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February 20, 2018

Therapeutic Uses Of Humor - Counseling Approach

By Dr. Richard Boyum

Humor is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Smiling and laughing are signs that human beings are, at the very least, in a positive state of equilibrium. From the beginning of human social experience, cartoons, puns, and jokes have been part of our experience. Humor can be used not only in everyday experience, but as part of a more formalized counseling procedure as well.

Good humor has several components to it. First, it is not meant to hurt anyone, it is to be shared with them. Second, there is usually an element of trust involved. We “usually only share jokes, puns, stories, cartoons, etc. with people we feel safe enough to do this with. Therefore, it is to a significant degree a measure of intimacy. Third, "humor has a tendency to inform and transform us. That is to say, that we tend to joke about things that we value-human relationships, health, religion, politics, gender, the workplace,etc.

Most components of humor have an element of truth to them. Sometimes, it is too painful to confront these issues directly. Therefore, the pun, joke, cartoon, etc. is a way to allow us to focus on an issue and examine its value and importance in human experience.

Fourth, humor is cathartic. It allows us to relieve stress, tension, and stored emotion. Humor used in the right way can discharge a negative situation. In the discharge of emotion, there is a very fine line between laughter and tears. This cathartic element is not only experienced in our everyday life but also becomes institutionalized in individuals staying up to watch Dave Letterman's or Jay Leno's monologue. We often like to end our day with a laugh.

Each of us needs to find ways to build some laughter and humor into our daily lives. When we are in difficult and demanding people-professions, we need to find cathartic ways to purge emotion as well as find a bit more fun in our work. The use of humor at an appropriate time in a counseling session can create tremendous, positive gains. When we can get a client to laugh at themselves rather then beat themselves up, real progress in that individual's emotional growth and development is occurring.

Spend some time thinking about the ways humor can influence and transform both your professional and personal life.