Keep It Simple

This is particularly good advice for those not used to engaging humor in their groups or with new groups. Simple forms of humor that I typically use include puns, double entendres (meanings), obvious exaggerations and simply laughing or smiling. When the issue of sex unconsciously comes up for instance, almost any comment will include words that potentially have a double meaning. Sometimes I might repeat the word used or, with the right timing, just smile, eliciting either joined laughter or denial, either of which can be further explored.

Using Humor to Advance Group Work

In one session I intentionally interpreted the opposite of what was going on, an ironic exaggeration to get the individual—and the group— to connect more directly to their emotions. John, a midlevel manager in a large corporation, was reporting an interaction with his previously beloved boss. His boss had been bypassing John in dealings with his subordinates with work, in effect having them put aside tasks John had assigned them, to do something else. This put John in an untenable position with his own staff. When John kept talking content, I commented, "Not that you have any feelings about this," with an exaggerated tone to the word "feelings." John snorted in response, and the group laughed. John then expressed his rage, also connecting it directly to early childhood experiences. Other members were then able to join him in relating their common experiences when feeling undermined by authorities. The result was both a deeper level of work by the individual, and having it become more of a shared group experience.

Avoid Putdowns

Even if the person you are making fun is able to enjoy your comments without injury, this is a group and someone else is likely to feel threatened by it. One needs to be very cautious with negative humor if it is used at all.

Be Alert to Negative Reactions

When these are up front we can attend to them more easily. Sometimes they can be well hidden and not arise until much later. When a situation elicits laughter in a group, any individual can take offense.

In one group, a large, powerful man went quiet after the group erupted in laughter to his claim that he had been forced to have sex with someone he obviously found very attractive. I could see him closing down. I pushed him to acknowledge his anger. Then the group attempted to get him to see why what he said created such amusement. He heard and agreed with some of what was said, yet maintained his offended stance, since not to do so he would have had to break through his denial of interest in having sex with others. This brought to the surface a central issue that was not being discussed.

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