The Role of Humour within Counselling and Psychotherapy

The role of humour in counselling and therapy have become an area of intense intense interest for researchers in the field. Experts increasingly recognize its positive role in therapy, but the application is to be executed with precision. The present thesis reviews the literary insight into the use of humour in therapy from the standpoints of Psychodynamic, Cognitive-Behavioural, and Humanistic/Existential perspectives.

Next, the paper argues that humourous interaction can be produced inappropriately, which is particularly topical in counselling. The primary purpose of humour is to be a social lubricant, helping to establish proper connection between the patient and the therapist. In this regard, humour is to adhere to the primary principles of the practice, meaning that it should be appropriate and tailored to the specific patient’s case. The paper reviews the positive aspects of accurate implementation of humour in therapy, such as alleviating the stress and enabling effective coping mechanisms. The research reveals that humour is an effective therapy strategy, which can be utilized in a wide array of cases.


A growing number of practitioners have voiced collective interest in the role of humour in counselling and psychotherapy. Indeed, Corey (2013, p.31) stated that therapy is ‘a responsible endeavour, but it need not be a deadly serious one’.

Moreover, humour seems pertinent and applicable to virtually all therapeutic approaches, spanning from psychodynamic and humanistic/existential oriented clinicians to those with a foundation in cognitive behavioural therapy. For this reason, Chapter one will cover the theoretical bases of humour within counselling. Likewise, historically there appears to have been much enthusiasm for the use of humour within therapy.

This is evidenced by the many books and papers written on the topic by famous therapists such as Freud (1960), Ellis (2007) and Frankl (1975). On the other hand, outside of anecdotal evidence and personal experience, the amount of empirical research around the use of humour in therapy is undeniably little by comparison. Nevertheless, given humours’ complex nature, such controlled research is not always easily acquired.

Chapter two will look at the practical applications of humour. Perhaps not surprisingly, humour occurs quite frequently in all kinds of interpersonal interactions and psychotherapy is no exception. Similarly, just as in most kinds of communication, humour can be used both appropriately and inappropriately. Thus, clinicians who have written on this topic have ranged from those who enthusiastically advocate humour to those who express a more cautious approach. Hence, topics to be examined include humour as means of bolstering the therapeutic alliance and humour as a potential diagnostic/assessment tool before concluding with possible risks involved in its use.

Finally, chapter 3 will touch on humours innumerable benefits to one’s overall health and well-being, including reduced stress, greater resilience and decreased depressive and anxiety related symptoms. In essence, this thesis intends to argue for humour’s therapeutic value provided it is incorporated sensibly.

Perspectives on Humour from Three Core Therapeutic Modalities

Freud’s influence on mental health highlighted the unconscious processes that shape our actions (Christoff & Dauphin, 2020). His psychoanalytic model deals with the psyche’s metaphoric structures, specifically the id, ego, and superego. The id relates to ideas of pleasure and desires, the ego with the individual and realism, and the superego with morality and integrity. The pressure between these three structures desires balance and freeing of mental energy to preserve a strong structure (Boag, 2014). As such, ‘humour may be one way to release sexual energy and provide catharsis’ (Gibson, 2019, p.187).

When observing a client’s dysfunctional behaviours, therapists may consider three ideas concerning Freudian theory on humour. Firstly, humour conceals taboo feelings of superiority or sexual desire, which can induce guilt. In this way, humour acts as ‘a guilty pleasure’. Secondly, humour can obscure feelings of aggression or hostility that one may not consciously admit to. Thus, ‘humour is a way for conscious expression of repressed feelings’. Finally, humour can act as a healthy defence mechanism by gently redirecting aggressive impulses. This way, one will be less likely to engage in aggressive and harmful acts (Gibson, 2019, p.188).

Guilty desires

Delighting in humour may yield guilt or incite tension in our superego since that element contradicts its moralistic needs. One could also feel guilt around generating and appreciating humour because it asserts dominance or superiority over others (Ferguson & Ford, 2008). Freud remarked that a superior state of mind fed aggression (Ferguson & Ford, 2008). Typically, aggression is considered inappropriate in social exchanges, and therefore conflict arises when the id wishes to be hostile. However, the ego and superego prevent this undesirable behaviour from occurring (Freud, 1960). In this way, humour excuses such hostility by masking it as acceptable (Christoff & Dauphin, 2020).

Such humour may appear friendly, but it is, in fact, disparaging. In other words, this behaviour could be considered passive-aggressive. Such a cover-up lets one be offensive or spiteful, and because it is ‘just a joke’, one’s guilt is mitigated (Gibson, 2019).

Voicing of repressed feelings

Freud hypothesised that feelings which the ‘conscious mind cannot handle are repressed, placed out of our awareness’ (Gibson, 2019, p.189). Nevertheless, these blocked feelings are the root of many struggles for clients and are exposed in other ways. Freud claimed that humour was an efficient means to disburse psychic energy or maintain balance so that the system’s objectives were achieved by voicing unconscious wishes through humour instead of expressing one’s genuine feelings (Christoff & Dauphin, 2020; Freud, 1960; Swaminath, 2006). One may not consciously accept our preference for aggression, superiority or sexual impulses, so one engages in jokes to disguise one’s guilt-ridden desires (Christoff & Dauphin, 2020).

This idea contrasts from the earlier theme because, in the previous point, lessening of guilt inspired humour, whereas in this case, repressed material provokes it. For instance, this concept of repressed thoughts stated through humour relates to the vagueness inherent in prejudiced or sexist jokes (Mallett et al., 2016). If one likes to express or hear a racist joke, one might reason that one is not racist because it is merely a joke, but it is possible that one is racist and compensating through employing such humour. Freud’s model succumbs to the idea that unconscious motivations clarify this humour’s enjoyment (Gibson, 2019).

An Adaptive defence mechanism

Lastly, Freud’s concept of balance between ego, superego, and id offers an additional role of humour. If the id wishes to assert its sexual desires or hostile feelings, but the superego creates guilt and stops these from accessing the conscious mind, pressure builds within the psyche (Christoff & Dauphin, 2020). Gibson (2019, p.190) notes that much like ‘the release of steam in a steam-engine train, this tension must be released’. Otherwise, ‘the system malfunctions’. Thus, Freud claimed that laughter reduced this buildup of tension. In this way, as an alternative to client physical aggression, which would be considered maladaptive behaviour, humour acts as an acceptable means to deal with the conflict between these three structures (Connor et al., 2019). Hence, the well-known expression ‘blowing off steam’ recognised by many people today (Gibson, 2019, p.190).

Given the potential roles of humour above, the author believes that the therapy room might act as a haven for clients to gratify these desires. In this view, client humour ought to be encouraged in therapy. Moreover, humour made on behalf of the client during therapy sessions may help the therapist understand and give insight into the client’s fundamental issues. (See Chapter Two for further discussion)

Cognitive-Behavioural Perspective (Albert Ellis)

One other familiar style of therapy that embraces humour is Rational-Emotive-Behaviour Therapy (REBT), founded by Albert Ellis (Dryden & Branch, 2008; Ellis & Dryden, 2007; Saper, 1987). While Freud may have examined humour and its connection to the unconscious, Ellis intentionally used humour to help clients alter irrational beliefs and self-sabotaging behaviour (Saper, 1987).

Consequently, the therapy’s goal is to test and refute clients’ erroneous beliefs and substitute them with more accurate and flexible expectations and perspectives. One method of accomplishing this is for the therapist to practice humorous hyperbole and even irony to call attention to the ridiculousness of clients’ unreasonable belief systems (Ellis & Miller, 2012). In a video interview, Ellis spoke that ‘people disturb themselves; they don’t get disturbed’ (, 2012). He later claimed that individuals ‘first take adversities, hassles, and life problems seriously, which is good, but then they take them too seriously and lose their sense of humour’ (, 2012).

Likewise, Ellis held the view that people disturb themselves cognitively, emotively, and behaviorally. The very heart of humour exerts itself on all three levels (Ellis & Dryden, 2007;, 2012; Saper, 1987). Cognitively, it astutely and persuasively offers a fresh perspective to the all-or-nothing and inflexible client. Emotively, humour brings pleasure and laughter, makes life seem meaningful, and actively interrupts feelings of despair and apathy. Behaviorally, it inspires different actions such as independently generating direct opposition to anxiety and supports people in relaxation by temporary distraction (Saper, 1987). Thus, Saper (1987, p.361) asserts that ‘if clients can even briefly experience amusement, it can serve as an antidote to client sadness’. Finally, therapist humour can help clients accept life’s uncertainties and foster a healthy open-mindedness to the world around them (, 2012).

Nevertheless, detractors of REBT’s extensive use of humour allude to the fact that it seems to endorse an aggressive and confrontational approach to therapy (Ellis & Miller, 2012). While Ellis’s humour practice looks to be rather aggressive, he did acknowledge its potential for harm by stressing the importance of implementing humour in a manner that acknowledged and accepted clients despite their mistakes and shortcomings (Ellis & Miller, 2012). The author would agree that given the possibility for client harm, such humour would indeed need to be administered very carefully and competently, if at all.

Humanistic/Existential Perspective (Maslow, Rogers, May, Frankl, Farrelly)

There have been numerous approaches to the use of humour under the Humanistic/Existential umbrella. Some therapists have created therapies where humour is the chief component of the approach, whereas others have used humour as a therapeutic technique (Frankl, 1975; Rutherford, 1994; Saper, 1987). According to such approaches, a humorous outlook on life is not only a fundamental measure of mental health, but also a method of preserving and supporting healthy living (Martin & Ford, 2007). For instance, Maslow and Rogers agreed that humour is one characteristic spotted in fully functioning individuals. Such a personality trait is a mark of a healthy mind in that one can laugh at difficult life circumstances and still move on with their lives (Dziegielewski et al., 2003).

Likewise, Existentialism suggests that humour is freedom from the confines of reality and life’s hardships (Gibson, 2019). Client behaviour that could appear counterproductive to one’s goals can result from such a loss of freedom (Gibson, 2019). Hence, Gibson (2019, p.195) states that one is healthy and content when one is ‘free and not slaves or prisoners of our feelings and desires’. Similarly, Existential psychologist Rollo May specified how humour works as a ‘healthy way of feeling a ‘distance’ between oneself and the problem, a way of standing off and looking at one’s problem with perspective’ (May, 2009, p.24).

Another renowned therapeutic practice that has been regarded as being built on humour is ‘paradoxical intention’, established by Existentialist Viktor Frankl (Frankl, 1975). In this procedure, clients are advised to overstate the bleakness of their problems (Saper, 1987). For instance, Frankl would often ‘tell a joke to depressed clients, let them laugh and then tell them they could not laugh! Why not? Because laughter is incompatible with depression’ (Rutherford, 1994, p.213).

Furthermore, Frank Farrelly’s Provocative therapy is an adapted version of the Person-Centred approach (Kemp, 2015; Saper, 1987). Saper (1987, p.360) describes how therapists in this therapy style attempt to be provocative and self-revealing by using methods such as ‘exaggeration, mimicry, ridicule, distortion, sarcasm, irony, and jokes’. Such techniques bring attention to self-sabotaging behaviours while simultaneously exposing client anxieties and self-limiting beliefs (Saper, 1987).

Given this supposed client centred approach, the author would question its perspective on core conditions such as client support, warmth, and unconditional positive regard. Fortunately, Farrelly responded to this concern with some clarifications. Firstly, the provocative therapist is not mocking the client personally but is instead teasing their ineffective behaviours. Secondly, Farrelly agreed that his methods might initially trigger unease in clients but made a distinction between short term pain and long-term gain. ‘Often in therapy, a distinction must be made between short-term cruelty with long-term kindness versus short-term kindness and long-term detriment’ (Saper, 1987, p.361). Despite such reassuring explanations, one would still envisage this therapeutic approach as potentially having more significant risks than its more conservative counterparts. Hence, the author would carry similar reservations about this therapy style as the ones held for Ellis’s humorous techniques in REBT.

Now that some theoretical backgrounds of humour have been observed, one will examine the clinical functions of humour as it relates to current counselling practice.

Practising Humour in the Therapy Room

One of the critical elements of successful therapy is the strength of the therapeutic relationship (Cooper, 2008). As such, humour has the power to connect people and enhance the therapeutic relationship, for it recognises the client’s and counsellor’s shared mortality (Dryden & Branch, 2008; Richman, 1996). In regular life, humour commonly forms a bond between people and encourages relationship development. Likewise, humour can have similar results in the therapeutic environment and support understanding (Dziegielewski et al., 2003). Hence, humour ‘can be one of the sweetest builders of a warm, connected therapeutic relationship, giving a shared language to both people in the dyad’ (Evans, 2015, p.129).

Moreover, humour can give way to a more ‘normal’ dialogue which usually contributes significantly to a client’s comfort level in the therapy room (Haig, 1986; Martin & Ford, 2007). As a result, clients who reveal little throughout conversation as a form of self-defence may be more willing to be vulnerable (Dionigi & Canestrari, 2018). Similarly, collective disclosures via humorous observations or jokes allow for confidence to be built in the therapeutic relationship and afford the therapist deeper client empathy (Dziegielewski et al., 2003; Sultanoff, 2013). Likewise, a client’s use of humour in therapy can be a reliable gauge of the strength and trust inherent in the relationship.

One is much more likely to trust another if one is to be brave enough to appear foolish in the presence of another (Dziegielewski et al., 2003). Digney (2014, p.19) speaks to this point by arguing that people instinctively know when someone is concerned for us. Such care is often revealed via the attention one receives. A safe and open environment is cast when one can partake in laughter, share a joke or engage in humorous exchange. The author points out that such humour indirectly communicates the message ‘I care about you’. He maintains that such indirectness can be more helpful than explicitly stating it to someone.

Additionally, Mosak (1987) explains how private jokes often develop between therapist and client in a long-term relationship. The ‘In-joke’ between therapist and client conveys the same message as it does for any in-group, that ‘we are in a special relationship,’ thus maintaining and increasing rapport (Mosak, 1987, p.39). Equally, Mosak (1987, p.27) describes how Adlerians would understand therapy as an ‘educational and re-educational process’ and believe that knowledge accumulation ensues more freely in a stress-free environment. As such, ‘The low level of tension facilitates a cooperative task-solving approach’ (Mosak, 1987, p.27).

Furthermore, humour is a method of communication. Brooks et al. (2020) and Haig (1986) discuss banter as a communication tool that clients may use in therapy and thereby require a therapist to reciprocate in such an approach. Ultimately, the goal of such banter would be to enhance the therapeutic work/relationship. Haig (1986) and Prerost (1984) note that youngsters may have difficulties engaging in therapy if they felt somewhat patronised, so banter may reduce anxiety in this area as well. Finally, ‘humour is chemical and wired into our neurology’. Thus, ‘laughter sets up the release of oxytocin and vasopressin in the brain, peptide hormones linked to bonding and attachment’, further highlighting humour’s social function (Digney, 2014, p.7).

Humour as a tool for client assessment, diagnosis and therapeutic intervention


Humour made on behalf of the client often gives therapists valuable information around their insights, emotional state, attitudes, and expectations. By taking such information into account, therapists may achieve a more thorough client conception (Haig, 1986; Martin & Ford, 2007). For instance, Gibson (2019, p.206) believed that ‘clients’ humour may reveal conflict (aggressive humour), control (taking away therapist’s control of the talk), or concealment (avoiding issues)’. Haig (1986) also listed how humour can be used positively in supporting client diagnosis. For example, any response to or use of humour may specify a client’s emotional maturity, worsening of symptoms or transferential material. Hence, laughter can be an insightful admission by the individual participating in the laughing (Mosak, 1987).

In this way, German novelist Goethe’s claim that ‘Men show their character in nothing more clearly than in what they think laughable’ appears to be quite apt in this instance. Additionally, Goldin & Bordan (1999) discuss how different therapeutic modalities might view a client’s lack of humour. For example, adult children of alcoholic parents might have trouble having fun and relaxing in social settings. Likewise, in Transactional Analysis, a client’s inability to enjoy humour could indicate an ego state dysfunction stemming from unduly punitive parenting.

Therapeutic Intervention

Furthermore, humour can be a valuable intervention technique. Like all therapeutic interventions, it must be implemented for the possible benefit it might have for the client (Dryden & Branch, 2008; Ellis & Dryden, 2007; Frankl, 1965; Franzini, 2001). As such, best practice would indicate that therapists do not make jokes at the client’s expense or practice humour to ease their own anxiety during a session (Dryden & Branch, 2008).

Gibson & Tantam (2018, p.71) claim that humour can also act as a catalyst for internal movement within a client, ‘resulting in a change of perspective, values and behaviour’. In this way, humour can allow clients to view dysfunctional thinking and behaviour patterns more positively and expansively. (Dryden & Branch, 2008; Haig, 1986) Likewise, Mosak (1987) argues that therapists may implement jokes to generate momentum in periods where therapy has plateaued. It can act as a method of challenging clients on possible false agendas (Mosak, 1987).

Moreover, jokes let therapists practice an interpretation style that clients may perceive as less inauspicious than a more traditional interpretation. Hence, a straight-faced interpretation may be less tolerable than one expressed humorously. Such an approach might likewise allow one to state the cause of client difficulties more tactfully (Ellis & Dryden, 2007). Mosak (1987) points out that all forms of psychotherapy have the potential to be hazardous. Nevertheless, if therapy is to flourish, both therapist and client must take risks. ‘Too safe, and there is no reason to move; too risky, and there is no support for movement’ (Mosak, 1987, p.42). In this manner, Mosak (1987) argues that humour carries no more dangers with it than any other form of therapist interpretation. Perhaps then the critical component in humour’s practical use is therapist timing (Goldin & Bordan, 1999). Humour used too hastily can give the impression of incompetence or somebody who is almost immune to the client’s concerns. If used too late, it can appear unrelated to the present moment (Evans, 2015; Goldin & Bordan, 1999).

Potential risks of implementing therapeutic humour

Some critics claim that humour used as a technique is best left out of therapy. The detractors argue that too many hazards exist and not worth the risks involved. In other words, there is a higher chance of client harm and wrongdoing (Shaughnessy & Wadsworth, 1992). Moreover, there are occasions when clients use laughter ‘to cover up anxiety or escape from the experience of facing threatening material’ (Corey, 2013, p.31). Thus, the therapist must differentiate between humour that diverts and humour that progresses therapy (Corey, 2013).

Furthermore, as cited by (Rutherford, 1994), Kubie voiced strong concerns regarding the use of humour in psychoanalysis, believing that it could inhibit free associations. He also thought that therapists might use humour to lessen their own anxieties and fears around specific clients. For instance, therapists might occasionally feel uncomfortable around a client’s presenting issue and therefore implement humour as a means of coping instead of addressing issues openly.

In such situations, the therapist could use humour to sidetrack the client and indirectly change the direction of the discussion. When therapists engage in humour, clients may also get the impression that they cannot voice feelings of annoyance and unwillingly feel pushed into compliance. Consequently, Martin & Ford (2007) advise therapists to exercise some introspectivity and consider whether they are using humour as a form of self-defence. Finally, where humour is misused, clients may become confused and question the therapist’s sincerity (Rutherford, 1994).

Haig (1986) also reminds us of humour’s double-edged nature by listing several ways in which humour is likely to be unhelpful. One such client is the ‘people pleaser’ who might use humour to gain therapist acceptance. For instance, the client may attempt to stroke the therapist’s ego by amusing them or, more importantly, hiding any potential resentment felt towards them. On the other hand, the therapist may use humour in an egotistical manner to validate their intelligence or use dry humour to criticise the client.

Moreover, as cited by (Franzini, 2001), Kuhlman argues that poorly timed humour may alter client feelings when expressing such feelings would have been therapeutic. In this way, Goldin et al. (2006) state that humour is not appropriate when clients are suffering from feelings of depression or going through the grieving process. Similarly, the authors recommend that therapists be suspicious of client humour that seems to support unhelpful behaviours. In such examples, therapists need to abstain from coercing with clients. Engaging with the client in this humour sends the message that one supports such behaviour, which goes against therapy and client growth goals (Goldin et al., 2006).

Nonetheless, Evans (2015) argues that this shadier side to humour is one therapist rarely acknowledge. ‘When humour tips over into cruelty, mockery, snideness or sarcasm it can be experienced as wounding, excluding, judging and devastating by those who feel like the target’ (Evans, 2015, p.130). Such is the case especially for individuals who have chronically found themselves at the wrong end of others’ gags in the past. As such, they may be overanxious around others’ intentions seeing genuine jokes as covering for concealed disclosures intended to insult (Evans, 2015). Similarly, when the therapeutic relationship has not been established, the higher the chance for client harm as our humorous intentions may be misread. Consequently, Evans (2015, p.131) highlights the below three questions which practitioners can reflect on before implementing humour.

  • Has the client frequently experienced humour used as a weapon against them?
  • Do they have a deep history embedded with shame, feeling humiliated, shy or highly anxious?
  • Are there cultural, language, or gender considerations that may increase the client’s likelihood of misunderstanding?

Moreover, Richman (1996) and Maples et al. (2001) echo the above sentiments, advising counsellors working with individuals of diverse cultural backgrounds to be aware of the different meanings potentially associated with humour. Not all cultures express and appreciate humour in the same way. Interestingly, Salameh, as cited by (Saper, 1987) established a five-point rating scale for categorising the extent humour was beneficial or damaging in therapy, possibly as a result of such client protection issues.

The scale commences with destructive humour. Such humour would consist of negative and mean-spirited comments designed to hurt the client. Following on then from this is harmful humour, minimally helpful humour, very helpful humour, and outstanding humour. This last level (Level 5) is defined as empathetic humour, occurs naturally, and helps create client change and growth. Hence, the final chapter will look at these more beneficial aspects of humour as it relates to psychological wellbeing.

Humour and its Role in Psychological Wellbeing

Research has offered extensive backing for the idea that humour regulates emotions that positively relate to mental wellbeing (Abel, 1998; Abel & Maxwell, 2002; Akram et al., 2020; Cann et al., 2000; Cann & Collette, 2014; Crawford & Caltabiano, 2011; Kuiper, 2012; Perchtold et al., 2019; Samson & Gross, 2012; Tugade et al., 2004). Firstly, humour lessens the harmful impact of stressful events by generating an optimistic viewpoint for understanding worrying events (Conversano et al., 2010; Dziegielewski et al., 2003; Morgan et al., 2019).

Secondly, it weakens unwanted emotional responses to the demands of life by discouraging negative ideas in place of positive ones (Martin & Ford, 2007; Samson & Gross, 2012). As American singer Lena Horne once claimed, ‘It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it’ (Gibson, 2019).

Thus, humour allows individuals to reevaluate stressful events in lighter, less alarming ways and subsequently experience less emotional suffering. Numerous authors have echoed this stance (Abel, 1998; Abel & Maxwell, 2002; Ellis & Dryden, 2007; Frankl, 2004; Freud, 1960; May, 2009; Samson & Gross, 2012). Moreover, society today consists of several stressors, and thus client issues may present in many forms (Yim, 2016). For instance, physical stressors might include headaches, emotional stressors such as anxiety and depression and social stressors such as relationship breakups (Gibson, 2019).

Likewise, authors Boyle & Joss-Reid (2004) describe how humour helps healthy and unhealthy individuals manage stress for different reasons. For example, hospital patients practice humour to endure long-lasting pain, college students practice humour to lessen the anxiety associated with assignments, and healthy individuals use humour to preserve energy and mental wellbeing. Cheng & Wang (2014) also suggested that humour restores one’s psychological reserves that often become depleted by responsibilities one finds discouraging. In this way, they argue that humour supports a persistent and resilient outlook on life as it is both physically and emotionally invigorating.

Humour as a coping mechanism for depression and anxiety

A few authors maintain that undergoing adverse life events makes one more susceptible to anxiety and depression (Gibson, 2019; Hassanzadeh et al., 2017). Nonetheless, if one uses humour to deal with such events, one can reduce these unwelcome emotions (Gibson, 2019). In other words, ‘coping humour can moderate the relationship between stress and negative moods’ (Gibson, 2019, p.157).

Similarly, on a more practical note, humour is perhaps a useful coping tool for the simple reason that it is not easy to feel happy and sad concurrently (Gibson, 2019). Martin & Lefcourt (1983) also studied whether partaking in coping humour (as categorised on their Coping Humour Scale) allowed people to escape these universal emotions. For instance, their study established that when adverse life events such as losing a loved one or job arose for individuals, those with high CHS scores exhibited lower negative moods than those with low CHS scores. Given that such emotions are unhealthy when experienced chronically, these results might suggest that some form of humour in times of hardship is worth implementing in one’s life.

Moreover, Yim (2016) spoke of today’s increased stress levels induced by tougher competition and socioeconomic stressors. The author insists that such stress is detrimental to one’s mental health, leading to depression and lower living standards while simultaneously impacting one’s self-esteem (Yim, 2016). Further, in episodes of endogenous depression, he states how laughter can positively alter dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. This has noteworthy implications for the biological origins of depression where ‘neurotransmitters in the brain, such as norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin’ are impaired. In other words, ‘there is something wrong in the mood control circuit of the brain’ (Yim, 2016, p.247).

Adaptive and maladaptive humour styles

Although humour appears to be a significant coping device for stress, it might not be a good strategy if it serves a dysfunctional purpose (Abel, 2002). For instance, humour that is excessively self-deprecating or employed for self-protection and evasion purposes may be linked to less effective coping methods (Gibson, 2019). In contrast, humour that allows for objectivity and a detachment between oneself and the problem may be favourable to coping (Martin, 2001; May, 2009; Perchtold et al., 2019).

For this reason, a few authors have analysed four humour styles that mirror ways individuals regularly use humour in their lives. Two are understood to be adaptive or advantageous for personal wellbeing (self-enhancing humour) or interpersonal relationships (affiliative humour), and the other two maladaptive or disadvantageous to personal wellbeing (self-defeating humour) or interpersonal relationships (aggressive humour) (Kuiper & Leite, 2010; Leist & Müller, 2012; Martin et al., 2003). These findings suggest a client’s style and why they use humour to be important in many interpersonal problems. Hence, it would be practical for therapists to distinguish between potentially adaptive and maladaptive humour styles in humorous interactions with clients.

Moreover, Saxon et al. (2016) conducted a study on gender differences that suggests men and women practice humour differently. While men and women used humour to cope in equal measures, men voiced their emotions through humour, whereas women implemented humour to acquire emotional backing. Though such findings may be useful to bear in mind while working with both sexes, one must be careful not extrapolate these results beyond this one study.

Furthermore, given the seemingly growing use of humour in therapy by practitioners, the author believes the connection between humour and wellbeing needs to be examined further. In other words, the current literature is inconclusive as to whether a strong sense of humour promotes enhanced coping and greater emotional wellbeing or whether a great sense of humour is the product of healthy self-esteem and resourceful coping skills.

Lastly, humour undeniably provides robust support against the adverse effects of stress and negative moods such as depression and anxiety. That said, one would be misguided to presume that all clients require is humour to manage these symptoms, and all will be good. In other words, more research is needed to conclude whether humour is superior to other types of stress relievers. On the other hand, individuals often come to counselling to improve wellbeing and relieve stress of some kind. Thus, it would be prudent for both therapists and clients alike to contemplate the use of humour, given the qualities mentioned above in this chapter. (4578 words total)


In conclusion, humour is an integral component of social interaction, which presents a range of psychological advantages, contributing to an individual’s well-being.. Most patients come to counsellors with a burden of serious psychological issues, which must be addressed. Humour has the potential to accelerate the treatment process to a significant degree. It can make a significant contribution to the functioning mechanisms even severe cases of anxiety, depression, and stress. Humour allows patients to acquire a new perspective on their issues, guiding them through dark points of their lives toward the recovery. It can help people remain hopeful and concentrate on the positive, light-hearted aspects of life.

Leaders of the psychotherapy field state that humour positively affects the process for both parties, as it enables a better assessment of a patient’s personality, which, in turn, leads to more precise counselling strategies (Haig, 1986; Martin & Ford, 2007).

Nevertheless, the risks of inappropriate use of this instrument should also be considered. In fact, the concept of therapeutic humour has a range of opponents, who criticize it for the lack of professionalism. According to them, humourous interactions are not suitable for the discussion of serious matters, such as mental health and related issues (Goldin et al., 2006). However, there is a fine line between positive, therapy-progressing humour and inappropriate mockery. The mastery of a counsellor, among other competencies, consists of being able to differentiate between the two concepts and implement humour effectively. In a way, this instrument should be seen as another therapeutic strategy, which is, while helpful, not universally applicable.

If a therapist is capable of grasping the nature of therapeutic humour, its positive effects will shortly reveal themselves. Patients with depression will be able to experience the long-awaited positivity, which will prompt them to be more cooperative. Anxiety and stress can be reduced to a significant degree if the client looks at the matter from a different, humourous perspective. In other words, humour opens new avenues in the field of psychotherapy, providing counsellors with a tool of immense potential. The desire for laughter and positivity is natural for a human being, meaning that it can be utilized for better therapeutic outcomes. As Rufus Wainwiright once said, “There’s no life without humour. It can make the wonderful moments of life truly glorious, and it can make tragic moments bearable.”

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