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Digital Subscriptions > Psychologies > No. 154 > Just make it up

Just make it up

A performance improv class was Katy Regan’s idea of a nightmare. But then she heard surprising claims about its mental health benefits, and bravely signed up


During my 20-plus working years, I’ve done countless things to make your toes curl in the name of journalism. I’ve spent a week in a nudist resort (naked), I’ve attended swinging clubs, been a footballer’s wife, and an undercover work-experience girl on a lads’ mag. It’s fair to say I’ve been game, but one has one’s limits, and mine could be summed up in one word: comedy. What could be more daunting than being judged on your ability to stand up and be funny?

Fast-forward to now and reports that improvisation – a form of live theatre in which the players make it up as they go along, and that I associate with TV comedy panel shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway? – can work like therapy. Claims from psychologists and researchers boil down to the way that improv mirrors the therapist-patient relationship. There’s no rehearsal, so all participants start off on the same footing – with nothing – and rely on one another to make it work. ‘If all people play authentically to each other, the fear of failure loses its sting’, says psychology professor Gordon Bermant in his paper on the subject, published in Frontiers In Psychology. ‘A net of support is constructed from openness, trust and acceptance – as in the relationship between therapist and patient.’

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About Psychologies

What happens when you don’t like what you see in the world? Our dossier gives you the low-down on what you can do to step up and make the world a better place - be it making small changes in your community to founding a charity that will make a massive impact on the world. We also invite you to lighten up and have some fun this month. Katy Regan signs up to a comedy improvisation workshop – with surprising results. Suzy Bashford channels her inner punk and delights in swearing more and caring less what other people think. Still in need of some laughs? Meet Emma Stroud, Psychologies ‘clown in residence’, who must be the first person to conduct a TED talk dressed as a banana. It’s going to be an interesting month!

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