What Can Therapy Learn From Improv Comedy?

The basic premise of improv comedy begins with “yes, and.” The line accepts the reality your partner is crafting, and adds to it. Like "Yes I am a narwhal, and... I'm allergic to smelling salts." In therapy, this approach can help you acknowledge what you’re feeling and help you move beyond it.

During improv training at Upright Citizen's Brigade, we had 3 conversations about planning a wedding to demonstrate the importance of "Yes, And'ing" each other. 

  • In the first, the response always started with "no." It felt like trying to plan a wedding with a terrible Bridezilla/Groomzilla who trampled and destroyed everything.
     
  • In the second, the response began with "yes, but." This found us building one part of the wedding while simultaneously destroying others.
     
  • In the final round we responded with "yes, and.” This finally allowed us to build the wedding of our dreams where bride and groom zip-lined into Madison Square Garden from the Empire State Building - what an entrance!

When we aren’t happy with the way we feel, it's easy to identify what we don't want. Often our first reaction is "I do not want to feel this," but that thinking doesn’t give our brains anywhere to go… like saying “no” to an improv partner. By accepting the feeling and starting to think about what we want to feel instead, we open a path to change. “Yes there's anger right now, and I would like to feel calm instead.”

Once we've identified what we'd like to feel it's much easier for the brain to get there. Simply visualizing a time when we felt that way or imagining that feeling is often enough to start the needed change, dissipating the initial negative feeling. We’ve seen this over and over again with clients leveraging the parts of the brain that respond similarly to experiences in the present as to memories/imagined events.

Think of one of your happiest memories… and standing in it, how do you feel?

If you’re smiling, then you’re feeling exactly what we’re talking about. Our bodies have an amazing ability to re-live emotions in addition to seeing/hearing our memories. By “yes, and’ing” yourself you can move scenes from your own life towards positive outcomes. 

Use "yes, and" to start the process. Just remember not to use smelling salts if that Narwahl passes out. He's allergic.