong adhesives: What I learned about my parents by reading Dr. Seuss
- Parent Q&A: Out of bounds babysitter