Portrait of Jane Addams, co-founder of Hull House, with her head resting on her hand.Date: ca. 1890

As an MSW and an improviser, I am proud of the relationship between my two vocations and the women who pioneered social work and improv comedy, the “Mother of Social Work” and the “Mother of Improv”. How their lives intersected is inspirational to me.

Jane Addams (September 6, 1860-May 21, 1935) is known as the “mother” of Social Work and was a pioneer in the American settlement movement, an activist/reformer, social worker and leader in women’s suffrage and world peace. In 1920 she was the co-found of the ACLU. In 1931 she was also the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In 1889 (the year of the first MSW program at Columbia University) she co-founded Hull House. In the beginning Hull House was for recently arrived immigrants to help them assimilate to their new country. Her project continued to grow and by 1911 she had 13 buildings.Hull House had numerous programs for children and soon developed a theatre company and a Recreational Training School.

Neva Boyd (February 25, 1876 – November 21 1963) was a pioneer in social group worker and in the Modern Play movement, who founded the Recreational Training School at Hull House.  She ran movement and recreation groups for children and used games and improvisation to teach language skills, problem solving, self-confidence and social skills. She published numerous papers and books, including Play and game theory in group work: A collection of papers by Neva Leona Boyd (1971)

Viola Spolin (November 7, 1906 – November 22, 1994) is considered the “mother” of improvisational comedy. In1923, Spolin began studying with Boyd at the Recreational Training School at Hull House.  She then worked with the Chicago WPA as supervisor of creative drama a recreational project in the 1930’s

It was during this time that Spolin began creating the improv games that resulted in her “Bible of Improv”, Improvisation for Theatre published in 1963.

When you read Spolin’s work, you will see how much of an intuitive therapist she was. Her method of “coaching”, without labeling the work as “good/bad” is an example of her therapeutic approach with her students.

“Play involves social values, as does no other behavior. The spirit of play develops social adaptability, ethics, mental and emotional control, and imagination.” Neva Boyd

“The only person I felt was the inspirator of my life was Neva Boyd—and she continues to be.” Viola Spolin

Over the past 30 years I’ve been conducting workshops on the “Positive Power of Play” for adults and most recently “Improv and Therapy”. These inspiring women have helped lead me to my path today. I am eternally grateful for Jane, Neva and Viola.

Improv for Anxiety

Anxiety disorders are one of the top reported psychiatric disorders in the US today. Most of the clients seeking help in my practice are coming due to anxiety issues.

There are many types of anxiety disorders, from nervousness to full blown panic attacks.

According to professional literature, psychotherapy that emphasizes working with, rather than against, the experience of anxiety – for instance, CBT, ACT, and various forms of exposure therapy – has proven very effective.*

However, there are other alternative techniques that help this painful disorder such as meditation, mindfulness and creative arts therapies.

Improvisational Comedy is a creative arts therapy being used in many clinical settings today. So far, Improv shows a lot of promise in helping to reduce a person’s anxiety.**

I had recently recovered from a ruptured brain aneurysm surgery when I attended my first Improv class. I wanted to do something completely new that might “help” my brain. I learned first-hand the therapeutic value of Improv Comedy after that first class. I left feeling upbeat, more confident and supported by a group of strangers (similar to a 12-step meeting but with a bit more laughter).

I also recognized the similarities between Improv philosophy and psychotherapy.

One of the first principles of Improv is “acceptance.” The first class in Improv teaches the acceptance concept. We accept everything anyone does on stage. For examples if Joan says to Bob, “I love your Mohawk,” he doesn’t respond with “I don’t have a Mohawk” but rather “Thanks, I did it myself.”

In treatment, the first task is to create a therapeutic relationship and acceptance is a key factor. Building a therapeutic alliance with clients is accepting them where they are in that moment and creating a safe space.

Next week I will discuss the acceptance philosophy with Dr. Carl Roger’s psychotherapeutic technique of person-centered psychotherapy.

*For greater understanding of anxiety disorders, visit Dr. David Carbonell’s site Anxiety Coach. Dr. Carbonell is a leading expert on this topic and the director of the all-therapist Improv Team The Therapy Players.

**See Dr. Kristin Krueger’s work on the effects of improv on anxiety, depression and self-esteem at Dr. Kristin Krueger.

Why I Love Improv

George Carlin, when asked, “How old are you?” “I’m four and a half! You’re never thirty-six and a half. You’re four and a half, going on five! That’s the key.”

I love Improvisational Comedy because it connects me to the playful, spontaneous child that’s still a part of me, and all of us! Find a friend and create a story together today. Or have a deep conversation with your dog. Better yet, call someone and tell them, “I love you.”

Improv Improves Toastmasters Skills

Improv-Photo-for-FacebookHow does the popular art form of Improvisational Comedy help members of Toastmasters? Let me count the ways.

Improv Comedy Classes and Performance Groups have been mushrooming internationally over the past decade. Inspired by the TV show “Whose Line Is It Anyway” and comedians such as Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Steven Colbert who all studied Improv, there are hundreds of classes and thousands of Improv Players today. These fun and skill building techniques are being taught in schools, universities, health care, mental health (insert Article Below Improv anxiety) and now Toastmasters are learning to have fun and gain greater expertise with Improv Comedy. *see below what is Improv

What’s in your Toolbox?


Recovery from addictions and maintaining sobriety isn’t an easy process, but the 12-step programs offer practical Tools for Recovery to help us get sober and stay sober. These tools work!

There are four tools we will look at today, in the acronym, HALT, Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. These four tools help the newcomer as well as the “old timers”.

Living in Day-Tight Compartments

rock_odatA piece of advice often heard in 12-step programs is to learn to live “one day at a time.” Striving to live one day at a time has been said millions of times in Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step rooms for over 75 years. Practicing this suggestion can be difficult, especially for people who want to stop drinking. But this principle is essential in recovering from alcoholism and addiction.

Moment of Clarity

sky-214844_640Alcoholism* is often described as a three-fold disease – mental, physical, and spiritual. The mental aspect of the disease of alcoholism is characterized by denial and delusion thoughts. Family members and friends are often amazed that, despite severe consequences such as arrests, divorces and physical deterioration, the alcoholic continues to drink. The defense mechanisms of denial and delusional thinking are so powerful that the active alcoholic cannot comprehend the reality of their situation.