Applied Improvisation in Eating Disorder Therapy


Applied improvisation is easily integrated into therapy for eating disorder patients in that it can effectively guide them through treatment and help with the eating process. Unfortunately, this relationship between the two is often overseen as the evidence behind this methodology is relatively new.  When practiced correctly, improvisation offers a low-stake, positive environment for patients to work out their executive functioning and metacognition muscles to change behavior and hone in on the mind-body connection.

Applied improvisational methods are not about being funny or telling silly stories, yet transcend the theatre and comedy improv process by infusing the system into education, research, corporations, and mental health. The promise is an increase in connections, collaborations, communication and creativity.  The effort involved provides patients with the tools to communicate with themselves and the world differently. When infused into Cognitive Behavior Therapy, it gives professionals easy interactive applications to help patients practice listening, apply social-emotional behaviors, develop flexibility in thinking, and increase a growth mindset.   Like going for a walk or to the gym to strengthen our body, this technique offers an ideal way to learn skills for shifting into new mindsets, thoughts, and beliefs.  To develop new neural pathways, we have to give our brains the environment and option to think and behave in new ways long enough for patterns to stick. When designed correctly, the exercises not only provide this very necessary learning platform, yet promote joy and laughter during growth.

Applied improvisation trains the brain to turn to positive thoughts and actions rather than be dictated by negative mindsets. This approach provides the framework of choosing positivity despite failures through gameplay where participants must uphold a “Yes and” or “Unfortunately, but fortunately” mindset to build towards a successful outcome. Through correct practice and repetition, these roles in gameplay become easier to embody in everyday life.  

-Encouraging the use of “Yes, and,” the foundational improvisation mantra that refers to accepting all offers as real and building off of them with your ideas: By simply using “Yes, and” in structured gameplay, patients receive a multitude of benefits. First, patients train their brains to accept and agree, which helps them not only to release self-judgment and embrace failure but move forward from it.  Additionally, when “Yes, and” is practiced among everyone in the group, it shows patients that openness and self-awareness are rewarded with support, which encourages the same connections in therapy and life.

-Practice goal-setting and creating objectives in gameplay: Setting goals or using objectives in gameplay helps patients practice communicating their needs, creating relationships, and working with others towards a goal. This offers patients another outlet in a low-stakes environment to express their needs, improving their communication skills in real life.    

-Promote creativity!: Through promoting creativity in all applied improv activities, patients feel the freedom to step outside of themselves and explore playing different characters as well as practice creative problem solving, fostering creativity and perspective oriented thinking outside of gameplay.                                

-Play games with your patients that require attentive focus and engage both the mind and the body: Again, this helps patients get out of their heads and trains their minds to be present. When patients see that their mind and body as working together rather than separately, it increases their physical and mental health as well as improves their communication skills due to that new awareness.            

-Infuse each application with laughter and fun!: This is crucial to all applied improvisation applications as it brings focus to the joy that lies within the group and the present moment. This laughter and joy reduces stress, increases muscle tone, and builds strong immune systems, creating healthy brains and bodies.

Improvisation is an unpredictable adventure that involves interacting with others and responding honestly in an unscripted imagined reality that can positively change our actual reality. These powerful applied improvisation tools can be learned quickly and will give your patients the confidence to navigate the complexities of a multitude of social contexts.                     

Need help getting started? Please reach out to Christiana at or Team Building On Purpose or our partner at KidScape Productions.

We understand how important it is to employ this approach  correctly and as an interactive hands-on company, we are committed to helping you feel comfortable and confident in integrating applied improv strategies into your therapy and treatment environments.  

We offer onsite trainings, private sessions, online courses, virtual seminars, and workshops to ensure you have everything you need. We look forward to promoting collaboration, communication, and creativity through applied improv techniques with you while laughing and sharing joy along the way.

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