John Suler's Teaching Clinical Psychology

The Psychology of Improvisation

Course Outline

Dr. John Suler and Dr. Richard Homan
Baccalaureate Honors Program
Rider University

Textbook: The Courage to Create, by Rollo May


In improvisation a small group makes a progressive series of decisions, beginning with "Where and when does this scene take place?" Each individual decides for him/herself, "Who am I?" and "What am I doing in this place at this time?" In an imaginary setting, through pantomime, each member of the group enters the scene in turn and enacts his/her intentions. Neither the group nor the individual ever make any attempt to decide in advance what the outcome of the improvisation will be. Members of the group interact, come into conflict, or cooperate depending on their respective intentions. Improvisation is not acting, but rather a technique used to train actors. Previous acting experience is not required.

In this course we will use improvisation to explore a variety of psychological concepts about creativity and group processes. What are the cognitive, personality, and social factors that influence creativity? What are the factors that determine how groups function and how people behave in groups.

This course is self-exploratory. Students will be encouraged to understand their participation in the improvisations, including a personal exploration of their own creative abilities and the ways in which they react to and affect group dynamics.

The Journal:

There will be a variety of writing assignments for the course - some based on specific topics or questions assigned by the instructors, some more open-ended. All writing will take place in your journal. See the guidelines below about how to keep your journal.

The journal contains informal writing. You will use it to explore your thoughts and feelings in reaction to what happened in class, and to create ideas to bring to class. In normal class notes, you write strictly about the subject. In a diary, you write about yourself. In this journal, you write about yourself in relation to the subject and vice versa. You "think out loud" about the subject and what it means to you. Because it is partly personal, you always have the option of removing any pages before showing it to us. We will read and respond to your journal, but not "correct" it. Completeness is the only criterion for grading.

Some guidelines for the journal:

A complete journal will include:

Examples of the kind of improvisations we did for the class:

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