Question: “How many hypnotherapists does it take to change a light bulb?” Answer: “One…… But the light bulb has to want to change.”
An important use of humor is that when applied appropriately it deflates shame. Shame, blame and guilt are all unproductive emotions and they all have paralyzing influences on individuals. With most clients humor provides a liberating and comfortable milieu. In his book, “HA HA and AIM: The Role of Humorous Psychotherapy”, Dr. Mosak points to three broad categories of theories of humor.
1. Release-related theories where pent-up energy is released through the use of humor and the act of letting go and laughter have a liberating effect on the client, Thus laughter has a re-leasing effect in liberating pent-up emotions and discharging hostility in an acceptable way.
2. The disparagement-related theory “which begins with an intention to injure which our culture requires us to repress.” Once again the laughter releases aggressive and hostile drives. By relating an experience of unhappiness, misfortune or misery, one attains, at least temporarily, satisfaction.
3. The incongruity-related approach. Laughter may occur because of a kind of misdirection where there is a shift, in a way other than the way expected.
What are the advantages of using humor in a therapeutic relationship? Mosak cites five specific uses of humor:
1. Establishing a relationship.
When the therapist is comfortable in using humor and the client can respond to it, it can be a very effective way to get away for a few moments from his own unhappiness and help the client reframe his problem. The use of humor can be instrumental in helping people interact with one another. Adler describes the neurotic as someone living in enemy territory, always on guard and always vigilant. Certainly, humor can help ease the sense of isolation and guardedness.
2. Humor in Diagnosis.
Those who believe that “feelings are dangerous” have a difficult time laughing and letting go. For those people achievement is much more important than feelings. In the diagnostic evaluation of the client, one can easily determine if individuals laugh with others or at others. Does the client laugh at cruel jokes or at their expense? All this may be very revealing of the client’s persona.
3. Humor and Interpretation.
Jokes and humor can be used to focus the direction of the therapy, perhaps helping clients begin to become aware that they are not unique in their suffering though they are hurting. They also may begin to realize that they have not been singled out for a difficulty.
Again, Mosak relates the following:
A noted violinist was being scolded by his manager for his self adulation. “Every time I see you talking to someone at a cocktail party you are saying “I, I, I.” The violinist remarked: “Gee, I did not know that and I am sorry. I bet I have offended a lot of people that way. I promise Ill never do it again.” The following Sunday, both the manager and the violinist were at a cocktail party, and the violinist was I, I, I-ing again. Suddenly he looked across the room and saw his manager shake his head in despair. He gave his manager a sign that he remembered the previous week’s promise and turned back to his friend and said, “But enough talking about me. Let’s talk about you. How did you like my last concert?”
4. Turning the Client Around.
Humor can be used in redirecting the client in a productive way. For instance, McMullin in his “Handbook of Cognitive Therapy Techniques”, gives the following example when dealing with a patient with irrational fears, “O.K. you are afraid no one likes you. Let’s assume that you are right, nobody likes you. In fact, no one has ever liked you and no one ever will; from the doctors and nurses in the delivery room when you were born to the people who pass you by on the street they all dislike you.” In working with paranoid patients, (though we know that they make the best body guards), Alder is known to have told the following to patients who feel they were being watched. “Lucky you…when I go out on the street not even my dog pays attention to me.”
5. Humor as a Criteria for Termination.
Many therapists including Adler, Rosenthal, Shulnma, Mosak. Olsen, use humor as a barometer to end therapy. Clients who can place and look at their problems in a new perspective while being able to maintain comfortable distance, will often rediscover their own senses of humor.
Of course as in any other techniques involving interpersonal relationships, humor has to be used advisedly. Thus, hypnotherapists who are uncomfortable with humor need not use it. Also, there may be some clients who may not be able to respond to humor and here it should not be used. As with any choice of techniques, humor and mutual respect need always to be considered in the light of appropriateness for the therapy.
From my own experience, incongruities, reframing and humor come to me very easily. Of course, in time as these are proven to be successful in establishing a bond and rapport with my clients, this has been reinforced with successful interventions.
For many years, as a school psychologist covering K through 12, it was not infrequent to have a high school student come into my office unannounced and screaming “I hate this xxxxxxx place, I can’t stand it anymore.” As this scene was repeated many times with many students, I developed two approaches:
One, I would pretend to start crying at my desk and sobbing ” I have been trying to get out of this for 20 years, how lucky you are…..you only have a few months left!”
Another technique, when a student would charge in in a bad temper – I would extend my hand to him and say, ” you have excellent judgment!”
To those students who came to announce to me that they were dropping out of school or that they refused to cooperate any longer because they had had it, I would say: “ and how hard it is for me to understand that since you hate school so much that you are doing everything in your power to postpone your graduation or your academic year.” It was interesting how frequently I did get results at least in establishing a working bond with those students.
At one point, I developed a technique with my private clients who were resisting. Having been told many times by clients that they could not be hypnotized and having been asked if I ever failed at hypnotizing anybody, I would simply bend down and retrieve a rubber hammer from my desk and gently holding the hammer in my right hand, tapping the palm of my left hand. I would then say “I have never failed yet.”
Humorous dialogue can make clients give up the rigidity that they have imposed upon themselves. Jokes may strengthen one’s insight and reveal further insight. This technique will also restore the sense of freedom and experience of self.