In my family, laughter was as automatic as breathing. I mean, I heard laughter everywhere, including funerals. Actually, being Irish American, I probably heard the most laughter at funerals…
My family had our share of dysfunction and drama, but I think if there’s one thing that my two brothers and I survived our childhood with, it’s that we really like to laugh, and even more so, we like to cause other people to laugh.
So what’s this got to do with becoming a therapist? Well, I don’t want to get into the whole Patch Adams schtick, because frankly, clowns are terrifying, but I personally see a few pretty major therapeutic benefits to humor…
The great Existential Psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, Dr. Viktor Frankl, had a whole theory about the therapeutic value of humor. He decided that humor could be termed as something called “paradoxical intention.” Basically, the use of humor in therapy allows me, as a client, to separate what is bothering me from myself. Humor allows me to identify an issue I am having as something outside of my core being and put some air and light between me and that issue.
Some science dudes also say that laughing releases all kinds of good hormones in the brain. I read an article this morning that said that just the anticipation alone of watching a funny movie helps my brain to create these special hormones. That’s pretty cool if you want to get into the chemistry of the matter.
I personally feel like humor brings folks back down to earth. I have always been drawn to people with a hearty sense of humor, because I feel like they’re approachable. Humor somehow feels connected to humility to me, and I think that’s a really great quality, especially in a therapist.
My favorite archetypal folks are Huck Finn, the fool in Tarot, and Charlie Chaplin. To me, there is a lot of wisdom in just surrendering to life, letting go of my desire to control external circumstances, and simply laughing.
Professionally, I don’t plan on constantly laughing with clients I work with, but I do feel like humor is going to be a pretty important part of what I do. I’m not planning on being a creepy clown like Patch Adams or anything, but I think humor is one of the greatest medicines there is.