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'Ho-Ho-Ho Means HighAnxiety'By Lauren Melching

  The art of party conversation is an elusive one. Cowed by the pressures of the holiday season, people apparently are flocking to "conversation coaches" and "life instructors" to school them in the art of party survival. For those who are looking for a more personal session, there is comedy writer/life coach/psychotherapist, Kelley J. Brower. She offers private sessions conducted at her midtown office. So many of her clients have brought up the issues of holiday party anxiety, she said, that she's organizing a holiday party for them Sunday. "We're going to play games so it's not awkward," she said. 

   Ms. Brower is small-boned and adorable, with loud tortoise-shell glasses and the ability to empathize with anything a client says. "My clients are really the coolest people," she said. Her approach is more therapeutic than that of Ms. Lowndes - she relies on improvisation exercises mixed with pointers she has gleaned from exhaustive study of self-help books.  Before meeting with clients, she has them send her by e-mail their bios and self-diagnoses. At a consultation last week, she had a printout on the table, underlined in several colors. "I'm a Capricorn," she explained. "I love colored pens." With the request to focus on holiday parties, she interviewed a first-time client about everything from the state of the woman's apartment to the title of the book she was reading. Then there was the self-assessment, in which the client was supposed to rate, from 1 to 10, all the major aspects of her life, such as friends, creativity, or career. Ms. Brower was helpful when the client stalled on "relationship," swiftly declaring, "I'd say you're a 2."

    There were some improvisation games, with Ms. Brower playing the stranger at the party, and then she played the client, showing what responses and questions would have worked best.The grand finale was creating a colorful diagram under Ms. Brower's guidance, with the client's boxed-off name in the middle of the page and different-colored arrows attached to different points. Orange: Must empathize more. Purple: Comment on something visual. Black: Avoid retreating into your head.The session was cozier and more helpful than the course at the Learning Annex, but this client still wishes January would hurry up!