Improv Therapy Group Blog

Pocket Line : A traditional low-stakes improv game used for decreasing anxiety

A traditional low-stakes improv game used for decreasing anxiety, staying present in the moment, letting go of perfection, increasing confidence and finding humor in stressful situations.  DMV EMPLOYEE: What do you want? MEGAN: I need to renew my expired license. DMV EMPLOYEE: Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.  Everyone laughs including Megan who has been feeling anxiety about her upcoming errand to the DMV.  Here’s how to play:…

Hot Spot: An Improv Therapy Group “Follow the Fear” exercise

This improv warm up game is some people’s favorite, but it is also some people’s least favorite because it involves singing. (groans from students). Yes, I’m afraid there will be singing.  What’s worse is that you’ll be asked to stand in the middle of a circle and start a song all by yourself. This can be very much out of many people’s comfort zone, but I want to remind you…

No kidding: Theater improv makes you happier, creative, tolerant of uncertainty

Interesting study from researchers at the University of Michigan on the therapeutic benefits of improv. We appreciate this type of thoughtful approach to the topic. From the article….. ANN ARBOR—Can theater improvisation actually make adults feel better and more creative? “Yes, and …” A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan and Stony Brook University found that 20 minutes of improv experience causes people to feel comfortable and…

Hot Spot: An Improv Therapy Group “Follow the Fear” exercise

This improv warm up game is some people’s favorite, but it is also some people’s least favorite because it involves singing. (groans from students). Yes, I’m afraid there will be singing.  What’s worse is that you’ll be asked to stand in the middle of a circle and start a song all by yourself. This can be very much out of many people’s comfort zone, but I want to remind you…

Ease into Freeze: The Improv Therapy Group way to teach the traditional improv game, Freeze

Freeze is the most popular improv game. If you have a friend who only knows one improv game, Freeze is the one they know. I like to think of it as the improviser’s playground. A chance to do a bunch of short scenes and include things like inside jokes, character gifts and callbacks. But for some Freeze is intimidating. It brings up pressures of initiating and trying to be funny. …

Sculptures: An Improv Therapy Group exercise

This exercise demonstrates some of the very basic principles of improv and communication in an active, fun, low-stakes way. We are going to make 2-person human sculptures. Players are in a circle. First player strikes a pose in the middle of the circle. Second player adds to that pose to complete the 2-person human sculpture. The third player, inspired by what the first two did, names the sculpture. There are…

How improv offers me relief from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

The other day I left my house with a feeling of ease and relaxation. Clearly, something must be wrong!! ​You see, I usually leave after mentally prying myself from a series of repetitive rituals such as checking the kitchen appliances, the faucets, and that the front door knob is locked (20 times). I have learned to do this discreetly, especially in front of my husband and children. Even after I…

Storytelling, An Improv Therapy Group exercise

Telling our stories is one of the best ways to connect. This exercise increases empathy, team bonding and communication skills. Participants are in teams of about six (often the class is split in half) Teams sit in tight circles together. Each player is going to tell a one-minute true story about themselves. It can be an embarrassing moment story, an injury story, a celebrity meeting, a vacation story, a childhood…

Love It! An improv therapy group exercise inspired by the improv games Emotional Symphony, Gripes, and Rants & Raves

There are many versions of emotion symphony type improv games. I have found that keeping things positive in recovery can be a beneficial and positive way to get folks into the improv frame of mind. Players are in teams, and position themselves half sitting and half standing behind them so that everyone can see me, the conductor. Each player will get a topic to rave about. They can choose their…

Comma, an improv therapy group exercise

Word association is a great improv exercise to help us stay in the moment, listen to our partner, and react without overthinking or judging our own responses. Comma adds the element of furthering our thoughts, and sharing more about ourselves. Participants are in a circle. Start with any suggestion, such as summertime. First player says what summertime makes them think of. Whatever they said, the next person says what that…

Silent Scream, an improv therapy group exercise

Recognizing and expressing emotions is a skill that can be practiced to build empathy and emotional intelligence. In this exercise participants get to safely explore a variety of emotions, practice non-verbally communicating them, and practice recognizing them in others. As we play the game we also develop an elaborate list of emotions (similar to the emotion wheel) to refer to in further emotional work. Participants are divided into teams. Teams…

Chain-O-Links, an improv exercise

Creating a story as a group bonds an ensemble, helps us stay in the moment, and encourages us to let go of perfection, all while laughing together. This is one of my favorite storytelling/group bonding exercises. To start, three participants volunteer for the “easiest jobs” of this exercise. For player one I get a suggestion of an occupation (plumber) and an object (apple). Player one’s line is: “Once there was…

Therapist Know-It-All, an Improv Therapy Group exercise based on One Word Story

Playing one word story is one of the best ways I know to practice embracing imperfection and staying in the moment. Playing a therapist who knows it all is a great way to practice feeling confident, and celebrating that there are no wrong answers.  Players are in small groups of three to five people. The first goal is to try to tell a story together one word at a time….

Inspirational Inventions – An Improv Therapy Group adaptation of the improv game Ad Campaign

YES AND instills self-confidence. Knowing that everyone in the room will say yes to all of your ideas at all times gives us the freedom to say what we feel without fear of rejection. Sometimes there is a voice in my head that says, “don’t say that. They might not like that. That won’t be funny enough. That won’t be good enough.” I tell my students, “Crumple that voice up…

Yes And Adventure, An Improv Therapy Group exercise

Yes And Adventure An Improv Therapy Group exercise   Everyone get a partner. Your task is for you and your partner to plan an amazing adventure together, but for the first part of the exercise you must start every sentence with either “no” or “yes, but…” For example, if your partner says, “Let’s go to Hawaii,” you might respond with, “no, I’d rather go to Europe,” or “yes, but it’s…

Recovering from Control Issues and Learning to Trust the Process

“Trust the Process.”  I was frustrated when Lisa said that to me.  We were leading an improv group in a treatment setting and I was annoyed that people were not following the rules of the game.  I leaned over to Lisa and whispered, “That is not what you told them to do. They are not doing it right.”   Lisa gave me a sweet dimpled smile and said, “Trust the process.” …

Recovering from Perfectionism and Learning to Fall Forward

“Stop trying to be so perfect.”  That was the first piece of feedback I received in improv class, and it hit me deep in my soul.  I remember nodding while I replied to my teacher, “That seems like a timely piece of life advice.” Recovering from perfectionism has been a forefront theme in my life since that moment.   I believe the origins stem from an achievement focused childhood, like “perfect…

Pass the ball, I’m not afraid to fail

There is an improv game we play with adults at recovery treatment centers. The exercise calls for someone to start with an imaginary ball of energy. The first person is holding the ball, moving it around with their hands and describing what it is.  “I’m holding a beach ball,” says the first player.  After pretending to bounce it a few times, they toss the ball to another player in the…

Neural Substrates of Spontaneous Musical Performance: An fMRI Study of Jazz Improvisation – A Study by Charles Limb and Allen Braun

Charles Limb and Allen Braun used fMRI (Functional MRI) to study the parts of the brains activated during spontaneous musical performance or improvisation.  This study showed that there is a ” distributed neural pattern may provide a cognitive context that enables the emergence of spontaneous creative activity.” We find this very interesting as it applies also to improvisation in endeavors other than musical improvisation, such as comedic improvisation and the day-to-day…

IMPROV INTERVIEW PODCAST just released from Margot Escott, LCSW featuring our very own Lisa Bany and Angela Nino.

IMPROV INTERVIEW PODCAST just released from Margot Escott, LCSW featuring our very own Lisa Bany and Angela Nino. Here is the intro from Margot Escott: “Lisa Bany and Angela Nino, are trained Improv directors, performers and creative professionals who teach and facilitate the use of applied Improvisation in the improvement of mental health. Their organization is called Improv Therapy Group and I am proud to have recently been added to…

Characters Building Character

Comedic Improvisers are known for their ability to create absurd and wacky characters, often including funny voices or strange physicalities. These performances are entertaining, as the characters might remind us of people we know, or are simply so outlandish we cannot help but laugh. In Improv Therapy, character work is a difficult skill that is often saved for more experienced groups. But encouraging patients to experiment with taking on heightened…

Radical Acceptance: What Makes Improv Therapeutic

In the past decade the field of Improv Therapy has slowly crept its way into psychological scholarship. Frontiers in Psychology and the Journal of Mental Health published articles in 2013 and 2017 respectively outlining the potential therapeutic benefits of comedic improvisation. Around the country professionals ranging from neuropsychologists to therapists to life coaches and wellness experts are incorporating improv techniques into their work. As such improv is currently being used…

“Is he allowed to do that?” – Improv gives us a rare environment where there are no wrong answers

Before an idea is a good idea or a bad idea, it is a new idea. To write a book, start a business or simply change up a go-to dinner recipe, we have to test out a new idea. But with every new idea put into action we take a risk; many businesses don’t succeed and sometimes the new ingredient we try out ruins the dish. For so many of…

Empathy and Storytelling

Improv is often explained as theater that you “make up on the fly.” Indeed, improvisational theater in a performance setting features entire stories and characters invented on the spot entirely from imagination. But improv in a therapeutic setting is deeply rooted in exploring personal stories through drama, and thus requires us to be able to share such stories. Telling personal stories in a group setting fosters empathy between the group…

Child’s Play: Life conditions us not to be silly – Improv reteaches us how

Lisa cupped her hands in the air as though she were holding a baseball. She explained to the group that she was holding an invisible ball of energy which she passed along to the people sitting around the circle. Each individual could mime an action with the invisible ball (dribbling, juggling, etc.) before passing it along. It is one of the simpler improv warm ups, but to most adults the…

7 Ways to Practice Self-Care and Prevent Stress from Taking Over Your Life

When the workload piles up, it’s easy to get buried in it and let the ensuing stress control your life. Spending after-hours answering emails or leaping from one task to the next may feel productive, but actually only increases your anxiety even more. Give yourself a well-earned break and try these self-care tips. Make Your Home More Serene Just like it takes up space in the house, clutter can overwhelm…

Optimizing Empathy: Being empathic doesn’t require giving someone advice to solve their problem.

I was sitting on my therapist’s couch, gazing through the partially opened blinds of his office’s floor to ceiling window, while he talked me through a simple gym couple scenario. “Have you ever seen that couple at the gym, where the guy is ridiculing his girlfriend about how her stomach isn’t flat enough or her butt is too small, and she works that much harder during their workout trying to…

Five Joyful Things – An Improv Therapy Group adaptation of the warm-up game Five Things

Five Joyful Things An Improv Therapy Group adaptation of the warm-up game Five Things   With all of the stress and struggles in the world today, especially for those in recovery, I like to begin an improv therapy class with something positive. Something that reminds us to be grateful for even the small joys in our lives.    Students are in a circle. I say, “We’re going to each share…

I Am Somebody – An Improv Therapy Group Warm Up

It’s the first day with a new group. They may be apprehensive about being in an improv class, a recovery group session or an event they are attending . They don’t know me, and I have yet to earn their trust. I want to show them that this is going to be fun, that we’re going to laugh together.  I want the group participants to know they are going to…

Using Improv to Become a Self-Advocate

Being a self-advocate is all about speaking up for yourself so that you can live the best life you can. Improv can be utilized for self-advocacy skills by assisting in confidence and public speaking, as well as communication, on-the-spot thinking and decision-making. The University of Montana’s Research and Training Center on Disability in Rural Communities has a toolkit that uses improv to help build self-advocacy skills in Independent Living leaders…

Articulation (Do you Know What I Mean??)

Being sufficiently articulate can greatly help you on the path of life. By being able to articulate your thoughts and feelings on any given situation, you are able to live your life to its fullest potential and have more meaningful experiences. You are also better able to understand and absorb the world around you, through the method of processing your experiences into cohesive words and phrases. Improv teaches articulation by…

Improv is just fun!

Many have asked the question: why should we learn improv? And many, including myself, have answered with things like it’s good for education, useful in traveling, it’s therapeutic, etc. All of those reasons are true and fine, but there can be a much simpler, yet no less valid, answer as well. Improv is fun! Many people seem to be under the impression that in order to do something, one must…

Improv in Schools – Improv for Students

There are so many articles and studies about how teachers can use improv in the classroom to help their students, but there aren’t many discussions on how students can use improv training to help further their own education. Improv can be used in everyday class life ranging from elementary school, all the way up to university. There are many types of class activities and projects that appear frequently throughout all…

Improv and Traveling

Some people don’t travel because they’re scared of the unknown. With improv training, it is easier to face the unknown and have an awesome time doing it! That’s why improv can be a great help with traveling. The first integral part of any traveling experience is figuring out what you’re going to do, whether this be planned months in advance or on the day of. The improv skill that comes…

Benefits of Teaching Children Improv

A vital part of a healthy childhood is playtime, in which children band together to create a game, a scene, or even a whole imaginary world. Improv training from a young age can not only assist in the creativity involved in imaginative play, but it can also help to shape children into more confident and witty adults. They will become quick thinkers and more articulate speakers, more mature and respectful…

Improv and the Art of Getting Hired

You may have memorized what your strengths and weaknesses are, a story about a time you handled a tough situation in the workplace, and a mistake you’ve made in the past that you’ve learned from. But when an employer asks you how your favorite animal represents your work approach, or what fictional character you think best matches your work ethic, what on earth are you supposed to say? The answer…

The Importance Of A Safe Group Space For Healing

Being social is a big part of being human. Throughout time, people around the world have seemed to inherently understand the importance of belonging to a community. Long ago, community was necessary for safety and survival, however now in modern society, community is more important for emotional survival. Research is showing that meaningful social interaction can improve health, just like attending individual therapy, eating a good diet, or exercising. Research…

Ways Improv Improves Your Everyday Life

Most people think improv is about performance – which makes sense because you do improvise in a group, sometimes in front of other people. But it’s clear that improv has many benefits not related to performing. Improv provides a necessary creative outlet, teaches give and take, and fosters a sense of community and friendship. Improv is very beneficial to every day life for people in varying states of mental and…

What Improv and Meditation Have In Common

Neuroplasticity is the scientific term for your brain’s flexibility or the brain’s ability to rewire itself. Our brains are constantly being shaped and reshaped by experiences, thoughts, and behaviors. The brain’s ability to evolve is amazing. It helps us develop from into adulthood and recover from injuries. But what happens when our brain becomes wired for something that isn’t particularly helpful, or is perhaps even damaging? Brain In Charge Just…