Rehearsals for Growth in Central Europe

RfG Newsletter, Volume 4, Number 1, Fall 1994

by Gloria J. Maddox and Dan Wiener

Over the first weekend in July, 1994 we presented a two-day intensive workshop on applying improvisation in relationship therapy to fifteen therapists in Munich, Germany. Our sponsors, Gerd Mueller and Gaby Moscau, a couple who are the co-founders of the Muenchner Familienkolleg (a well-known freestanding Family Therapy Institute), were extremely helpful in making all the arrangements; we also got to know them personally during the time we spent with in the evenings and on the day after the workshop. Despite the unusually hot weather (air-conditioning is hardly ever used in Munich) and ably assisted by our translator, Reinhild Rillig, we took the participants through clinically useful games and exercises, gave instruction on introducing improv into clinical sessions, and did some case consultation. We left Munich with the intention to return in future to continue our work there.

Three days later, we drove with friends to the city of Prague in The Czech Republic to meet Boris David, a Czech who has founded the Institute for International Understanding and Unity, a new holistic center. Following some sight-seeing in this truly beautiful old city, we taught a five-hour workshop on Self-Discovery and the Creative Process. Due to a public holiday and the limited advance time for publicizing our workshop the enrollment was small; we had eight participants with Boris serving as translator.

One striking feature of the Czech participants’ response to the games and exercises we presented was a good deal of nervous laughter, joking and side-conversation, even to the point of being mildly disruptive to the workshop. These reactions were quite similar to those we had encountered in Moscow during our teaching there three years ago (see “Improv Goes to Moscow,” p. 8-9, RfG Newsletter Vol. 1, No. 1; Fall, 1991).

We learned that under the Communist regime prior to 1989, Czech people had to be inconspicuous, watching what they said in most circumstances, distrusting what they were taught, and developing a protective way of lying to self and others that became ingrained into their way of thinking and behaving. Our workshop apparently encouraged a “dangerous” degree of spontaneity and risk-taking in overcoming self-censorship, with the result that the level of anxiety aroused was quite high.

These reactions are similar to those of participants observed in workshops conducted in formerly repressive societies such as Chile (by family therapist Carlos Sluzki) and Russia (by drama therapist David Read Johnson). One intriguing possibility for further exploration, then, is that Rehearsals for Growth exercises (which bypass the verbal-conceptual “filters” that mediate experience) could be used to accelerate the process of freeing peoples’ minds, not only from the inhibitory patterns of their family upbringing, but also those of their culture.