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. One player starts with the first word of a story. The player next to them adds the second word and so on. All groups practice this at the same time for a couple of minutes. Then we check in.
Did any group tell a perfect story? No.
Did any group laugh while creating their story? Yes
This is a great exercise for letting go of perfection.
Discuss some of the challenges in trying to tell a story with a group one word at a time:
The story didn’t go where you thought it will go. When creating a story or a scene, I can guarantee that it will not go where you think it will, therefore its best to LET GO of trying to control where it’s going, and be okay with what’s being created in the moment.
The grammar wasn’t perfect. While perfect grammar may be important at times, in improv, we embrace mistakes and keep moving forward. Challenge yourself to let go of the need for sentences to be grammatically perfect in this exercise.
I only got to say little boring words like “the.” You’re in an improv class, and you only got to add little boring words! This can be frustrating. I like to remind my students that sometimes we play a supportive role, and we are very appreciative of those little words. Our story wouldn’t make sense without them.
Our story didn’t make sense. When you do get to add key words to the story its important to say something that makes sense and honors what your group is creating, rather than putting random words in there for a laugh. Just like in an improv scene, making an easy joke or saying a funny word might get a laugh in the moment, by may derail the scene if it doesn’t add to the story.
Try telling a one-word-story with these parameters:
A beginning – set up your character(s) and make sure they have names
A middle – your character needs something or has a problem
The end – a resolution to your characters problem (or an attempt at resolution. The story can have a tragic ending if you like).
After practicing a few more stories we are ready for Therapist Know-It-All
As the name implies, TKIA knows everything, and has the answers to all questions. We will ask groups questions that we might ask a therapist, and the group answers the questions one word at a time.
To get started one group (3-5 players) will begin. They will imagine they are one person who knows everything. They can be in chairs, sitting the exact same way, or they can stand and link arms. Before we ask questions, they should agree on an ending – something they can do in unison to let us know their answer is over (bow, fold their arms, snap their fingers, etc).
The group asks questions such as, “What can I do about my fear of snakes” and TKIA answers the questions one word as a time. No matter what the answer is, we all applaud and celebrate. Take turns until all groups have had a chance to be the therapist.
Please note that for some people one word story is extremely difficult. I sometimes lesson the rule to one, two or three word stories, and/or encourage the participants to be patient when someone says more than one word. Remember part of the exercise is letting go of perfection!
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