Improvisational comedy program brings laughter and healing support to patients

Improv therapy session

This week the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted an improvisational comedy program happening within our hospital school, which is fueling patients’ imaginations and bringing laughter and joy to their lives inside the hospital.

An excerpt from the Chronicle’s article, which profiles an improv teacher at the hospital school, explains:

“Jenny Debevec’s hypothesis is simple: Kids who feel isolated, afraid or overwhelmed by chronic illness grow happier when they do improvisational comedy.

Debevec, 39, has seen the transformation many times in the five years she has taught improv at the hospital school run by the Palo Alto school district in the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University. Debevec helps students become spontaneously inventive — that’s improvising — within the structure of a game like “We’ll Help You Pack!” where everyone imagines what they’d put in their suitcase for a trip to … Iceland maybe? Players take turns, including Debevec, and every answer is right because it’s all about imagination — and having fun.”

Patients of all ages participate in the hospital’s improv therapy program, which is part of the Children’s Healing Project from TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. Debevec and co-teacher Kelly Rinehart come to the hospital school once-a-week to lead patients in improvisational games like “Two Truths and a Lie,” “Not a…” and “Crazy 8.” And, as the Chronicle explains, Debevec and Rinehart also make rounds within the hospital to work at the bedsides of patients who are not able to leave their rooms.

Debevec is beginning to research the clinical impact of improv therapy with a goal of demonstrating that it can help improve mental health among patients. She will measure success based on increased laughter, joy, hope, happier moods and improved social connections among the patients she works with.

So far, anecdotal evidence supports her theory. Improv therapy is not widely utilized, but at Packard Children’s it has proven to be a useful tool to lighten patients’ moods amidst their time in the hospital, as well as helping to bring them together.

“It’s fun,” Keenan Espiritu, a 15-year-old patient at Packard Children’s told the Chronicle. “Improv ‘helps by sharing and having friends,’ he continued. ‘I’m thankful for that. I like doing this.”

Read the full San Francisco Chronicle article >


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