Nowhere does it say that you cannot, should not, have humor with your healing. It is a universal language that takes the sting out of some very tough topics. If I can elicit at least a smile while guiding clients to look honestly at their behavior, their pain, their faults and foibles the process is generally smoother and their defenses are lowered. That is a win-win in anybody’s book.

I learned this in a very odd way twenty years ago in my first therapy job in a rural mental health clinic. I was trying desperately to connect with an older male client who could not understand “why is my life crap?”. After multiple sessions it was clear to me that he was stuck in a repetitive pattern of behavior that was neither winning friends nor influencing family members, at least not in a positive way.

I wasn’t young but I was new to the practice of therapy, having spent the first part of my career in non-profit and community organizing work. So I was intent on treating him “by the book”. I tried classic psychodynamic work and he was not impressed. “Don’t you use none of that psychobabble mess on me. I’ll walk right on outta here and never come back”. I used CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and was very solution focused. “I don’t need you to tell me I’m pissing everybody off. I can see that!”. My formal training was getting us nowhere.

One day out of sheer frustration I blurted, “You do know the more you run over a dead possum the flatter it gets, right?”. I froze. Oh. My. God. Did I say that out loud? I am a terrible therapist and I am going to get fired. He paused and looked towards me, but beyond me, as he always did. He couldn’t tolerate direct eye contact. I imagined that he was scrutinizing my framed degrees and license on the wall behind me, wondering if they were real or if I had purchased them off the internet.

The strangest most wonderful thing happened. He laughed. Head thrown back, bib-of-his-overalls-shaking laughter. And then he looked me in the eyes for the first time, pointed his index finger at me and said, “THAT. That I understand.” And we proceeded to have our first truly meaningful conversation about how he could stop running over that dead possum.

As we embark on discussions here about survival skills and coping techniques, I want first and foremost to encourage you to find your sense of humor no matter how bleak or infuriating things seem. And to be willing to look for behavioral loops and entrenched patterns or beliefs that may be causing the same unpleasant outcomes over and over and over. It’s a really good place to start. We are not always the source of our own misery, but sometimes?….sometimes we are and we need to learn how to own it.