Wednesday, 3 February 2010


I have realized that in many ways I am a flaming humanist and existentialist, and this is perhaps the very reason I have decided to bring together the seemingly disparate domains of psychology, impro and role-playing in this blog. It is high time to examine this link, I believe.

Humanism is a rather vague concept, but to put it rather simply: To me it means a trust in other humans, their kindness and their capability, both individually and collectively. A sense of respect of, and inspiration from what other people find meaningful or important in life.

Humanistic psychotherapy
I described humanistic psychotherapy (or client-centered therapy) very briefly in my introduction to psychology, now let's take a closer look. I will stay out of the techniques and and theory framework of the humanistic psychotherapy, and just detail the therapist-client relationship.

Genuineness, acceptance and empathy has been labelled "the Rogerian triad" (Carl Rogers) and is the core of how to a therapist should conduct hirself in client-centered therapy.

The therapist should trust the positive force of change within the client and just, well listen, basically. The therapist should create a warm and accepting atmosphere with the client, in which the client will allow hirself to explore hir thoughts and worries fully and with hir own words, without any fear of failing or "doing it wrong".

With careful prompting the therapist can encourage this, deepen the clients processing, encouraging hir to think more deeply and with more perspective on hir issues, reaching an understanding of hirself.
There is also an emphasis on picking up on the clients wording and thought structure: To understand the client through hir own understanding of the world and hirself, rather than through a cognitive or psychodynamic terminology - What is meaningful to this person?

My material on therapy exercises (A translation, I don't know the original source actually!) also mentions seven common worries the therapist should forget about, and instead focus on the patient in the here and now.

Rogers' research is the reason psychologists of today goes "mm-hm" and "I understand you felt angry at that point" all the time ;-)

Impro theatre
Now let's take these principles and compare them to the five guidelines of impro theatre I outlined in the last post. Take a minute to think this over, try to see the same connections that I see.

Don't worry, listen = Be spontaneous (1)
Empathy = Always make your partner look good (2)
Acceptance = Always say yes (3)
Genuineness = Don't try to be funny (4), be spontaneous (1)
and finally
Pick up on the clients themes = Listen to and pick up what the other actors bring to the scene (1-5, really)

What does this similarity tell us?

Both impro and client-centered therapy is about putting trust in your own and your fellow human's genuine and unadulterated capability for creation and understanding (impro) or inner potential for growth and insight (therapy)

It is about creating a warm, creative atmosphere together, where something can grow, given space, a little nourishment and a little encouragement.

It is about using one mouth to talk, but two ears to listen, picking up everything your fellow human contributes, carefully building something out of it, be it the story of this stage, or the story of this human being's life.

To me, this is trust and love for other people.

Impro and client-centered psychotherapy mirrors each other in philosophy, and thus impro is the humanistic theatre.

So, are there humanistic role-playing games as well? Next up I'll introduce the third pillar of this blog, role-playing, which now is long due.

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