by Leigh Kunkle- Communications Chair
At the risk of losing you right off the bat, I’m going to start this post off with a cliché and say I am a huge believer that laughter is the best medicine. I know some of you might be rolling your eyes, but in all seriousness, I think there is a place for humor in nearly all of our most difficult moments. The situation itself may not be funny but being able to laugh about something when things are hard can be extremely powerful. And I don’t know about you, but nothing cheers me up faster than a good laugh.
I believe I have a pretty healthy sense of humor and it has in many ways shaped my relationship with friends and family and how I cope. While humor is not the sole way I connect with others or manage my stress, I’d be lying if I said it was not towards the top of the list. However, when I started grad school, I was not sure how it was supposed to fit into my clinical work. I spent most of my first year treading too lightly when it came to letting my sense of humor show in session. Part of the reason is that doing so actually felt pretty vulnerable, like a self-disclosure of sorts. Now none of us want to feel like therapy robots to our clients, but one’s sense of humor can be a very personal thing and sometimes it is much easier to hide it away than figure out an appropriate way to share it with them. No surprise, this muffling of a big part of myself got in the way of connecting with my clients. When I finally started to learn how to bring my sense of humor into the room is when I felt like I was really showing up.
Now I’m sure there are people on both sides of this coin; they either always or never use humor with a client. In my experience; like the answer to nearly every other question I’ve ever asked in this program; it depends. There are clients who are not inclined to make a joke during session, with whom I have connected in ways unrelated to my sense of humor. Others tend more easily towards laughter, even in difficult times. So, for me the real task of incorporating humor into the therapy session is sorting out if either of us are using it as a defense or something more productive. That is sometimes easier said that done but I will say that my clients who acknowledge the full weight of their problems and find humor in them tend to be more resilient. And I see that in my personal life too; my strongest moments are not when I laugh off my pain as nothing but when I can fully sit with it and also have a laugh.
In a field where we ask a great deal of our clients in terms of vulnerability, opening up the part of ourselves designed to find lightness and comedy in every day situations feels like the least we can do. And I’ve found there are few things more humbling and meaningful than when a client invites you into their heaviest moment and cracks a joke.