Addiction therapy: Stand up for yourself

November 2nd, 2014

From touching a nerve to finding their funny bone — people affected by addiction problems are being asked to draw on their life experiences for a stand-up comedy routine, as part of a new social enterprise devised by two Nottingham entrepreneurs.

By coaching people affected by alcohol, drugs and gambling through the skills used by professional comedians, Laughing Matters aims to improve their communication, confidence and self-esteem.

The aim is to aid their recovery, help them to reintegrate into society and improve their employability.

The venture is the brainchild of a graduate and student from Nottingham University Business School — Mark Christian who previously ran a charity offering counselling to recovering addicts, and Kirstie MacDonald, a former investment banker who worked for multinationals including Goldman Sachs in New York.

The idea was born when the pair collaborated on a social entrepreneurship module while studying at Nottingham, Mark on a full-time MBA course and Kirstie a specialist MBA in Corporate Social Responsibility.

Kirstie said: “We’d hit on the idea of stand-up comedy workshops and as a result of his past life as a counsellor Mark suggested that we use them to benefit recovering addicts.

“It’s a well-known adage that laughter is the best therapy but we thought we would turn the tables on that idea and use the skills that comedians employ to increase confidence, create a stage presence and rebuild the self-esteem that people may have lost as a result of their experiences.”

Mark added: “It’s less about teaching them how to be funny, more to do with helping them to recover by turning what may have been negative experiences in their life into something altogether more positive. We are now considering extending the course to other vulnerable groups such as young people coming out of care and older people who are socially excluded.”

The project has attracted the support of Just the Tonic at the Cornerhouse in Nottingham. It asked comedians Harry Hill, Tony Law and Paul Foot to perform at the Royal Concert Hall on Friday 13 September to raise funds for the venture.

Kirstie — pictured with Mark at the Royal Concert Hall — added: “We were really keen to explore how companies can use their skills and expertise to impact positively on social outcomes. That is how Just the Tonic came on board — they wanted to give something back in a way that would have more impact than simple cash donations.”

Laughing Matters workshops are also being delivered by professional stand-up comedy coach Sam Avery, who over four weeks will help participants identify their experiences for use as material, hone their writing skills and polish their performance. The would-be stand-ups go on to host a performance for the friends, family and professionals who are supporting them.

Among those who took part was Graham St Quintin, of Mapperley, a service user of Double Action, a charity providing counselling and support for people recovering from alcohol and drug dependency. Graham said: “Laughing Matters helped me to take the next step. I reached a point where I was in a really comfortable recovery ‘bubble’ and I needed an impetus to start moving forward again.

“The workshops were great fun and while the performance was a little nerve-wracking it’s something that I am incredibly proud to have achieved. It has expanded my comfort zone. The performance element has helped me in other situations where I might otherwise feel nervous, for example a job interview.”

Professor Martin Binks, Dean of Nottingham University Business School, said: “Our MBA programme is designed to encourage a creative and entrepreneurial approach with an emphasis on generating innovative ideas in a team context.

“The Laughing Matters project is a wonderful example of successful collaborative ingenuity that will also have long-lasting benefits for some of the local community’s most vulnerable groups. I am delighted for Mark and Kirstie and look forward to their venture continuing to grow from strength to strength.”

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