12) Copycat Mirroring – The intervention of ‘copycat mirroring’ involves no prior dialogue or discussion, as the clinician simply ‘takes on’ symptomatic behavior and proceeds to imitate the client. In this method the clinician ‘joins’ the client by physically copying his symptoms, and behaves as the client might. Clinicians are sometimes wary that the client may take offense to such ‘childishness’ . However, most often client’s are unaware how they appear to others, and clinicians are often surprised when the client doesn’t ‘pick up’ on their copycat style. Of course ‘copycat mirroring’ should not be done in a malicious or sarcastic way. Rather the intent is to reflect back to the client how he appears to others. By mirroring the behavior, the goal is to help the client gain perspective on himself through the actions of the clinician. 

So for example, such an intervention may be helpful with an adolescent who habitually curses. While he may have been told that cursing is inappropriate, his foul language continues. Various rewards and punishments, as well as other conventional approaches have had no effect. The client has stated that he views his excessive cursing as ‘proof’ he is an ‘independent and rebellious spirit’.  In utilizing ‘copycat mirroring’, the clinician would ‘take on’ the client’s propensity for cursing. Soon the client and clinician may be bantering ‘curse for curse’. The intent is for the client to discover for himself that this kind of language is off-putting. When the client ‘recognizes’ in the clinician how boring and tiresome such behavior actually is, he suddenly comes to the realization that he is involved in the same behavior.

Another example when using ‘copycat mirroring’ may be effective is regarding the client who becomes overly dependent on his therapist. This type of dependent client may phone the clinician for constant reassurance. Even though there is no imminent issue, the client’s need for reassurance overwhelms him. As a result, he makes numerous calls a day that may become taxing and time-consuming for the therapist. Attempts to convince the client to contain himself have been ineffective. In dealing with this situation, the clinician’s natural response is often to ‘pull back’. If the client remains persistent, some clinicians may resort to screening their calls in an effort to avoid the client and convey the message that they are ‘not available’. In this type situation, ‘copycat mirroring’ offers a counter-intuitive, but effective solution. Instead of ‘pulling back’, the clinician takes the opposite approach. Here, the clinician resolves to call the client 3, 4 or more times a day for the next week with the excuse that he is “checking up” on the client. While the client may initially ‘be thrilled’ to receive the first 2 or 3 calls, he soon grows weary of the ‘harassing’ and overbearing nature of these calls. In short order ‘the tables turn’, and it is the client who screens his calls. The result of such an intervention is that the client is only too happy when the clinician finally stops calling. Even more amazing is that the client no longer has the need or desire to go back to his incessant calls for reassurance.

In suggesting the ‘copycat mirroring’ method, it highlights that sometimes the clinician must be willing to go beyond his own ‘comfort zone’ as he engages in counter-intuitive interventions. 


13) Improv Role-playThis is a particularly interesting intervention as it challenges the manner in which role-playing is customarily viewed and implemented. Traditional role-plays assume that the ‘process of change’ needs to be planned out and choreographed. Normally the role-play identifies the problem interaction and then tries ‘to formulate a more positive script’ for the client to practice. In a ‘improv role-play’ the process of change is not planned out ahead of time, but occurs spontaneously as a natural result of the intervention. The advantage of this type of ‘natural’ change is that the client is better able to own and take credit for changes in his behavior. Such changes often occur rapidly, and remain intact over time.

In a ‘improv role-play’, rather than providing a pre-planned script, the client is simply instructed to ‘be himself’ and do ‘what he always does’. The role-play is provocative in that the client is simply encouraged to ‘say and do’ his usual habitual responses. While such a role-play might initially seem contrary to the goals of treatment, in actuality it helps the client quickly recognize how easily he succumbs to his rote responses. In counter-intuitive fashion once the client recognizes his repetitive responses, he also becomes aware of the absurdity of his dilemma. At that point he experiences an internal motivation to undo these habitual responses. Rather than the time, effort, and practice he would need to expend on a scripted type ‘change’, this type of role-play activates the client’s own motivation and ‘free will’ to opt out of his stuck pattern.

So for example, let us consider comparing a ‘traditional role-play’ with a ‘improv role-play’ in helping an adolescent, Jimmy, better address his mother with whom he constantly argues. In preparing for the role-play, Jimmy acknowledges the circumstances which the various arguments are usually triggered; such as: doing his homework; playing video games; or hanging out with friends, etc. He admits that he ‘loses it’ when his mother eventually accuses him of “being a ‘good-for nothing”. At that point Jimmy usually gets upset and yells, “Just leave me alone already!”, and either storms off to his room, or slams the door as he leaves the house.

In a traditional role-play we might discuss the ‘triggers’ that set off these arguments. The role of the clinician is to offer various scripted responses that Jimmy can practice in an effort to respond differently. The hope, of course, is that when the he is confronted with these ‘trigger’ situations in real-life he will remember the ‘new script’. In this type of role-play Jimmy needs to exert energy in order to concentrate and remain focused on the practiced script. The assumption is that through repeated effort and practice, the role-play can help him develop a few alternative responses as a way to avoid reacting when his mother raises specific ‘triggers’

Compared to the time, effort, and vigilance required in doing a traditional role-play, the improv role-play is easy and effortless. In this role-play we do not burden Jimmy to focus his efforts on ‘changing’. A provocative role-play simply asks the client to ‘be himself’. Rather than providing a ‘new script’ in addressing his mother, the role-play invites Jimmy to yell and react as he would with his mother at home! A key element of the role-play is that it facilitates a scenario where the clinician (and/or group) becomes a witness to the client’s habitual reactions. The combined effect of being observed by the clinician / group along with recognizing the absurd humor of his own staged responses often results in the client experiencing an ‘internal shift in self-perception’ (also known as an ‘existential reorganization’). This shift in awareness often occurs in a sudden manner as the client gains a new perspective on his role in predictable relationships; ie: Jimmy in relation to his mother. While a ‘provocative role-play’ does not instruct the client to change, the manifestation of this type of ‘reorganization’ is accompanied by a natural and spontaneous shift in which previous triggers no longer hold the same volatility. As a result, the client moves toward a more relaxed state in a way that occurs without effort, forethought, or planning.