Dr. Matt Selman
Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Trust
IFTA 2016 World Family Therapy Congress
§Juggler, Improv Theatre
§work with the unexpected
¡Can we actively develop this?
§1:to compose, recite, play, or sing
§2:to make, invent, or arrange offhand
§3:to make or fabricate out of what is
conveniently on hand
¡And the definitions don’t always reflect the
preparation when in fact…
¡“There is one paramount law of improvisation,
which musicians know well. The stronger one’s
technique, knowledge of the ground material,
and alternative possibilities of developments,
the richer will be the improvisation.
Improvisation always demands more and
harder work from the actor than playing
strictly within the limits of a scripted
situation.” Barker (2010) p.90.
“Collaborative therapy has several distinctive
features that, combined, make it more of an
open-ended therapy and allow a more
improvisational therapist style.” (2007, p.54)
“I am improvisational in my
therapeutic conversations… I don’t
see any contradiction between
spontaneity and rigor in therapeutic
practice, or between improvisation
and the meticulous attention to the
development of therapeutic skills.“
Experiential Therapy –Carl Whitaker
Theory gets in
Bradford Keeney –Improvisational Therapy
“Do what you want with any
therapeutic model, school, or
orientation -utilize it, ignore it, kick
it, invert it, reverse it, distort it,
misunderstand it, play with it.”
“In expanding the potentials of action oriented
therapy much would be gained by collaborating
with specialists in improvisation training. …In a
world of complex relationships and mercurial
fluctuations in meaning, we must increasingly
rely on improvisation for effective co-action.”
Gergen, 2009, pp.308-309.
¡Jazz gives us a great metaphor
§It’s more than making it up
§You need the underlying k nowledge
§Structure underlines practice (chords etc)
§It often takes MORE practice to do well
Learning from it?
§Viola Spolin, Keith Johnstone, Del Close
§Co-create scenes and entire plays
§Relational, creative, and there’s training
-Metaphor for therapist as artist –(Keeney, 1990)
-Techniques used in family therapy -(Wiener,
1995; Ruby & Ruby, 2009)
-Group work for families going through divorce
-Relating to systemic theory (Gale, 2004 ; Selman,
§Outside of Approval/Disapproval, Success/Failure
¡Be obvious and be average
¡Building narrative together (co-construction)
¡Make the other look good
§Do it with a smile
¡Accept and build
§Offers –can be anything
§We habitually block
§Accept and build
§Saying “Yes and…”
“There are people who prefer to say ‘Yes’ and
there are people who prefer to say ‘No’. Those
who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures
they have, and those who say ‘No’ are rewarded
by the safety they attain.”
Keith Johnstone, 1981 p. 92
¡Any questions or comments?
Anderson, H. (2007). The heart and spirit of collaborative therapy: The
philosophical stance –“A way of being ” in rel atio nshi p an d co nver sati on. In
Harlene Anderson & Diane Gehart (Eds.) Collaborative Therapy: Relationships and
conversations that make a difference. New York: Routledge.
Barker, C. (2010) Theatre Games: A new approach to drama training. London:
Bava, S. (2003)The Show Must Go On: Families Growing Through Divorce: Training
Guide for Facilitators. Houston, Texas: Houston Galveston Institute.
Gale, J. (2004). Experiencing relational thinking. Context, 75: 10-12.
Gergen, K. (2009). Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community. New York:
Johnstone, K. (1981) Impro: Improvisation and the theatre. London:
Keeney, B.P. (1990) Improvisational Therapy: A practical guide for
creative clinical strategies. New York: Guilford Press.
Ruby, J.R. & Ruby, N.C. (2009) Improvisational Acting Exercises and
Their Potential Use in Family Counselling, Journal of Creativity in
Mental Health, 4(2),152-160.
Spolin, V. (1999). Improvisation for Theater (Third Ed.). Evanston:
Northwestern University Press.
Wiener, D. (1995) Rehearsals for Growth: Theater improvisation for
psychotherapists. New York: Norton.
Dr Matt Selman
Northumberland Community Learning Disability Service
St. George’s Park
Tel: +44(0) 1670 502 602
Fax: +44(0) 1670 502 603