“Yes, And…”: The Connection Between Clinical Psychology and Improvisational Comedy

May 19, 2017

Improvisational comedy and clinical psychology do not seem to have much in common, but for Jeffrey Winer, PhD, blending the two worlds makes complete sense.

As a McLean psychology intern on the adolescent psychopathology track, Winer draws on both his extensive research and clinical background and his work as an actor and performer to help individuals with severe emotional and behavioral dysregulation.

“A foundational idea in improvisation is the Yes, and…,” he explained. “It’s a strategy to build and open up interpersonal interactions, and a key idea of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is the notion of dialectics—that is, two opposing ideas can be true at the same time.”

With his unique background, Winer sees a connection between the language of improv and the language of psychological treatment. “We often work hard in DBT treatment to use words like and instead of but. We remind patients that ‘you’re doing your best, and you can change.’”

Winer came to McLean through an internship program funded through the generosity of Ted and Barbara Bloom. Donors of McLean since 2003, the Blooms made a pledge in 2013 to fund one-year pre-doctoral internships in child and adolescent psychology. That funding will continue for three more years. At the time they made the pledge, Barbara explained, “we were surprised to learn that McLean did not offer a pre-doctoral internship specifically in child and adolescent psychology. We thought it would be a wonderful opportunity for a doctoral student whose interest lies in this area to intern at such an esteemed facility.”

Jeffrey Winer, psychology intern
Jeffrey Winer, PhD

Barbara credits McLean’s Director of Trauma Training and Consultation Cynthia S. Kaplan, PhD, for getting the program started and ensuring its success. Under Kaplan’s direction, “The internship program is clearly filling a significant need and has been transformational for both the interns and the hospital,” she said. Moreover, Barbara reported, the program has led to the recruitment of top quality applicants for all McLean internships—not just the child and adolescent psychology program.

For Winer, the “wonderful opportunity” created by the Blooms and Kaplan has allowed him to be involved in a range of roles at McLean. His work involves providing individual and group psychotherapy to adolescents with severe emotional and behavioral issues in the 3East DBT partial hospital program, and treating adults in the Behavioral Health Partial Hospital Program.

“I also provide clinical services within McLean OnTrackTM—a first episode psychosis program—and the Adolescent Acute Residential Treatment Program, and I am actively involved in clinical research and program development projects with McLean and Harvard Medical School faculty,” he said.

“This internship is affording me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to advance my clinical training at one of the premier adolescent DBT programs in the world,” said Winer, who will complete his academic year in June. “I am truly indebted to the Bloom family for having the foresight to develop such a strong and important internship that provides DBT training to clinicians, who will then be able to deliver this critical treatment option to patients at McLean and beyond.”

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