I mean, I’m not a medical doctor or anything, but sometimes the best remedies are so basic. I remember the first time I laughed during a session with my client. My client, an intelligent professional woman with two small pre-school aged children was going through a crisis in her marriage. Her husband was having emotional affairs as she found out twice. Obviously, the sessions were fairly emotionally-laden filled with anger from my client as she recounted the events that led up to her finally confronting her husband. I was seeing her a year after the discovery and his confessing and supposedly stopping the affairs.
She presented initially as having symptoms of an anxiety disorder. I was having a difficult time getting her to open up. She was quite angry and appeared as though that is where she wanted to stay. I’m not quite sure what was said but she made a comment in a dry sarcastic tone. I hesitated after she made the comment and asked her, “was that sarcasm I heard?” She smiled and said, “oh yeah, I’m really good with sarcasm.” From that point on, I think she knew that I got her because she started to open up and eventually we resolved some underlying feelings of her anger. I think that is what she really needed, she needed to know that I get it, I got her.
She was so traumatized by the betrayal and abandonment she had experienced from this discovery of her husband’s transgressions, she found it difficult to trust anyone. Yet, she was feeling enough psychological pain that she brought herself into therapy and she wasn’t talking. And when she did talk, it was mostly venting and anger. I didn’t get it, or her, at first.
I did some research on the university library I had access to as a part-time research assistant and found a peer-reviewed journal article on extra-marital affairs and post-traumatic stress disorder. I shared the information with her. She nodded her head in agreement when I explained that although her trauma wasn’t actually witnessed or caused her bodily or physical harm as in someone that may have experienced the 9-11 World Trade Center terror attacks, to her it was almost the same sort of feeling. To her, her world came crashing down just like the twin towers. It was a perfect metaphor and she started to get it too.
I later met with her husband and we were able to work through some difficult issues. It was decided that she needed to let go of her anger and forgive her husband. Her husband in turn needed to do some more individual therapy because of his family and personal background with alcoholism, he created chaos, secrets, and dysfunction, because that was most familiar to him. My client didn’t want to let go of her anger because then it was as though she was condoning his infidelity. Slowly she realized she did need to so she could make room for a new meaning in her life with her husband.
My point to all this was it started with a laugh. I mean, it wasn’t as though, we were giggling and slapping our knees in hysterics but that acknowledgment of who she was and what she had been through was a catalyst toward her being able to trust me. Laughter is such a universal behavior too. It is something everyone can do. It takes just a little and can mean and give so much. So the next time you think you’re having a moment to laugh with your client, go for it. It may be just what the doctor ordered.
Karen Bates is a counselor, addiction specialist, and a doctoral student at Walden University.