An investigation of clients' perception of humor and its use in therapy

Bennett, Carl Edward
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The purpose of this study was to describe clients' perception of their experiences with humor in therapy. Previous research on the issue focused on therapists' views. Literature indicates humor can be beneficial in coping with stress but its use in therapy continues to be controversial.

This researcher investigated clients' perception of humor in therapy through ethnographic interviews with 30 adult clients currently attending therapy. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed and analyzed through a phenomenological process, seeking meanings clients gave to their experiences. The results provided clients' definitions of humor, awareness of humor, and evaluations of experiencing humor in therapy.

The 11 therapists of participating clients reported using some humor in therapy, even though none had any training in its use. Most therapists expressed caution in using humor in therapy but evaluated it as helpful to change clients' moods or perceptions, to relieve stress and tension, or to improve the therapeutic relationship.

Clients' comments were extremely positive concerning their experiences of humor in therapy. They defined humor as a shared experience between therapist and client that may be spontaneous or a planned activity that results in laughter and smiles. It provides relief from tension and may sometimes be used as a defense mechanism or weapon. Clients conclusively reported an awareness of humor experienced, even though some had difficulty recalling examples. Those who recalled a lack of humor in therapy evaluated that experience negatively.

Analysis of clients' evaluation of experiencing humor in therapy provided nine themes: (1) Humor Helped Clients Change Behavior in a Positive Manner; (2) Humor Improved the Relationship Between Client and Therapist; (3) Humor Helped Clients Continue Therapy; (4) Humor Reduced Tension or Stress; (5) Humor Changed Clients' Perceptions; (6) Humor Reduced the use of Defense Mechanisms or Opened Clients to New Ideas; (7) Humor Was Evaluated Positively; (8) Humor Was Evaluated Negatively; and (9) Humor Was Not Experienced in Therapy. Clients' positive evaluation of humor in therapy supports previous literature encouraging its use and indicates therapists may assist clients in reaching their goals for therapy through the inclusion of humor as a therapy technique.

Psychology, Coping with stress, Coping mechanisms, Therapy techniques