Questioning the Importance of Being Earnest: A Conversation Analysis of the Use and Function of Humour in the Serious Business of Therapy
Jeffrey, Sarah Kathering
This thesis explores the long-standing debate in the field of psychotherapy around the use of humour in psychotherapy and the shift from outcome to process research in psychotherapy research. In line with the social constructionist framework of this study, the researcher’s position is outlined. The literature review describes the link between language and the construction of both the therapeutic relationship and humour. The functions of humour in psychotherapy are outlined, and the contribution that Conversation Analysis (CA) can make in this evolution. CA, with its focus on the social action of talk, is employed on three audio-tapes of psychotherapy within this research to identify the resources drawn upon by interactants, and to examine the sequential environments in which humour arises and the responses to humorous utterances. Linguistic devices used to create humour included hyperbole, irony in conveying contrasting incongruent frames of reference, repetition, empathic self-disclosure, sarcasm, facetiousness, normalising statements, humorous impersonation and anthropomorphic personification. Humour emerged in the sequential environment of repeating and elaborating on diverging viewpoints outside of therapy. Humour in the context of persuasion and resistance functioned to dismantle client resistance and contrast their competing perspectives. Humour made in the context of uncertainty exaggerated pre-existing conversational disruption, allowing a move into repair. Humour was used to contrast new and old ways of viewing situations in the process of therapeutic change. Therapists used humour strategically to move into therapeutic tasks such as formulation, reinterpretation, lexical substitution, invitation to express emotion, praise for following an intervention and empathy. Results are discussed in relation to humour's potential place in pertinent areas of therapy such as the therapeutic relationship, empathy and emotional connectedness, unconditional positive regard, congruence, resistance, uncertainty and change. Clinical implications are summarised drawing on these concepts. Strengths and limitations of the project are outlined, future research suggested and reflections by the researcher conclude this thesis.