Therapeutic humor in retelling the clients' tellings

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33 Scopus citations


One of the principle activities of therapeutic discourse involves 'retelling the clients' tellings' (Holmgren 1999). Telling the clients about themselves can be a delicate enterprise, especially when such tellings differ from the clients' own. One way to tell clients about themselves is to humorously exaggerate their condition. Humor seems to work to invoke a playful frame of clients' relational circumstance which disarms their resistance and creates an environment for the presentation of a contrasting interpretation. Humor seems to be a kind of fallback option for when the serious efforts of therapy are not working well. It arises within the sequential environments of repeated serious efforts at explaining a therapeutic version, of disagreements, or in pursuit of a response which is being withheld. The humor in therapy is not turn initial; it arises in response to some difficulty. Disagreements were found to be the most common environment for the use of humor. Humor offers the therapist a way to reframe the on-going interaction or the discursive position being advocated. While humor may be conceived as a break from the serious activity of therapy, this is clearly not the case in many of the excerpts examined here. In broad strokes, the humor seems to work to disarm the clients' resistance while simultaneously offering an alternative vision of the relationship. The serious functions of humor can create a complication for the recipient in how to respond. There seems to be a duality in some uses of humor in that one can orient to either the humorous or the serious aspects of the utterance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303-326
Number of pages24
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2001


  • Conversation analysis.
  • Humor
  • Retellings
  • Therapeutic discourse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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