Have You Heard the One About Comedians and Psychologists?
Improvisational comedy, also known as improv, is a form of performance art in which participants use acting techniques to perform spontaneously. Dr. Allen Cornelius, a psychology professor at University of the Rockies, an online and on-campus university offering master's and doctoral degree programs in social and behavioral sciences, has discovered distinct parallels between improvisational comedy and professional counseling skills.
Psychology is the study of how people perceive and react to the world around them. It's about relating with others and functioning in groups. So is improv.
"To be effective, improv comedians and clinical psychologists must both successfully read their audience. They must be able to recognize and analyze every situation from multiple points of view, adapt quickly to change, pay attention to the behaviors of those they're interacting with and subtly move toward a satisfying outcome," Dr. Cornelius said.
Humor in clinical counseling is no laughing matter. The expression, "laughter is the best medicine," stems from the notion that humor reduces stress levels and improves mental health. Dr. Cornelius recognized the correlation between improv and counseling when he explored the positive effects of humor on his clients' emotional well-being.
In his highly interactive "Improv Your Counseling" workshop held at the University of the Rockies campus, Dr. Cornelius identified 10 clinical psychology counseling traits that mimic improv skills.
1. Giving Instructions. Why are we here and what are the expectations? Both psychologists and improv comedians lead and direct their sessions and performances from the get-go.
2. Getting to Know One Another. Just as an improv comedian connects with other performers and warms up the audience, a psychologist creates a common ground and establishes a comfort level with clients.
3. Keen Awareness of Non-Verbals. Body language provides insights into a person's attitude and state of mind. Psychologists utilize it to assess their clients. Improv comedians accentuate body posture, gestures and facial expressions to engage their audience.
4. Paying Attention to The Group. Humans send and interpret messages non-verbally and verbally. Critical exchanges of information and interactions among members of the group drive sessions and performances.
5. Listening. Effective listening is a communication process. Psychologists and improv artists decipher meaning and evaluate messages to become active participants. Listeners are actively working while their clients or performance peers are speaking.
6. Adapting. There's a rhythm to counseling sessions and improv performances. Whether it's a topic change or a mood swing, improv comedians adapt quickly to shifts in the scene. Similarly, psychologists must adapt to changes in behavior during a therapy session.
7. Focusing on Details. Just as improv comedians need to pick up on the little things that have big potential for a laugh, psychologists need to focus in on important details that have big potential for a breakthrough.
8. Have Empathy. The capability to share and understand another person's emotions and feelings are at the core of both counseling and improv.
9. Putting It All Together. Synergy happens. In improv and counseling, the combined impact of the above eight tactics and skills is greater than the sum of their individual effects.
10. Reinforcing What Was Learned. Regardless of whether it's a counseling session or a comedic performance, both psychologists and improv comedians strive to make their clients and audiences feel better as a result of the experience.
Dr. Cornelius isn't suggesting that out-of-work comedians pursue clinical psychology, which requires extensive training and formal qualification, or that psychologists take to the improv stage. His is an observation of how both professions can learn from another to achieve desired outcomes for those that they serve.
About Dr. Cornelius
Dr. Allen Cornelius is a core faculty member at University of the Rockies in the School of Professional Psychology. He is a member of the American Psychological Association. Dr. Cornelius earned a bachelor's degree from Franklin and Marshall College, his master's and doctorate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and a second master's from George Washington University.
About University of the Rockies
University of the Rockies is an advanced graduate institution for tomorrow's thought leaders. The University provides an intimate and dynamic learning environment, offering highly specialized master's and doctoral degree programs in the social and behavioral sciences, access to industry experts, campus clinical programs for practical experience, and research and publishing opportunities. University of the Rockies is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission and a member of the North Central Association (www.ncahlc.org). Small by design, University of the Rockies classes are presented in a progressive online format and at its Colorado Springs, Colorado, campus. For more information, please visit www.rockies.edu or call Shari Rodriguez, associate vice president of Public Relations, at 866.621.0124 x2513.