Thera-prov: a pilot study of improv used to treat anxiety and depression

J Ment Health. 2019 Dec;28(6):621-626. doi: 10.1080/09638237.2017.1340629. Epub 2017 Jul 4.


Background: Improvisational theater exercises (improv) are used in various settings to improve mental health and medical outcomes. However, there is little documented evidence of the effectiveness of these interventions.Aims: We developed a short-term, group intervention that used improv exercises in a therapeutic manner to treat psychiatric patients.Methods: We evaluated the feasibility, acceptability and five clinical outcomes (depressive symptoms, anxious symptoms, self-esteem, perfectionism and satisfaction with social roles) of this intervention in an outpatient setting. Participants were 32 patients with symptoms of anxiety and depression and who had variable exposure to psychiatric treatment.Results: In paired samples t-tests, participants demonstrated reduced symptoms of anxiety (t(31) = 4.67, p < 0.001) and depression (t(31) = 3.78, p = 0.001), and improved self-esteem (t(31)= -3.31, p = 0.002) following the intervention. There was a trend towards reduction of perfectionism (t(31) = 1.77, p = 0.087), but no substantial change in rated satisfaction with social roles. Effect sizes were medium for reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety.Conclusions: The results of this study indicate that a brief intervention based on improv exercises may provide a strong and efficient treatment for patients with anxiety and depression.

Keywords: Improv; alternative therapies; anxiety; depression; group interventions.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Pilot Projects
  • Psychotherapy / methods*
  • Psychotherapy, Group / methods*
  • Treatment Outcome