|The Tao of Improv - Page 13|
A few years after taking up improv, I quit my job. After 30 years of agency work, I decided to go into private practice. I started to do workshops on family therapy and supervision, finding myself putting my improv skills to good use—spontaneously acting out the personalities of clients, complete with different voices, when presenting case examples. Having never traveled overseas before, I took a three-week trip across China. I got remarried.
A new client, Diane, has come to see me for therapy because her husband walked out on her after 20 years of marriage. She's trying to make sense of what happened. She sits in my office tearful as she remembers one of her last conversations with her husband before he suddenly left. She feels guilty, she says, because she was tired and irritable, and paid little attention to his rant about his boss. She now thinks that if she'd listened and provided the support he was seeking, he wouldn't have remained so frustrated, and maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't have left.
I'm about to tell her that big decisions usually don't work that way—that it's not one thing but an accumulation of incidents and feelings over time that causes a rupture of this dimension—but then I remember my father in the hospital. I begin to tell her how I felt when I knew he was dying, knew in my therapist head it was my last opportunity to say to him the things I appreciated and loved about him, but instead I said nothing at all. He died several hours later. I still feel bad, I say to her, that I never spoke up. I try to tell myself that we always do the best we can in the moment. On good days, that thought helps; on other days, it doesn't. Diane nods her head and becomes quiet, trying, it seems, to absorb what I've said.
The core of my clinical work hasn't changed—I still follow the same models and theories that I've used in the past. But, since I started improv, I find that I'm less cautious in some ways, more focused on process than content, more energetic and interactive in sessions. I'm sure a few years ago I wouldn't have told this story to Diane. But I went with the process, trusted what I felt might fit the mood and moment, chose to be honest and vulnerable rather than analytical. Was it helpful? I'll find out next week when I ask, listen, and see how she responds. We are, after all, creating a relationship together; I'm discovering what does and doesn't help her move forward in her life. There are no mistakes for either of us.
Robert Taibbi, L.C.S.W., is the author of three books, Clinical Supervision: A Four Stage Process of Growth and Discovery; Doing Family Therapy: Craft and Creativity in Clinical Practice; and Doing Couples Therapy: Craft and Creativity in Work with Intimate Partners. He's written more than 130 journal and magazine articles. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters to the Editor about this article may be e-mailed to email@example.com.