Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The ‘Improv And’ Series: Anxiety

In this series of ‘Improv And’ blogs, I shall be quickly discussing the use of improv for certain diagnoses and other uses. For this posting, the topic is anxiety. This is close to my research and an important topic in modern society.


Picture from uofmhealth

Anxiety can be diagnosed in various ways, this includes Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and more. These all have differing criteria for being labelled with, which you can look at on the NHS website. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), as well all of them, impact life in a major way. SAD makes social situations become an overwhelming fearful circumstance. As it affects everyday activities, relationships and people’s self-confidence, there is need to find a solution. What is also the case is that many people feel anxious and may not be diagnosable, but still require help. There are many remedies that are offered. Some people found improv comedy to be beneficial. 

The research suggests that using improv comedy could be an effective intervention. When we improvise, the basic requirement of the participants are that they support one and another. This equates to a room full of people that are being non-judgmental and accepting. A social situation, which includes everyone knowing that others are in the same position, means that no one will be forming negative perceptions on anyone - not that this would occur in any other group, anyway. Also, improv forms communities. These communities and new friendships build trust in the participants and create long-lasting relationships that help sustain positivity and a supportive group. Furthermore, the fact that we do comedy, create funny moments, means that we gain laughter from watching and participating. This laughter leads to catharsis and can notably be healing. A group of people laughing together forms stronger bonds and builds trust once more. 

It is important to state that improv comedy is not therapy and should not be used like it is. The advice organisations suggest is to attend these classes as well as the therapy that professionals advise. There are programmes that are run that use improv and therapy in one intervention; these are usually run by therapists that are keen to bring the value of improv to anxious people. In some cases, improv has out-performed therapy. For example, an intervention that mixed Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and improv, gained the same results in a shorter time. This was found to be better through the use of externalisation (an outward focus) as it gives a positive affect. 

Overall, the benefits of improv could be: 

  • Being with supportive and non-judgmental people; 
  • Forming positive feelings through community-building and new friendships; 
  • And laughter as having catharsis and can be healing.

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