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Storytelling and Improvisation Intensive: The Creative Process of Attitude Change

Stories are what we make out of our experiences, and improvisation is the experience we
Workshop design and facilitation
by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT
make. Attitudes - defined by the American Psychological Association as "the cognitive and emotional tendencies to perceive the world in a certain way" and powerful determinants of the choices we feel are available to us and are an expression of the story we tell about ourselves and the way we view the world. Because behavior is so closely linked to attitudes, focusing on attitude change is much more likely to lead to successful behavior change. Attitudes change through experiences that can give rise to a new narrative about who we are, what we freely choose and our potential for transformation.
The Will and The Skill
Both attitudes and behavior are more likely to change when we have the will to navigate through the discomfort of going against ingrained mental and emotional patterns, and the skills we need to think and act in new ways. These games and exercises are important for working with clients and students  to develop a mind and skill set that empowers personal growth and strengthens healthy social connections. Even when there is no interest in making a change, the foundations for it are in process.

Change can be viewed as a creative process that begins with a "seed" of an idea and grows into an evolving role or skill set. Both the creative and the change process are natural and organic. If the conditions or the timing are right, they cannot be stopped. If the conditions or timing are not right, they cannot be forced. 

Therapeutic use of creative experiences like storytelling and improvisation skills is a gradual process of creating the conditions  - the skills, self-awareness and support - that make change possible. When the time is right, the skills are available to be implemented. 

Games and Exercises

A Story About Your Name 
Provide a structured way for group members to learn about one another
Give an opportunity for each group member to tell a brief story
Provide an exercise that deepens the emotional connection among members

Each group members shares something about their name, e.g. why they were given their name based on family history, culture, or events. Key details should be the environment, customs, beliefs (religion, for example) that impacted the choice of name. If a person does not know how or why they were given their name, that is the story. 

Debrief: As each member shares, similarities among the details shared will emerge. These subtle threads of connection are discussed, as well as how it feels to be in the room before during and after this process.

Port Key
Ted DesMaisons writes about the origin of the name of this exercise in his blog post "Return of Spontaneity School: A Third Set Of Improv Games For The Classroom and Work Enviroment" on website Anima Learning.
  • Enhance the sense of belonging within the group;
  • Create emotional and social connections within group members;
  • Increase knowledge about moments in each participant's life;
  • Provide an opportunity to share without overthinking;
"The game’s name traces back to the Harry Potter books where a portkey was an everyday object that, when touched by wizards, would transport them away from the Muggle world off to Hogwarts or some other location in the wizarding world."

The group sits in a circle, and player #1 gets a suggestion for an everyday object, e.g. Towel. Player #1 begins to share a story arising from the word, starting with the image it inspires, e.g. "Towel takes me to a day at the beach with my little sister..." and finishing the story with an object that is then offered to the next person: "and we took the seashells into the house and put them in a vase with flowers. So I give you a vase." 

Creative Introductions
Develop interpersonal connections between people in the group;
Practice active listening;
Practice sharing about self to increase safety in the group;
Generate spontaneity in the group;
Practice a "spontaneity skill" and examine what comes up;

Group members sit in pairs, facing each other. Each dyad decides who will be Person A and who will be Person B. Person A will talk for 1 minute without stopping about a topic assigned by the group leader while Person B listens without interrupting. As soon as the topic is given the exercise begins. Suggested topics are neutral, e.g.: breakfast, fruit, autumn, water, blue, stars, etc. Person A should share whatever comes to mind from their own experience on the topic. After time is called, Person B then shares with the larger group what he/she heard Person A say, in the style assigned by the leader. The style is assigned immediately before the group member is about to speak so there is minimal time to think too much. Styles include: 
Real Housewives
Sports announcer
Very proud 
Very impressed
This is something we really shouldn't be talking about
Breaking News!

Players then regroup into new dyads. Everyone who was Person B in the first round are now Person A. A new topic is given, something a bit more personal, e.g. "Talk about your favorite fictional hero and why" "Talk about your favorite real-life hero and why" "Talk about a strength you are glad you possess" "Talk about a goal you have achieved that once seemed impossible." Person A shares, Person B repeats in the style assigned by the leader.

The Dolphin Training Game: 
  • Attend to social cues;
  • Let go of preconceived ideas about what is or should be happening;
  • Collaborate with the group;
  • Focus on 2 co-occurring group events;
  • Trust a group process while making bold choices to see what works;
It’s just like the hot/cold game you used to play as a little kid, but without the cold and with the sound "ding" instead of hot. It’s the same concept as the one you use to train dolphins to jump through hoops and stuff. A player leaves the room. The group decides on a single simple task for them to do: Sit on the chair; put their hand on their head; hug the stuffed animal in the room; lift the chair off the ground; etc. Try and keep the tasks to single activities when starting out. The group also agrees on a topic of conversation that will be going on when the player returns, e.g. the group will talk about great restaurants on the east end of Long Island. 

The player returns to the room and the group conversation goes forward. When the player does any little thing that is close to the activity everyone in the audience says "ding". When he/she is physically close to where he/she should be to perform the activity, everyone says "ding ding" louder and with more intensity. The group has to focus on keeping the conversation going and at the same time help the player make his/her next move. When he/she performs the action, everyone goes "ding ding ding ding ding" to cue the player that this is the direction the group wants him/her to go. This continues until the player performs the activity and names it.

Debrief: Attitudes are formed and reinforced as much through social influence and interaction as through our internal process. How do we assist clients and students in finding social worlds that support attitude and behavior change? How do the social groups we are in shape our story? What is it like to be supported in a process of discovery in a group game like this?

CRIME CONFESSION                                                                                                   
Demonstrate the power of group collaboration;                                            
Develop skills in connecting with the emotional energy of the group and using it to    co-create;             
Experience giving and receiving cues and using them to co-create with others;  
Demonstrate the power of the social environment in shaping our responses and   emotions;
A player volunteers to the "criminal" and leaves the room. The group then decides what the criminal is guilty of, e.g. what he/she did and to whom. The crime can have as much complexity as the group feels prepared to work with. One or more players volunteer to be the interrogators. The group will be a kind of chorus signalling whether the "criminal" is hot, warm or cold in responding to the interrogation and trying to determine what the crime is. When the "criminal" is hot, the group says "Aaahh" indicating acute interest and approval. When the "criminal" is cold, the group says "Oh" in a vocal tone that indicates disinterest and disapproval. When warm, the group says "hmmmmm." Through the interaction between the interrogators picking up on what the "criminal" is getting right and the group signals the criminal is led to a confession of the crime chosen by the group. When he/she says "I confess to _____" the game is over.
Debrief: How does the social environment impact our behavior and emotional life? How did the group collaboration play out? How might the social environment be impacting our client in their attempts to change? What signals from the social world encourage change and what signals shut it down?

Some research on this topic:

Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT is a trainer/consultant and writer/performer, President of Lifestage, Inc which is a NYS-Approved Provider of Continuing Education for social workers. She is host/creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS, a game wrapped in a storytelling show that features true stories-with a twist-told by people from all walks of life, ages and backgrounds. Follow her on


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