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Wow! This is excellent.
Sometimes my clients use humor as a defensive mechanism, especially in situations where they are so overwhelmed with their life challenges that they need a way out of it. And there comes a joke, or a sarcastic comment, or a funny mistake, which they present in an even funnier way, and then we both laugh our hearts out. After that, they can feel the tension lowered and they sigh with relief…
I find humor a good ice-breaker and an excellent de-stressor.
Congratulations for the article!
The Anti-Loneliness Project
Thank you very much, Vassia, for your comments and feedback. Humor is definitely a relational “way in”, even though it can often be used as a personal “way out”. But then the relational “in” helps our clients to let their guard down and build trust, etc.
I do believe in the healing power of humor. To have lighthearted moments in a therapy session can help a client relate better, let down their guard and relax. As you said, it should be a genuine, not forced, moment. But if the therapist has a sense of humor and can share an appropriate and well timed joke/pun/humorous insight, it can serve to humanize the interaction. With younger clients, sharing an appreciation of their humor can often facilitate their trust that you will “get” them and that they can speak their mind.
Thank you, Nina! Light-heartedness is indeed a relational facilitator and helps everyone to relax a bit. I also agree that younger clients can feel more trust and that we “get” them when we relate to their humor in a genuine way.
Matt, I really enjoyed reading this-I was enthralled. As counsellors one thing we generally try to support people towards is genuineness and this blog reminds me that I need to also be genuine, which is sometimes difficult to do. I will be doing some journaling to examine those questions. Thanks so much for this!
Thank you so much, Heather! Apologies for the delay in responding. Glad to hear you enjoyed the post and found it useful to contemplate your own genuineness in therapy. Indeed a difficult endeavor at times. Journaling about these questions sounds incredibly beneficial. Thanks, and best of luck to you!
Many thanks, Sharon! I agree – burnout is often mis-conceptualized or mis-attributed. It’s like the fundamental attribution error in social psych. We far too often attribute negative behavior to someone’s personal characteristics vs. contextual factors. At the same time, we can empower ourselves with self-awareness, resources, and cultivation of resourcefulness.
Part 2 on its way soon. 🙂
This is so helpful, Matt. I think too often burn out is viewed a personal and/or professional failing. Thanks for your positive spin on it. Look forward to part 2!
I have what I call the “Oh Da**it Drawer”. Lined w cork board pinned to it are the cards, little notes, drawings, graduation announcements, wedding announcements, pieces of gum (usually not the ABC type), etc. that I have been graced with over the years from folks I have worked alongside. It’s named that way bc inevitably when I have decided firmly to quit for real, the next day one of these things will come via mail or some other route. And I smile, shake my head, and start anew. I frequently imagine my teachers being present in the room as work happens and send up love and gratitude as they “guide” me again. When there is a really good moment I sneak out back and do Snoopy’s happy dance. There is a whiteboard w daily prompts (which you can use or not) and markers for anyone to write down what they are thankful for that day including the FedEx guy. Reading that at the end of the day it’s almost impossible not to feel blessed – a good word. When nothing works – I know I need time off!!!!
Thanks Matt, gratitude is definitely a great tool and one that I practice.
For me another great tool is acceptance, accepting I can’t fix everybody, that I am just human, and just as we usually say “stay with what the client brings/feels”, we must follow our own advice and stay with and accept what we feel when we are unable to “fix” a client.
I appreciate this comment about going with what we bring just as we do with the pts. I also like the reminder to practice gratitude. I wrote my dissertation on positive psychology so I know better but I have not been diligent about cultivating gratitude. Thank you for the link with burnout too. I’m going to start a gratitude journal by August 1st and include the good things happening in my psychology practice. What an idea to include successes and evidence of my own competence because that will help with reducing detachment and nurturing empathy for the pts I work with too. I like that. Thanks Matt.
Your comments are much appreciated. Yes, putting into practice these principles is so tough sometimes. Making that commitment and deadline is super useful. Good luck to you with this. I also found that having a “practice buddy” can also work wonders. I did this a few years ago with 2 collegaues practicing Loving-Kindness and gratitude. We emailed each other once a week and shared our gratitude and loving-kindness expressions. I definitely noticed a change in my happiness level after several weeks. Did I continue with that practice? Nope. Why? Not sure.
But I think we very often need “recommitment ceremonies” to establish once again the deeper reasons we are doing something for ourselves.
All my best to you!
Yes indeed, Paloma. Acceptance, I think, is the steady companion of gratitude. I appreciate your sentiments about knowing when we can’t or shouldn’t “fix” and either just be or realize that that part of our client’s thinking, feeling, or behavior is not within our reach, etc. lots of metaphors to conjure up, I’m sure 🙂
You’ve inspired me to write more about the pairing of acceptance and gratitude. I actually think that sometimes deep acceptance must precede meaningful gratitude – the “coming to terms with what is” can perhaps better allow us to open to what we can then appreciate about what is.
I believe that a little gratitude every day becomes a productive and reassuring habit with enough practice. Even tho’ I have
been a therapist for more than 30 yrs. I am still pleasantly surprised when a client says something like: you know, I just
realized that I am not feeling frozen and scared like I used to and I even accepted a hug from someone yesterday without discounting it in my mind, or even worse, outloud! It certainly isn’t a habit yet for a client in that stage of recovery from their life thus far to have a developed practice of gratitude and yet I know it’s a budding practice! So, thank you Matt, for inspiring us to share our ideas about a very relevant aspect of healing and becoming whole.
Thanks for your comment! It’s so wonderful to see such progress in a client’s life, and both therapist and client alike can practice gratitude (together or of course independently) for this movement forward – even if it doesn’t look like progress to someone from the outside. We know it is.
Best to you!
After working w severely abused and neglected children and teens for the better part of 15 years… I was so grateful for having the relationships that could promote some insight, maybe healing in some kids. However, what I found was the entire lack of empathy, gratitude, or even sometimes a lack of friendliness that permeates the ‘work environment’… My experience was that the ‘adult’ side of things was far more ‘7th grade’ than my 7th graders. I wish someone would teach a class on ‘office politics’. This is the part of the job that almost killed me. There was no recognition for managers of the severity of the fragmentation of the children and the therapists’ sense of hopelessness.
Hi J B,
Thank you for your comment! Sounds like from very challenging work that, when viewed individually, could be perceived and felt with a good deal of gratitude at times. Yes, the work environment and the lack of recognition, acknowledge, empathy, gratitude, etc. can make things exponentially worse and be a true source of burnout. It isolates, it activates our sympathetic nervous system and/or can trigger us to shut down or turn away. I think this is, in part, exactly what Maslach highlights in her Burnout model – it’s the exhaustion, the detachment, the perceived incompetence we can start to feel when our environment does not meet our needs. In your case, it sounds quite egregious. I wish there was mandatory training on office politics and rules of engagement in these settings. It’s absolutely crucial. I’m sorry for that part of your experience. I wish you all the best moving forward.
Hi Matt! Thank you so much for the self-care reminders. It’s not always so automatic for me to remember to honor myself by giving myself time to regroup and breathe. Not breathing due to working for an agency that kept pushing for me to do more and more and not askng for my own needs to be met brought me to not realizing I was ill with pneumonia. It caused me to relook at what I was doing to myself from forgetting to give to myself! The good news is, it made me start my own practice and self care now for me is a priorty even if I have to schedule one less client a day to accomplish my self-care goals. If you lse your health because you aren’t paying attention to your body, mind and spirit, you won’t be helping any clients! Thanks again for the reminder of what is really important.
Thank you so much, Nina, for your candid comment. Yes, the implicit hinting of ourselves as worthy of self care might be the hardest but most foundational element. It sounds like you allowed the illness to be a wake up call for you. I had something similar happen many years with a serious medical condition, and so I never go beyond a certain # of clients/week. I know it’s just too much for my sensibilities and not worth the health effects. This is very tough though when working for an agency. So you did what was probably wisest, most courageous, and certainly most self compassionate to start your own practice.
Thanks, and be well! Matt
Matt – thank you for bringing attention to this aspect of the amazing opportunity and privilege it is to be a therapist. Even as we strive to form therapeutic alliance early in therapy it can be easy to overlook this remarkable aspect of what we do.
Thanks, Chris! Yes indeed. The forming of therapeutic alliance comes with its depth and preciousness. Intersting to also think about how this all starts before we even meet the person. So much of the therapeutic alliance has seeds within the therapist and client alike prior to being in the same room together.
Thanks for the reminder Matt. This is a lovely way for me to start my observations. A text from an exhausted and overwhelmed client the day after her first session. To think that she found the time and energy to send this message is amazing.
“Hi Dorothy. I just wanted to say thankyou so much again for yesterday! I felt so relaxed and peaceful afterwards and felt like that for most of the day too! xx “
Thanks for your comment, Dorothy. That is indeed a lovely sentiment expressed by your client and something to take in and savor for you, the therapist. It’s awesome to have those moments of gratitude from clients and then to reflect on our work with gratitude, even for a few moments at a time. Thanks again!
Thanks for sharing your reward and for reminding me of my own. If someone crosses my mind again for any reason I picture them and send them a gentle smile of acknowledgement. When I remember a therapist who really showed me how, I do the same. Smiles can go for miles! I also recommend them when personal confidentiality permits and let them know that I’ve done so.
Thanks, Dorothy, for your sentiments. Great practice of sending smiles with some visual imagery of the person.
Thank you for this blog! I am truly a striving novice therapist and learning. I wondered if I was too direct since I just experienced two clients back to back in how they haven’t taken well to what I reflected to them; both left the sessions early. This blog gave me some practical insights as to how best to take my next step! Thanks much! Dr. Hersh.
Thanks, Sel, for your comments. It is not easy work what we do, and even more challenging sometimes to repair rifts or even make sense of them. Acknowledging and owning are huge steps in this process. Good luck to you!
Christina- so glad you found this helpful. It’s great to hear of your commitment to such integrative practices for wellness promotion and burnout prevention. Welcome back to the practice scene!
I will soon be coming out with an audio program on self care for busy, stressed health care practitioners. Stay tuned!
Thank you so much for this post!! I’m beginning my therapy practice again after a hiatus, and I find myself craving some concrete self-care practices to incorporate into my day. I think it is so important not only to practice self care (yoga, exercise, etc.) in your life, but also in the moment and throughout the day as you are working with clients to keep yourself refreshed and rejuvenated between clients. Thank you for the great ideas!