The Therapeutic Use of Humour and Its Place In The Counselling Room.


Joy is the emotion your face displays through laughter

When we laugh we open ourselves to joy, joy allows us to experience sensations and physical responses.  In a world where we are plagued by sadness and indifference.  Humour, laughter and joy can often provide a wonderful respite.  I hope to look at this in more detail throughout this document.  Focussing on the following.

* So where does humour fit in the counselling room?

* What are its therapeutic benefits, and how can it help a client to move forward?

* What makes us laugh?

What is humour?

Sense of humour has always been what people look for in another person…  Check the personal ads.  GSOH!  Good Sense Of Humour!  It’s what attracts us to people…  He/She’s funny…  They make me laugh…

Humour is our way of creating freedom within.  Laughter is exercise for the soul.  The soul needs to be moved and lifted in order to continue.  There are ways of inspiring the soul, a walk in the woods, a sunset or sitting down by a lake.  Humour is another way to stimulate the soul.  It just happens to be more instant, it gives a direct reaction and is easier to access.

“They say it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile.”

Humour as a tool of communication.

Humour has also been used as a great tool of communicating.  Positively and negatively.

These days humour is used as a clever, subliminal and effective way of opening up people to new thinking.

Bill Hicks is a great hero of mine.  Musician, comedian and modern day philosopher.  He described himself in a letter to a critic as a ‘shaman’.  His medium was comedy, and he used this medium to communicate his thoughts and feelings on the world around us as he saw it.  In an often shocking and disturbing way (and personally very funny) he spoke how we could perhaps live together as a human race more intergratively.

For example.  “Remember those missiles in the Iraq war.  Smart bombs.  Amazing technology.  We could see the missiles going down the street and down the chimneys of buildings.  Costs millions of dollars to create this technology……  And yet.  Couldn’t we theoretically use this same amazing technology that destroys people to… say… feed the hungry of the world?  We could use it to fly over third world countries and shoot bananas into the mouths of hungry people… ‘Smart fruit!’”  Using humour to impart a message.

“Why are pirates called pirates?…….  Because they arrrrrrrr!”

What is Humorous or Funny?

Humour is sometimes an individual thing which can have a universal meaning.

It very much depends on ‘how’ it is communicated.  It can be used in a derisory and destructive manner.  i.e:  To make someone feel better about themselves at the cost of another.  However it can also be used to take the sting out of a situation.  To allow people to see the irony of life and events that they are very much powerless over.  This use of humour, to see the light side of situations is available to all, realized by few, and unfortunately, enjoyed by even less.

The benefits of humour.

Humour is like a glue, it can bond people to each other.  Have you ever shared a joke or a funny incident with another person?  That shared experience creates a bond, a knowing between people.  Got to see a comedy at the cinema, the audience laugh at the same things.  Humour is a universal language that reaches across the world, and laughter is its adjective.

There was an online poll taken to find the ‘worlds funniest joke’  over 300,000 people took part in the poll.  This was the result,

Two men are out in the woods hunting, one of them starts gasping for air and collapses on the floor, his eyes glazed over.  His friend reaches for his phone and calls 911,

“Help, help, my friends not breathing, I think he’s dead and I don’t know what to do!”

“Okay,” said the voice on the phone, “relax and I’ll help.  Now first, I need you to make sure he’s dead…”

“Okay, wait a minute…”  A pause followed then two gunshots rung out.  “Okay.  Now what?…”

There is humour everywhere.  In our homes, in our jobs and in our streets.  Thinking back over my day today I know I have smiled and have laughed at the most innocuous of things from the playfulness of a baby in a pram to my cat sniffing the floor that had just been bleached.  Harmless things that I find funny in my day to day life.

The therapeutic use of humour.

In the counselling room I have found humour to be an essential tool in breaking down barriers and building up trust.  For me though, the single best use of humour in the counselling room is how it puts life in perspective.

I find my clients come to the room holding their lives in their hands, and as they toss each one into the room it seems as big as a house, and pretty soon it’s like we can’t move for houses.  And finally, exhausted after looking through these houses, that need cleaning, washing, bills need paying, clothing and feeding the kids before going out to work and getting home in time to do the ironing before going to bed to rest and get up again and trying to take the dog for a walk. We stop and I ask them “and your wondering why your not coping too well with all this time on your hands?”  It never fails to raise a smile or a laugh.  And that’s the beauty of humour.  It really allows us to harmlessly admit that life is difficult, that it is hard and most importantly.  It’s okay to say that and to sit back and laugh at what life throws us.

‘Seven days without laughter makes one weak!’

The physiology of humour.

Physiologically, laughter increases the blood flow.  It makes us breathe more and raises oxygen intake which stimulates red blood cells.

“Humour therapy is generally used to improve quality of life, provide some pain relief, encourage relaxation, and reduce stress. Researchers have described different types of humour. Passive humour results from seeing prepared material, such as a funny movie, stand-up comedy, or an amusing book. Spontaneous or unplanned humour involves finding humour in everyday situations. Being able to find humour in life can be helpful when dealing with cancer.” (


I are in no way suggesting that humour is the ‘cure all’ route in therapy.  However, throughout my training and into my practice and constantly, throughout my life.  Humour has become a tool that can help move people forward.  The word therapy can create mysticism and a little fear.  It is associated with seriousness, and when we as therapist go into a room.  At times we may appear as professional and sincere and ‘serious’.  This is afterall therapy.  People are coming to us for help in their pain and suffering.  And that’s the point!  People are coming to us for help in their pain and suffering.  So what is the harm in raising a smile.  Letting them laugh?  In this world of hurt and discomfort.  We, as therapists provide a place of safety and sensitivity.  Why not then can that place also be a place where clients can begin to laugh again and see the beauty in humour and feel the joy it creates?

A final word from the master himself, “The best kind of comedy to me is when you make people laugh at things they’ve never laughed at, and also take a light into the darkened corners of people’s minds, exposing them to the light.”
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Sincerely Yours

A Thirsk Counsellor

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