No laughing matter - laughter in the therapy room
We may not associate counselling with humour, and yet there is no reason why counselling should not be fun or even funny. In the venue in which I work as a counsellor, I often walk past other counselling rooms and hear the faint sound of laughter.
Many of us missed out on the freedom to play as a child. Perhaps at home or at school it was curtailed, frowned upon as something disruptive or as wasted potential, an inconvenience, unsafe or unsavoury. Perhaps there was simply no time as other responsibilities or difficult circumstances took away the opportunity to be a child in the truest sense.
Even if we experienced the freedom to laugh and to play in the past and in our present lives, it can, I believe, play a significant and useful role in therapy.
Sometimes laughter is about coming up for air after exploring difficult topics or simply holding these off until the time is right. It is essential that whoever is sitting in the client’s chair experiences the freedom to set their own pace.
Laughter can be about human connection. The acknowledgement that a perspective is shared or at least understood can go some way to healing rifts between ourselves and others.
Funny because it’s true - in their own way jokes allow us to express something about our lives but perhaps in a safer or more gentle way than we might otherwise. It can offer as much knowledge and understanding of ourselves and our situations as any other moment in therapy and can therefore be a way of coming to terms with situations that are painfully serious, a step along the way to making the “intolerable tolerable”.
If counsellor or client become aware that humour is a default setting, something turned to repetitively, or in a way that glosses over or even denies difficult feelings, then it may be very important for this to be addressed. It may be that humour is being used in a way that prevents change or even reinforces the problems the client faces.
If laughter and joking do not appear to be blocking change, they may arguably be doing the opposite. Playfulness can represent freedom in the therapy room; a sign that fear and the pressure to play a role are melting away, allowing genuineness and spontaneity to come to the fore.
Finally, laughter is pleasurable. Enjoyment and fun are basic human needs and therapy can be about finding out about what we need and finding ways to meet these needs.
For all of these reasons, I see laughter as an important and potentially therapeutic aspect of counselling.
*Sarah Kofman, Aberrations: Le devenir-femme d`Auguste Comte, (Paris: Aubier Flammarion, 1978) p.1114.
About the author
Rhian Gower is a BACP member, practicing in Brighton.
After completing her PGDip in humanistic therapeutic counselling (distinction), she was hired to establish a counselling project that recently secured NHS funding. She has over 13 years of experience working with people in crisis, and has provided counselling in schools and the charity sector.
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