Jocularity: a therapeutic cure to the disease of Seriousity.

by Janice Florent

Originally posted in the Australian Association of Family Therapy Newsletter

Volume 38 No.2: June 2016

The risk of a lack of humour might be graver. We might miss the opportunity to be curious, creative and observe alternative viewpoints. We risk seeming judgmental and rigid: the expert rather than person- centred. Imagine the poor client who tries to relieve their awkwardness with a little humour and is met with a therapist’s straight-faced nod of intensity. Without humour in our practice, we risk burnout and of course being cursed with seriousity.

Humour allows for playfulness; connecting to the inner child; can reduce anxiety; can help us to see the absurdity of situations. The ability to laugh at ourselves and our human frailty may perhaps allow us to be kind to ourselves, to forgive, to give permission to identify our strengths and opportunities for joy. Humour or jocularity is thus a powerful tool.

The question arises however whether humour truly is a tool or a stance? Do we use humour in a calculated way; prepare jokes or jocular responses? Moshe proposes that we should not ‘use’ humour that way, but rather cultivate humour as a state of mind. He likened humour to empathy, in that we don’t use empathy, we are simply empathic.

  • Humour, like empathy, requires authenticity. When we are authentic and attuned to our clients, we have an opportunity to respond to affect in a number of ways
  • to respond accurately, which supports therapeutic alliance;
  • to amplify or intensify, which will either support insight and awareness or misfire and increase distress; or
  • to de-intensify with the use of humour. This will either misfire and fracture the alliance or allow for brevity and therefore a well-timed lifting of a heavy burden.


A burden need not always be heavy. The burden of parenthood, the worry of raising children for example could be seen as the joy of watching children grow and explore the wonders of the world. We need not always be literal Moshe says, there is always another way of seeing things. Maybe the glass is not half empty after all? As Moshe stated, it is all in the interpretation; how language and its nuances can create different meanings.

Moshe shared his experience as a new migrant with formal English as his second language and the hilarity of misunderstanding ‘strine’. Like Nino Culotta in the book, “They’re a weird mob”, one man’s confusion is another man’s comedic genius. We can spend a session in complete confusion with our client due to language, with both parties failing to understand the intended meaning. Do we become frustrated and argumentative, or do we take a step back and laugh?

If we can learn to see the humour in life and figure out when lightness is appropriate we can revel in the jocularity of being part of the weird mob and thereby free ourselves from the constipation of the bowels of despair, otherwise known as seriousity.

Janice Florent

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