Course 1 Day 3

- A light or humorous presentation may hide a serious issue

- Even the most serious issue also has a light side

- The therapist can see the serious issue behind the joke and also be aware of the light side of a serious issue





In threes, recall of yesterday and evolving understanding.

Discussion of various issues

- The client takes a risk by sharing the problems in their life. It is important that the therapist be sensitive to the risk that the client is taking. Because where is risk there is likely to be anxiety. If the client is anxious, the therapist may easily become infected by this anxiety. This can lead the therapist to try to take more control than is appropriate. Sometimes, acting out of this anxiety, the client invites the therapist to be an authority figure, to give instructions or solutions. This can seduce the therapist into a false position, claiming knowledge that she does not have. It is not that all advice giving is wrong, but it is far less often useful than may appear to be the case. The client has probably already considered most of the things you could come up with. It is more important for the therapist to provide space for new understanding to emerge. To do this, the therapist needs to have faith in the process that may evolve between the two of them. If the therapist has such faith, this provides a background of calm within which the client's anxiety seem less catastrophic and more bearable. When they can bear with the feelings, it is more likely that new insights will emerge.

- Is there a contradiction between responding wholly to the object (the client who is in a disturbed state) and maintaining deep calm? This seems like a contradiction but it is like the identity of form and emptiness. Because there is vast emptiness there can be freedom to enter into any form. It is because one enters wholeheartedly into every form that there is vast emptiness. They go together. It is when we do not trust the vast emptiness that we fear to enter into the presenting form. Actually each presenting form is like a splash in a pool of water. If the lake is a big one the ripples soon return to calm of their own accord.

- A group of students practising together yesterday had ended the day with some unresolved issue and conflictual feelings. The student who had been in the observer role was left pondering whether she should have intervened more or less, feeling quite self-critical either way. These thoughts also pulled up memories of her parents quarreling and her not knowing what to do in that situation. The real question, however, is not that of finding the correct action so much as finding the deeper motivation. When that motivation is love and compassion, intervening or not intevening are both good, one being the attempt to help and the other being deep trust in the combatants to sort matters out themselves.



In small groups:

- tell jokes

- discuss what makes a joke funny - what makes a joke a good joke

- consider the expression "if one didn't laugh one would cry"



- Sometimes humour is used to minimise the risk involved in sharing something to which strong emotions are attached. In this situation the therapist has to try to find a way to permit the matter to be discussed also in a serious manner. This can mean inhibiting the impulse to treat it all as a joke. On the other hand, there are other occasions in which the introduction of humour can itself be therapeutic. Being able to laugh at something may make an unavoidable situation that would otherwise feel oppressive more bearable. Therapists need to have in their repertoire phrases that facilitate shifts in the dialogue from the light to the more serious and also in the other direction. The things we joke about generally also have a serious side and even the most serious matters can be regarded humourously. Keeping both possibilities in mind the therapist is able to be both sensitive and playful, appreciating the pathos of life and also open to manifold possibilities.

- Jokes commonly involve a build-up and a pay-off. The build-up sets the scene and leads to an expectation which is then confounded by the pay-off. This is not just the structure of jokes. Something similar applies to many forms of communication. In poetry, as in the poem that we looked at yesterday, there is a “turn”. The poem starts by telling us that nothing is changing and then tells us that something is changing nonetheless. Similarly, when a client tells his story, there will generally be a build up leading to a point. Of course, there are some less satisfactory styles of communication where the person never does get to the point and one struggles to understand what it is all about. On other occasions, the point remains hidden because of its emotional power and it may fall to the therapist to articulate it, perhaps saying something such as, “Are you talking about having an urge to kill yourself?” or “Do you mean incest?” or whatever. The bringing of the point into the open gives the client permission to talk about it more clearly and also demonstrates that the therapist is not afraid of the subject. In general, much of the skill of counselling lies in helping the client to get to the point more quickly and creating the kind of permissive yet safe atmosphere in which the serious matter may then be further examined in relative safety.


Counselling practice in threes, counsellor, client, observer


A student shared what she had learnt about observing her own work and the difficulty of making judgements about when to be empathic and when to intervene, having found that she had a tendency to be overly interventive.

Another shared how he might have thought that spending a whole day on humour was too much but that the subject had actually developed in useful ways.

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