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“What would you use that RfG Technique for?”

Daniel J. Wiener, PhD, RDT-BCT

As a RfG Trainer, I often find myself in the position of answering the question, “What would you use that RfG Technique for?” The questioner is typically a Mental Health student or trainee who has recently witnessed or participated in an RfG Game or Exercise [1]. Typically, the intent of the questioner is to learn better how to apply RfG in clinical practice. While this question appears straightforward, I find it difficult to give an answer that is both simple and helpful, despite my considerable experience with the development, practice, teaching, supervision and writing about RfG. Why is this so?

Now, it is easy for me to offer numerous examples of how any RfG technique was applied in a clinical context, after the fact. Such case examples abound in the RfG literature. The problem is that merely linking a technique to a case description fails to convey the essence of how RfG as a practical method (“praxis” is the fancier term) is accomplished. For me, RfG is less a collection of techniques than an improvisational art in which the therapist continually adjusts in the moment to the everchanging dynamics of the clinical encounter. In my RfG trainings I place less emphasis on teaching RfG as a conceptually distinct “approach” to psychotherapy and more on co-creating an enlivening experience that playfully challenges the growth of the Self of the therapist. The RfG techniques enacted during training are also ones offered to clients—but this is done not just to familiarize trainees with the techniques, but also that these trainees experience firsthand, in the moment, growthful impact during enactments.

So, what is the underlying process that leads an RfG therapist to therapeutic interventions and tools for assessment?  Approached from another perspective, I offer my Thesis of Therapeutic Innovation [2], (which is loosely based on J. L. Moreno’s “Canon of Creativity”), below.

A Thesis of Therapeutic Innovation

A psychotherapy technique may originate spontaneously during a therapeutic encounter when an unbidden metaphor, connecting the present situation to an image drawn from some other context, sparks into the therapist’s current awareness. When this awareness is put to use as an action within the therapy it becomes a technique (this I term a “hot” technique). When the therapist’s response on a subsequent clinical occasion is triggered by a memory of what worked on the prior occasion the therapist intentionally replicates the prior technique, possibly with some modification (this is “warm” technique). Later, out of session, a memory of the “hot” or “warm” technique may lead to further conscious reflection and recognition that what was done is generalizable and useful. Thus, a “cool” technique is created that may be applied in a premeditated way to subsequent clinical situations.  However, this practice may result in a mechanical attempt to fit the situation to the technique.

 By the time the technique is presented as a description to others it has become a “cold” technique, lacking sufficient power to evoke a clinically effective result. Only when the practitioner applies the warmth of his/her own imagination and aliveness to the cold technique may it turn into an effective intervention in the present, unique, context.

So now my reluctance to answer the question may be clearer: I desire that students open to their own imaginations (generating “hot” or “warm” techniques) and don’t wish them to learn RfG as a collection of off-the-shelf “cool” techniques or to supply “cold” descriptions of technique and thereby encourage unspontaneous, formulaic practices.

In my view, there is only a moderate correlation between the ‘temperature’ of how the technique is evoked and the apparent success of its application.  “Hot” interventions sometimes flop; “cool” ones may succeed. But I’m convinced that therapists who innovate via improvisational process develop into more resourceful, imaginative clinicians, who by their living examples, empower client change.

[1] In RfG, techniques are classified as either Exercises (involving clients as their social selves enacting non-ordinary, improvised activities) or as Games (involving clients taking dramatic roles while enacting improvised scenes).

[2] A detailed application of this thesis is found in: Wiener, D. J. (2012). Improvisation and innovation in psychotherapy: Variations of the presents action exercise. International Journal of Social Science Tomorrow, 1, (1), 1-12. AVAILABLE in: Wiener, D. J. (2016). Rehearsals for Growth: Collected papers II, 2005-2016. Northampton, MA: Self-Published, pp. 149-159.