Integrating Applied Improv into Group Art Therapy for Individuals with Eating Disorders

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Hofstra University Annual Creative Arts Therapies Conference

Applied improvisation (AI) is the translation of improvisational theater principles to non-performers with the goals of “creativity, innovation, and/or meaning” (Tint & Froerer, 2014, p. 2). AI facilitates the practice of spontaneous communication and interaction, developing participants’ tolerance of uncertainty and ambiguity (Lawrence & Coaston, 2017), clarifying communication, and enhancing trust and collaboration (Sheesley, et al., 2016). AI creates a safe and trusting environment for developing relationships, adapting quickly to unfolding situations, and collaborating—skills necessary for communication in stressful situations (Rossing & Hoffmann-Longtin, 2018). The games require responsiveness to ambiguity and change, focus and attention to the present moment, and collaboration with others (Hoffmann-Longtin, et al., 2018). Clients who participate in applied improvisation have demonstrated increased willingness to participate in therapy and enhanced progress toward clinical goals (Alana & Ansaldo, 2018). [BREAK] The purpose of the presentation is to explore the use of improv games and art making directives in the development of safety and attunement, risk-taking and acceptance, and mastery and agency. Safety/attunement focuses on rapport building through activities that support mirroring and relational interactions between participants. Risk taking/acceptance focuses on letting go of intellectualization, increases uncertainty tolerance, and increases capacity for appropriate risk taking (Farley, 2017). Mastery is defined as patterns of achievement that incorporate challenges, persistence, and a view of failure as a part of gaining mastery rather than a lack of ability (American Psychological Association (APA), 2020) and includes self-esteem, self-efficacy, and resilience (Schwenke et al., 2020). Agency is viewed as the expression of actual feelings, developing spontaneity, freedom to experiment, promotion of insights into inter and intrapersonal dynamics, and collaboration (Farley, 2017). Lawrence and Coaston (2017) stated that providing opportunities to engage in improv allows for “struggle with appropriate risk taking, adaptability, and cognitive rigidity” (p. 517) and inspires divergent thinking and the promotion of self-esteem and agency (Reid-Wisdom & Perera-Delcourt, 2020). All the skills noted, are consistent with the needs of individuals with eating disorders most notably cognitive flexibility, uncertainty tolerance, and acceptance. Integrating art therapy and AI offers an alternate approach to addressing clinical needs within the therapeutic setting. [BREAK] References[BREAK] Farley, N. (2017). Improvisation as a meta-counseling skill. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 12(1), 115-128. Lawrence, C. & Coaston, S. C. (2017). Whose line is it, anyway? Using improvisational exercises to spark counselor development. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 12(4), 513-528. Llyod-Hazlett, J. (2020). Improv-ing clinical work with stepfamilies. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, Patrick, S. (2020). Mistakes as pathways towards creativity in counseling: A case example. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 15(1), 128-138. Rossing, J. P. & Hoffmann-Longtin, K. (2018). Making sense of science: applied improvisation for public communication of science, technology, and health. In T.R. Dudeck & C. McClure (Eds.), Applied improvisation: Leading, collaborating, and creating beyond the theatre (pp.245-266). London, UK: Methuen Drama. Schwenke, D., Dshemuchadse, M.,Rasehorn, L., Klarholter, D., & Scherbaum, S. (2020). Improv to improve: The impact of improvisational theater on creativity, acceptance, and psychological well-being. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health. Sheesley, A. P., Pfeffer, M., & Barish, B. (2016). Comedic improv therapy for the treatment of social anxiety disorder. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 11(2), 157-169. https://doi:10.1080/15401383.2016.1182880

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