Oregon Pediatric Society Applied Improv Experiment

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May 25, 2016

From Teri Pettersen, MD, Oregon Pediatric Society

A little over a year ago, the Oregon Pediatric Society, through their START program, began offering trainings in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Trauma Informed Care (TIC) to medical providers. After the educational presentations, the most consistent feedback was that attendees wanted more communication skills training regarding the implementation of Trauma Informed Care. “I wasn’t trained to talk to patients about this kind of thing. I am afraid I might do a bad job and traumatize patients or families more” was a common refrain.

In response to this recurring feedback, OPS decided to think outside the box by offering an applied improvisation workshop at OPS’s Spring Conference. The goals of this pilot workshop were to enhance listening and communication skills, increase comfort with not knowing where a conversation or situation might go, and let go of outcomes. Our primary inspiration came from The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which helps scientists communicate more effectively with the general public through improv techniques. These techniques are used in a variety of settings. In the Portland metro area, the Hillsboro Police Department uses improv workshops to enhance rapid decision making for officers responding to citizens experiencing a mental health crisis.   Since scientists and police officers believe the techniques are useful, we thought it was a worthwhile experiment.

Our leader for the workshop was local actress and improv teacher Laura Faye Smith. She did a great job leading a group of people who weren’t quite sure what they had signed up for! Laura taught the group about the improv concept of accepting or blocking “an offer,” which means deciding whether to continue the flow of action. Participants experienced the emotional differences between saying “yes,” “yes, but,” “yes, and,” “no,” and a statement being ignored. One of the dyad exercises was called “Swedish Story;” the storyteller was interrupted by a collaborator with random words that needed to be incorporated into the story. One participant said that derailment leads you to unexpected, funny places and learning to “accept the offer of what is.”

From the physician standpoint, the feedback was quite positive. Making the link between the skills in the workshop and enhancing clinical practice was pretty clear to most participants. One participant spoke about how much fun the process was.  Learning new skills and having fun at the same time; we are very pleased with that outcome.  We will continue working with this experiment and keep you all posted.

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