If you have ever struggled with anxiety or depression, one of the most effective treatments is exposure therapy – purposely putting yourself in a feared situation to slowly decrease your fear. Improv is the ultimate exposure therapy. I can think of no better way to improve your mental health than by connecting with others, facing your fears, and enjoying yourself while doing it. As a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, improv has not only made me a better clinician, but I am also able to use the skills I’ve learned and teach them to my clients.
I first started improv in 2011 after graduating college. I had always loved performing but the thought of getting on stage with no script and embracing absolute uncertainty terrified me! I now believe this is one of the most therapeutic forms of art and is beneficial for everyone. These are my top reasons to learn improv to improv your well-being:
- Learn to live in the present: You’re probably familiar with the term mindfulness, the ability to accept the present moment without judgement. In order for a performance to go well, you have to pay attention to what’s happening in the present. Far too often in life we dwell on the past or anticipate the future. Improv teaches you to focus on enjoying the “now.”
- Embrace failure: Making mistakes and experiencing failure is part of life! One of the tenets of improv is “yes, and.” In other words, take what you’ve been given and keep going! So often, I’ve been on stage and something did not go as I thought it might. Often times, the miscommunication or mistake made for a comical scene. Every time you make a mistake and continue to try again, it builds resilience and flexibility.
- Improved Relationships: In my line of work, I focus on building healthy relationships with not only yourself but others. I often teach people skills for how to increase communication with the people that are important to them. When you perform improv, you learn how to actively listen and what messages your verbal and non-verbal body language sends. Your teammates and the audience give you feedback on your behavior which increases your self-awareness. Most importantly, by implementing the idea of “yes, and” when performing, you learn the art of validating someone’s experience, even if you don’t entirely agree.
I believe we can all benefit from improv. Some of my most favorite memories have been made performing with my best friends at NCT. It’s been a creative outlet that challenges me and reminds me what’s most important, enjoying the present moment. And therapy helps too 🙂