The Improv Therapy Group Advisory Board

Aretha Sills, Associate Director Sills/Spolin Theater Works

Aretha Amelia Sills is a Los Angeles-based teacher and director of improvisational theater. The granddaughter of Viola Spolin, she studied Spolin's theater games for many years with her father, director Paul Sills (creator/director of The Second City and Story Theater), and has conducted workshops for Paul Sills’ Wisconsin Theater Game Center, Stella Adler Studio of Acting, Sarah Lawrence College, and Northwestern University. She has worked with Tony- and Emmy-Award winning actors and has trained faculty from Northwestern, DePaul, Columbia College, The Second City, The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, LAUSD, CETA, RADA, and many other institutions and schools. She is the Associate Director of Sills/Spolin Theater Works and she directs The Predicament Players. She created and directs an improvised show currently touring Los Angeles public elementary schools and she works with teens on the autism spectrum at the Ed Asner Family Center. Aretha gives talks on how improvisational theater in the United States emerged out of Progressive-era social reforms in Chicago via the work of Neva Boyd, Viola Spolin, and Paul Sills. She’s given keynote addresses at the California Educational Theatre Conference and the Applied Improvisation Network World Conference. She offers improvisational theater workshops regularly in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, the Bay Area, and elsewhere around the country. Current workshop offerings can be found at www.violaspolin.org.

Margot Escott, MSW, LCSW

Margot graduated from the New York University School of Social Work in 1983 and has lived and practiced in Naples since 1984. She attended the Rutgers Summer School of Addiction Studies in 1987 and 1990 and has extensive post-graduate training in addiction studies and co-dependency.
For over thirty years she has presented workshops and seminars on “Therapeutic Value of Humor and Play” on a national level. She works with PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression using techniques such as Mindfulness Meditation and Visualization. She treats various medical issues, such as traumatic brain injuries, dialysis, and pain issues. Although many of our life issues are certainly not funny, by developing “humor strategies” we can confront and cope our difficult situations, dialysis, and pain issues.
Using Improvisational Theatre exercises combined with cognitive behavioral education, she assists people suffering anxiety disorders, Parkinson’s, MS, MSA, PSP & their care partners, and those in recovery from addictions.

Haley Fox, MA, LPCC, PhD, ATR-BC/ATCS, MT-BC, REAT

Haley is an artist, psychotherapist, writer and musician, currently on the core faculty teaching masters and doctoral students in Counseling: Art Therapy at Adler University in Chicago. She has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and board certifications in music therapy and art therapy, and she is a registered expressive arts therapist and credentialed clinical supervisor.

A focus on improvisation in the arts has informed over 30 years of experience in a variety of settings, including community-based programs, mental health clinics and correctional settings. Dr. Fox co-authored the textbook Minstrels of Soul: Intermodal Expressive Arts Therapy with Paolo Knill (1995/2005, published in Mandarin in 2017); wrote Follow Your Bliss, a career-life planning manual (2000, with a second edition in publication); contributed a book chapter to Expressive Therapies for Sexual Issues (Chapter 4, Expressive Arts Therapy with Sexual Abusers, 2014); and more recently published her doctoral research, Songwriting and Human Shadow: Heuristic Inquiry Grounded in Art, in the peer-reviewed journal VOICES in 2018. Her special academic interests include:  improvisational art, archetypal psychology, consciousness studies, human sexuality, vibrational energy states and ancient/primal art and artifacts and art-based research.

Susan Altfeld, Ph.D.

Susan Altfeld received her master’s degree in social work from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago and a PhD in public health from the University of Illinois Chicago.  She spent eight years as a clinical social worker in health care settings and worked in program development and evaluation research prior to joining the faculty at University of Illinois Chicago where she is currently the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the School of Public Health.  Dr. Altfeld’s primary area of interest are social support interventions for families across the life span, including transitional care for older adults, doula support to birthing families and prevention of sleep related infant death.

Clay Drinko, Ph.D.

Clay Drinko is currently an expert contributor to Psychology Today where he writes about the intersection between improv, science, and the everyday. He also writes for Lifehack and his site, Play your Way Sane. He is the author of Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and "The Improv Paradigm."
Clay began his career as an actor and improviser. He studied at The Second City, the Magnet, iO Theater, and the Strasberg Institute and earned his MA in Performance Studies at New York University's Tisch School for the Arts and his Ph.D. in Drama and Theatre Studies from Tufts University. After a stint as a teaching artist, Clay returned to school to earn his MS.Ed. and teach in New York City public schools for five years. He has facilitated improv workshops at colleges and universities, as well as for nonprofits and corporations.

Mark Pfeffer, Director of the Panic/Anxiety/Recovery Center

Mark Pfeffer is a licensed psychotherapist in Illinois and California. He is Director of the Panic/Anxiety/Recovery Center in Chicago. PARC is a specialized outpatient program that provides comprehensive treatment for anxiety and related disorders. Mark received his Master’s degree in Psychology from Boston University with additional post-graduate work at UCLA. He also served as the Commissioner of Social Services for the City of Santa Monica and is an active clinical member of the Anxiety Disorders Association of America (ADAA) and International OCD Foundation (IOCDF).

Mark has appeared on A&E's Hoarders show, the Discovery Channel, and the National Geographic Channel. He has been featured and quoted regarding mental health issues in various media outlets including: ABC7 Chicago; CBS2 Chicago; NBC; CLTV Chicago; Chicago Tribune; Pioneer Press, WGCI-FM and Home & Garden magazine. He has also authored numerous publications, and was a recipient of the 2002 “Golden Bell” award from the Mental Health Association of Illinois for an article he co-authored on Panic Disorder.

Walter Watson Swift, MPH

Walter is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). There he received his Master of Public Health degree with a specialization in Community Health Sciences. He has conducted empirical research utilizing improv therapy as an intervention for anxiety, depression, and perfectionism. Walter is also a graduate of Second City’s improv conservatory and Annoyance Theatre’s advanced improv programs and has performed throughout the city. He has facilitated numerous workshops using improv therapy techniques as a component to improving overall mental health and wellbeing.

Sara Tigay, LCPC, CADC

Sara Tigay is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), and a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) with expertise in cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy. She specializes in working with adults and couples coping with anxiety, depression, addictive disorders, eating disorders, and relationship issues such as infidelity, communication, and conflict resolution.  She is currently the director of outpatient services at Foundations Recovery, specializing in the treatment of the co-occurring disorder population. 

Katie Bellamy, LCPC, BC-DMT

Katie is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Board-Certified Dance/Movement Therapist, corporate coach, and Reiki practitioner. Katie's approach is to holistically heal the mind, body, and spirit. Her therapy experience includes working with substance use and mood disorders and her coaching experience includes working with large corporate teams on decision-making and workplace dynamics.  Katie also continues to keep her dance performance and mindfulness practices alive.

Gregory Geffrard

Gregory Geffrard is a Haitian American who was born and was raised in Miami. After earning his M.F.A from the University of Iowa and relocating to Chicago, Greg feels blessed that in his six years of living in Chicago he has had the opportunity to work consistently in the multifaceted Chicago theatre scene. Gregory is an educator all over Chicago: teaching Sexual Assault Prevention and Response at Great Lakes Naval Base through Catharsis Productions; a teaching Artist with Steppenwolf’s Young Adult Program and teaching social change classes over the summer with Old Town School of Folk Music. You can usually find this intersectional feminist spoken word artist rocking a conversation starter shirt or hoodie. 

Colleen Prendergast

Colleen Prendergast is an experienced improviser, coach, and a mental health advocate.  She has gotten the opportunity to perform improv and sketch comedy at many theatres in Chicago and even directed and produced her own shows. Colleen currently works as a program assistant for OAI, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides workplace safety and skills courses to individuals and businesses.  Graduating from Loyola University Chicago with honors and two degrees in Psychology and Theatre wasn’t enough, Colleen also trained at various comedy theaters throughout Chicago including graduating from Second City’s improv conservatory program.  

Debra Marks, PsyD, RYT-200

Debra Marks is a licensed clinical psychologist and yoga teacher in Roanoke, Virginia. For almost 30 years she has provided evaluations and individual, family, and group therapy, with a focus on addictions, family systems and adolescent transitions. Her practice blends traditional Western psychotherapy and neuroscience with the ancient, organic traditions of the East, including vibrational sound therapy and other healing practices. She has a particular interest in using improvisational techniques in therapy to inspire a sense of playfulness and acceptance in our daily experiences, promote non-judgmental mindfulness, spontaneity, and foster a sense of positive connection within ourselves and others.

Gordon Smith, Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Coach

Gordon Smith is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor and Coach, who has been practicing since 2000. He is a therapist in Intergifted's therapist search referral network. Gordon's practice is composed of gifted adolescents and adults in locations around the world. He has presented at numerous conferences, including being a featured workshop presenter at the 2020 SENG Annual Conference.
In addition to his professional focus, Gordon has served as an elected member of Asheville, North Carolina's City Council, Director of GROW Conference AVL, Chair and member of multiple boards and commissions in western North Carolina. Service and compassion are at the center of Gordon's life and work, and he intends to extend those values through his work with Improv Therapy Group.