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Developing Emotional Intelligence Through Applied Improvisation: An Essential Mind and Skill Set For Social Workers and Human Service Providers

This course is approved for Continuing Education for social workers by the New York State Dept. of Education for social workers provider #0270. It is offered to social workers, psychotherapists, as well as providers, trainers and educators in the field of health care as a full-day intensive that offers 6 hours of Continuing Education. 

     Health care professionals in the medical and mental health fields are often at the intersection of a workplace that is rapidly changing in some areas while actively resisting
Workshop design and faciliation
by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT
change in other areas, heightening the stress in these demanding, high-stakes jobs. This training is designed to address these tensions and their impact on professional practice by exploring ways to manage them through development of Emotional Intelligence (EI). The mind and skill set associated with EI has immediate impact in the daily performance of health care professionals and scientific evidence to validate it. Having worked in the fields of mental health and health care over the last 25 years - as a therapist working in both inpatient and outpatient settings, in private practice and as a trainer -  I am keenly aware of the need for this kind of innovative training that equips professionals with skills that can be readily applied and a tool kit they can take into the diverse situations and stresses they face. The mind and skill set learned through Applied Improvisation is the most effective method for developing EI, because it is a creative and group-focused experience that enhances receptivity to learning while demonstrating the concepts in real time.

      The models within which medical and mental health professionals operate rightly
value accuracy, precision, and predictability, yet professionals in the field must constantly accommodate the ever-changing, dynamic demands of providing actual care and services. To navigate the complex interplay of relationships and hierarchical system of authority in these systems requires a unique skill set for which improvisation is an ideal training ground.  Applied Improvisation is the use of techniques, exercises, and games employed in theatrical improvisation for real-life goals, e.g., develop emotional and situational awareness, cultivate a creative mind set for effective thinking under pressure, explore the role of status and relationship dynamics, and sharpen skills for responsive engagement with others. It has gained tremendous currency in the business world as the pace of change accelerates and the ability to manage uncertainty is increasingly important. "Improvisation is a system's unplanned but purposeful response at a particular point to a turbulent, fast-changing environment" according to the authors of  "Learning To Improvise, Improvising To Learn: A Process of Responding To Complex Environments" in the Journal of Business Research Improvisation engages the cognitive, the emotional and the social dimensions in every experience. The exercises and games are designed to convey specific concepts, clarify the application of these concepts to professional practice, and demonstrate and cultivate relationship skills that are essential to success in the field. Open communication and emotional intelligence on a medical team, for example, can have life-or-death implications. These competencies can be learned and improvisation a model that can work with - and potentially transform - the barriers presently imposed by workplace culture. The highly interactive nature of improv heightens awareness of others' thoughts and feelings, strengthens partnerships and enhances social sensitivity, building the skills that reduce stress and allow a team to be more creative and innovative even while under great pressure.  

        The emotional toll of work in health care is well documented. The February 2007 British Journal of Social Work made the case that the ability to use relationships to address users’ needs is at the core of professional competence. Professionals must call upon their own emotional resources to meet the diverse demands of the job as well as respond to externally-driven stresses and obstacles, often at the same time. What makes Emotional Intelligence training not only essential, but a perfect fit for health care providers is that the success of the work turns on the capacity to use emotion effectively, and Applied Improvisation is the ideal delivery system because the key to successful improvisation is emotional connection. The ability to understand one’s own and others’ emotional states, and the capacity to discern the nuances of social-emotional cues and act on them in order to move a situation forward can be continually developed and enhanced through its practice. The creative process of improvisation is surprising, unpredictable, and stimulating to the brain and emotions, which produces a sense of aliveness and spontaneity that has been found to increase receptivity to new learning and kickstart action in new directions.
This course addresses the need for:
  • health care providers to gain skills and knowledge about Emotional Intelligence and its specific applications to professional practice in the current social  and economic environment;
  • creative strategies that build on and strengthen professionals’ ability to respond effectively to dynamic, intense, emotion-driven situations;
  • experiences and knowledge that strengthen the capacity to think creatively under pressure;
  • creative strategies and techniques that strengthen resilience to the negative effects of stress;
  • experiential training that equips professionals with information and techniques that can be readily deployed in practice

      The evidence that health care providers need Emotional Intelligence training can be found in literature, some of it very recent, citing the stresses and demands of the work and the need for programs that empower professionals to take a hopeful and empowered view of the potential for ongoing learning and change. The website Becker's Hospital Review writes that Emotional Intelligence can be linked to "a number of qualities desired of health care providers," such as the ability to connect and communicate successfully with patients, and "is positively correlated with job performance and satisfaction, stress management, social interaction and ability to identify emotional expression." Patient safety, as well as patients' perception of their care are greatly impacted by providers' Emotional Intelligence. Social worker Mike Bush wrote about the importance of emotional awareness and self-care for health care providers in his article "Social Workers Must Not Neglect Their Own Mental Health" on the Community Care website. The March 2010 Journal of Communication included an important article advancing the idea that resilience can be learned, laying out a process that includes "crafting normalcy, affirming identity anchors, maintaining and using communication networks, putting alternative logics to work, and downplaying negative feelings while foregrounding positive emotions such as hopefulness and self-efficacy," all of which are dimensions of the Applied Improvisation experience.

Learning Objectives:
Participants will identify and understand the 4 dimensions of Emotional Intelligence;
Participants will understand the psychological and biochemical components of the stress response;
Participants will demonstrate knowledge of the competencies associated with Emotional Intelligence, specifically as related to the professional demands of work in health care and human services;
Participants will identify the impact of emotion on perception, decision-making and human interaction;
Participants will learn techniques for making cognitive shifts that balance emotion with thought for empowered decision-making;
Participants will learn techniques that enhance self-awareness and emotional acuity;
Participants will learn communication skills that promote the Emotional Intelligence in partnerships and on teams;
Participants will learn how to recognize the stress response while it is occurring and use cognitive techniques to avoid being derailed by it;

Read a handout from a 4-hour version of this workshop offered at Simple Studios in New York, NY and Lifestage, Inc in Smithtown, NY: Developing Emotional Intelligence Through Applied Improvisation: An  Essential Mind and Skill Set For Social Workers

Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT, is a trainer/consultant and writer/performer, President of Lifestage, Inc and a provider of Continuing Education for New York State Dept of Education in Social Work, Provider #0270. She is host/creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS, a show that features true stories - with a twist - told by people from all walks of life, background and ages. She is appears regularly in storytelling shows in New York City and has been featured on Talk Therapy, RISK! live show and podcast, and The Prose Of Pie.


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