Dr. Matt Hersh, founder of The Thriving Therapist

Dr. Hersh is a psychotherapist, Certified Energy Psychologist, mindfulness teacher, & founder of The Thriving Therapist, a site devoted to helping the helpers. Learn more about us and check out our free resources, online courses, and workshops on self-care, work-life balance, burnout prevention, your thriving practice, & much more.

There are many aspects of being a mental health practitioner that no one really talks about. This post is about one such aspect. It’s about humor in the therapy room and how humor can express health, humanity, and humility like no other force.

Despite its long psychoanalytic history as (mature) defense, humor has also been studied in other contexts and for serving other functions.

Laughter is Health

Research over the last several decades (probably starting with Norman Cousins’ self-initiated experience with laughter-as-medicine in the mid-1960s) has shown that deep laughter is stress-busting, immune-enhancing, and restorative to the mind and body.

Humor can act like an antidote for ego and gravity. It loosens us up and lets some lightness in.

So letting your guard down and engaging in a few belly laughs with your clients may actually serve to slow the stress hormone cascade for everyone in the room.

Imagine (or perhaps you already readily witness) the positive effects that humor might also have on your clients’ sense of safety and ease and on the quality of the therapeutic relationship.

But laughter serves a few other functions too. These are functions that are specific to the intimacy of the space between therapist and client.

Laughter is Humanity

As mental health practitioners, we are privileged beyond imagination to be able to share in another’s deepest, darkest, and most desirous states.

But with this privilege comes an immeasurable heaviness for experiencing another’s raw humanity.

And by sitting with our clients in this way, we too sit with ourselves. Because, after all, we are completely and utterly interconnected.

So, to paraphrase famed writer and philosopher, Aldous Huxley, we must tread and cope lightly because of the mere fact of darkness all around us.

From this vantage point then, finding humor in the world and laughing with (and of course not at) your clients becomes an expression of being human together.

Have you ever shared a genuine humorous moment with a client to find a deeper connection afterward? The therapeutic relationship may indeed be filled with greater ease after authentic laughter that is shared and mutually appreciated.

But forced humor and laughter or therapists’ “joke telling” may not have this same effect. Sometimes that even backfires.

And so we can look for more natural opportunities during which humor may arise so that we can connect to our shared humanity and keep things lighter than they might otherwise be.

This leads us to our final aspect (at least for now) of how laughter might be considered within the therapeutic context.

Laughter is Humility

English writer and renaissance man, G.K. Chesterton, wrote in Heretics, “…Steveson had found that the secret of life lies in laughter and humility.”

We simply cannot take ourselves as seriously as our problems would have us believe.

So in the therapy room, humor and laughter are wonderful ways to “knock ourselves down a notch” vis-a-vis importance and seriousness.

Humor can act like an antidote for ego and gravity. It loosens us up and lets some lightness in.

Letting laughter fill up the therapy room from time to time may be an important indication that you, as a helper, are viewing yourself with modesty rather than as “the one” who has to make everything better.

Some Self-Reflections and Food for Thought

Do you like to laugh with your clients? Only with certain clients?

I find that it takes getting to know each client as a well-rounded person to then know what is kosher to laugh about and what is relatively off limits.

For example, I laugh (and am quite silly) with a male teen client about a comedy show we both love. We both quote from this show at random and at “strategic” times, and this almost always brings the room into greater synchrony and levity.

If a client is prone to humor and laughter, do you find yourself letting loose more freely or are you guarded for particular reasons?

Does it bug you to have some clients be so serious all the time?

Do you hold a belief that dictates humor and laughter are antithetical to good therapy? Or perhaps it’s quite the opposite for you.

What do you like to laugh about with your clients?

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