Rehearsals! For Growth Couple Therapy

RfG Couple Therapy is a specialized application of RfG that combines verbal techniques drawn from virtually any couple therapy approach with improv enactments.

Session Format

A RfG Couple Therapy session typically consists of the following phases:

  1. Verbal therapy, leading up to the therapist proposing an enactment. If accepted…
  2. The couple and the therapist move to another area of the office (the “stage”) and are directed by the therapist in the enactment. When performing on-stage, clients are referred to as “players.” At the enactment’s conclusion…
  3. Clients and therapist return to their original seating. The Therapist de-roles the couple when necessary and leads a discussion, called the Post-Enactment Processing (PEP). The PEP includes current reactions, observations of the recently-performed enactment, associations and insights linking the performance to previous experiences. This may lead back to (1) or directly to (2), when a repeated or different enactment is offered.

Intra-enactment correction/coaching

During an enactment the therapist may offer correction to the client(s), either to remind them to follow disregarded instructions or to add instructions needed to make the enactment work better. The therapist notes whether the clients accept the correction; if not, a formative hypothesis is generated concerning whether this non-acceptance is due to a deficit in capability or in intent. Another possibility is that some internal constraints operating in the couple’s relationship are being activated by the task.  RfG therapists have long noted that limitations in clients’ initial improvising are likely to persevere in further improvising when no coaching is offered. Whether coaching will help remove these limitations can only be determined by offering it.

Uses of Post-Enactment Processing

The therapist initially asks open-ended questions that focus the clients’ attention toward their experience of the recently-completed enactment. Follow-up questions may draw attention to unmentioned features noticed by the therapist, invite comparisons to client expectations and evoke connections to outside life experiences with the partner or with others. Unlike the therapist in conventional talk-only therapy, who relies solely on a second-hand processing of outside life material that is described by clients, the RfG therapist who has observed the just-completed interaction of the couple in an enactment possesses first-hand knowledge of what occurred. It should further be noticed that the therapist is often not merely a passive observer but at times director, coach, understudy and actor, as well as audience toward whom the enacted performance has been directed by the couple.

Repeated enactments with coaching

Following the PEP, the therapist may wish the couple to experience that same, now-more-familiar enactment without the distraction of attending closely to unfamiliar instructions, or offer a variation to bring out some feature that was not emphasized during the initial enactment. Sometimes, roles are reversed or a premise is changed.

If the initial enactment was perceived as unsuccessful or emotionally disagreeable, the therapist might offer an analysis of what might be changed in order to create a more positive outcome. When in-role as audience, the therapist is nearly always generous and supportive, encouraging clients to learn from whatever happened. Should one or both clients refuse to try again, the therapist will respect this decision and move on without blame or defensiveness. Indeed, it is usually desirable for the therapist to acknowledge responsibility for any failure that is perceived to have occurred.

When the enactment was a success in the eyes of the clients, the therapist will give them the credit and may suggest the couple use the enactment as homework between sessions. In such cases, the next session usually begins as a PEP on what occurred when the couple tried the enactment at home.

Sequences of enactments

Following the PEP, the therapist will frequently offer the couple a different enactment, one that bears on some hypotheses that arose in the therapist’s mind. Sequences of enactments are also used to build on skills that were developed in earlier, more elementary ones. The aim of this expansion is to make available to clients the benefits of more complex and demanding improvisation, most particularly the shift from exercises to games that requires impersonation and role-taking.  It should be noted that the skills required of clients are modest when compared with public performers of stage improvisation, though occasionally clients will perform amazingly well.

Types of RfG enactments

The distinctive enactments of RfG Couple Therapy may be classified as: (1) brief tasks and scenes that involve unusual conditions or rules (termed “exercises”); and (2) playing of characters different from those that the clients ordinarily identify as themselves (termed “games”). Displacement scenes are an important sub-type of games in which improvised, fictional scenes suggested by the therapist are constructed to explore non-habitual interpersonal dynamics through offering clients recognizable roles and circumstances, yet which differ sufficiently from their actual, familiar ones. In constructing displacement scenes the therapist engineers aesthetic distance to elicit from clients sufficient commitment to invest in playing the scene yet sufficient distance to make non-habitual choices. Displacement scenes thus differ from realistic re-enactments in the following ways: (1) players, not bound to their real-life identities and reactions, more readily explore alternative responses; (2) the affect expressed  in character can be varied through coaching from the therapist/director, often resulting in an enrichment of the possibilities experienced by the player for the character; (3) outcomes need not be realistic, fair, or consequential, permitting the scenes to evolve in unexpected ways.