A playground for becoming

As an executive coach who uses a performance-based improvisational methodology I play a lot with my clients.  After I finished a coaching session today it hit me that I had asked my client to join me in a “playground for becoming”.  I learned this concept from Christine LaCerva, the Director of The Social Therapy Group here in New York.  Christine recently referred to social therapy as a playground for becoming — a place where clients are encouraged to perform ahead of themselves and create new performances, new responses and a new emotionality.

This client and I have been playing some basic “yes and” improv games; in today’s session we created basic improvisational scenes together.  After we warmed up I suggested that we try an exercise I teach to beginners in my improv class — I set up a situation whereby we would be likely to argue with the rule that we cannot argue.  The game was to find ways to say “yes and” and cooperate with each other without fighting.  

In this instance I set up that we were co-workers and one of us got the promotion the other wanted. I decided to do this exercise because my client was insistent that there were only one or two possible ways to respond to a particular business situation – to be reactive or to disengage.

What we created together was possibility – going beyond what we know how to do.  The discovery? We don’t always have to be who we are (i.e., respond based on how we feel).  As human beings we can also be who we are not; we can say “yes and” and give of ourselves in positive ways.  We explored the possiblity of being direct and powerful in the moments that we feel reactive. That’s what it means to be who we are becoming – to create and discover new possibilities.

Perhaps most importantly, we can play together. We sat in the sandbox learning together in our playground for becoming.  It was a lovely moment when my client felt the power of possiblity.  It was intimate and growthful for both of us.  We created something new together!

The next time you feel stuck, create a developmental playground and invite someone to be who they are becoming with you.

For more information about social therapy and Christine LaCerva visit the website of The Social Therapy Group: http://www.socialtherapygroup.com

‘Tis the season to be playful!

Random musings about the therapeutic and developmental nature of play —

This TED Talk, “The shared experience of absurdity” by Charlie Todd, the founder of Improv Everywhere, is a wonderful example of the value of pointless play. It beautifully illustrates the joy we experience connecting with others in the activity of play.


I’m fortunate to be part of a community that is always discovering how play can help people develop in many contexts — here’s a few examples:

We recently ended a very successful three week class at the East Side Institute on humor and it’s role in development. My co-teacher Mary Fridley and I were fortunate to work with a very giving and creative group of students. In our last session we split the class into two groups and they created and performed two wonderfully humorous skits. Our students created humor out of the things they listed as “not funny” — terminal illness, abuse, our irritations at people, and various difficult circumstances that we find ourselves in. Together we made discoveries about how we can use our wonderful human ability to create with others and in that activity we find humor and joy, even when we are sure there is none to be found.

On December 9th I’ll be joining my colleague Rafael Mendez at the Social Therapy Group’s workshop: Creating the Holidays You Want to Have*.  It’s part of Therapy Play: a series of therapeutic workshops of philosophical conversation and group performance work designed for emotional growth and development.  Rafael asked me to help him create an environment for participants to play with some of the things that come up for all of us during the holidays:

Even as we look forward to celebrating with friends and family, the pressure to feel how we’re “supposed” to feel, to get together with who we’re “supposed” to get together and to give gifts we often can’t afford – can make it difficult to be “merry, happy and gay.”

In preparing to coach another MBA student who told me that he has difficulty, “letting people see my personality” I’ve been thinking about how adults have to reawaken and strengthen our play muscle. This muscle, which was so strong when we were children, sadly atrophies during adulthood.  The good news is that we can all workout in the gymnasium of pointless play in our families, workplaces and frankly anywhere we find ourselves.

Improv Everywere … indeed!

* For readers in the NY Metro area here’s a link to info on the December 9th workshophttp://www.socialtherapygroup.com/events.html