Humor As Metaphor

What are the jokes the children you know are telling? What humorous books are they reading? What comedy shows do they watch on television? What commercials do they see as funny? Using humor, jokes, and funny stories can quickly engage children and teenagers, communicating a powerful therapeutic message in a seemingly light-hearted manner. This is because, as Yapko says, "Humor involves reframing as the vehicle for the joke. The punch line inevitably causes us to look at the incidents in the story differently" (2003, p. 736).

Developmentally, laughter is an early human activity, first revealing its presence around the age offour months. Isn't this interesting? The response to humor is there long before we develop the sense of humor. From early in our development, we do not have to understand humor to be able to laugh. Because it is a natural, built-in, feel-good emotion, employing humor and laughter in therapy not only puts nature on our side but also serves some very pragmatic functions.

We have long thought that in situations such as bereavement and trauma it is common, and appropriate, to experience emotions of sadness or anger. To many, laughter following the death of a loved one may seem to indicate a lack of respect, or may even be considered pathological; but a University of California associate professor of psychology, Dacher Keltner, found from interviews with mourners that people who could laugh or smile through their periods of grief made healthier long-term adjustments than those who did not. Laughers experienced less anxiety and depression than non-laughers two to four years after the bereavement. Instead of being pathological, laughter seems to be a helpful and functional mechanism for coping with life's difficult times (Wellner & Adox, 2002) and thus one that is healthy to promote in children.

Burns and Street say,

We use humor to cope with the various situations we encounter in life, to help change our feelings, and to connect with other people. It can help develop group esteem and coherence, enhance the quality of our interactions with other people, and build the basis of a good relationship. Humor can also help pacify conflicts, change a mood, and improve our perception of life. (2003, p. 215)

If humor holds such beneficial, inherent qualities, is it not a useful therapeutic goal to help children and teenagers build laughter, a sense of humor, and the ability to see the funny side of life? For this reason you will meet such humorous characters as Mr. Grumblebum, Wally the Wacky Wizard, and a grumpy genie in Part Two, because using such characters, jokes, funny stories, and humorous metaphors provides a win-win outcome. In addition, I have heard it said that humor can be an effective way to tell people what they do not want to hear in a way they want to hear it. While communicating using both the positive affect and effect of humor, it is possible to deliver a potent therapeutic message as in Story 47, "Flying Off the Handle." In 101 Healing Stories I devoted a whole chapter to using jokes and humorous tales with adults (2001, pp. 200—213), while in Chapter 15 of this book I discuss examples of the humor-based healing tales for children presented intermittently through Part Two.

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