Healing Self Judgment with Improvisation

Written by Rachel Makorsky, LCSW, Therapist at McCallum Place Austin

Many of us have experienced self-judgment and self-critical thinking. It does not feel good. For clients suffering from an eating disorder, self-judgment can be a common challenge.

Currently at McCallum Place Austin, we facilitate an innovative group called “Therapeutic Improvisation.” The rules, skills and lessons of improvisation not only apply to the art of making people laugh, but also to the pursuit of a happy life, a healthy business, loving relationships and healing the mind.

In improvisation, the first and most important rule is to address every offer and every suggestion with an agreement. We describe this by teaching the following response: “yes, and.” This means that everything is accepted, respected and contributed to. For example, if I said, “Wow, everyone at the party is wearing green”, you would not just say, “yes, they are.” The person could reply with, “yes, don’t you just love it?! I’m so glad we decided to vacation in Oz this year. This is the Emerald City.” Now we have a scene. We are in agreement and from there, we can play and create something innovative and spontaneous together.

In life, we may have experienced a scene something more like this: “Wow, everyone at the party is wearing green.” Response: “No they are not, they’re wearing blue,” or “Yeah, didn’t you get the memo? You like silly in your pink dress.” Ouch! These second examples, as negative as they may sound, more likely reflect the way a critical or perfectionistic mind can respond to things. Negative self-talk can go on for so long or so far back in time that we truly do not recognize how frequent or cruel it can be. A mind can silently attack and criticize anything, from the way a room looks to our appearance. There can be a critical thought for anything.

For clients who are dealing with self-judgment, restriction or control, learning the skills of improvisation can be a healing antidote. In our group at McCallum Place Austin, we create a safe and supportive space to practice the art of saying anything. We are learning how to cultivate the ability to say “Yes, and” to each other and to ourselves. One of the first things that often happens is that clients begin to relax, lighten up and laugh. This is a good first sign.

There is an exercise we teach called the Yes And Story. First, we make up a title of a story that has never been told and then we begin. Sitting in a circle, one person at a time says a sentence or two, telling up our made up story. Each person contributes something to the story and begins with the words “Yes, and…”. Together we create a story that flows and curves and becomes funnier and more creative than anything one person could have created on their own.

From the outside looking in, when we tell the story everyone looks very interested, engaged and like they are having a good time. On the inside, the brain is learning a new way of experiencing and processing life. We are training our minds to agree, accept and say okay to things while releasing the habit of judging. After a little practice, we begin to realize that it feels more relaxing and fun to live life in the present moment, suspending judgment and just allowing things to simply be as they are. We even learn to laugh, appreciate and enjoy ourselves.

The more we make our thoughts just thoughts and the more we say “okay” to the thoughts in our mind (both the good and the bad), the less judgmental we feel. As the judgments begin to fall away, the real person emerges. There is authenticity, lightness and calm.

Laughter brings out the realness in a person. It is always good medicine.

Rachel Madorsky is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a contract therapist at McCallum Place Austin. She is the owner of Austin Counseling and Relationship therapy. Rachel earned her bachelor of fine arts from Syracuse University in New York and her master of social work from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. In addition to her work as a psychotherapist, Rachel is a professional actor and improviser. She is a graduate of The Second City Conservatory and has performed and taught in improv festivals around the country.