In Therapy: Swearing, Crying, Laughing

Ever feel self-conscious in therapy about your words and/or actions? Three commonly expressed areas of concern are swearing, crying, and laughing.

I. “Oops–can I do that?”

Regarding swearing, Ryan Howes, PhD, Psychology Today, offers a therapist’s perspective I agree with:

Yes, you can swear in therapy. At least you can with me and the therapists I know. Of course, if your cursing actually gets in the way of direct communication we’ll probably raise that concern (to help you swear more efficiently, perhaps?). Otherwise, therapists really shouldn’t prohibit moderate profanity…

I’m not trying to incite a vulgarity revolution, but I do support the battle against defenses and inhibitions, especially in the therapy office. Sometimes that internal censor just needs to back the fudge (link is external) off.

And what about therapists swearing? Linda Esposito, LCSW (Psychology Today) echoes Howes on this (and again, I’m on board as well): “I follow the client’s lead about swearing. If they’re uncomfortable, I keep it clean. There’s no need to add another layer of stress to the issues at hand.”

II. “Sorry for crying.”

As in the rest of life, some people cry more readily in therapy than others; some don’t cry at all. Some who do cry feel the need to apologize; some who don’t cry kinda wish they could. And so on.

Bottom line: Therapists who don’t allow clients to cry freely aren’t doing them justice.

“How can therapists help clients have a therapeutic cry?” asks Jeffrey Von Glahn, PhD, in Psychotherapy Networker:

It’s really very simple: have the utmost respect for this natural process and be patient. Tears can help people heal from hurtful psychological experiences in life, just as there are natural body processes that promote physical healing. Creating the right conditions for therapeutic crying begins with developing the bond of trust and safety that enables clients to share their hurts with you, however circuitous the route may be. It’s through that bond and the experience of released emotion that people can reclaim parts of themselves that they’ve felt too frightened to acknowledge and own.

Do therapists cry sometimes in sessions? Occasionally we might—we’re human. But, if a therapist seems to cry too often, seeking consultation about one’s triggers may be appropriate.

III. “I shouldn’t be laughing in therapy.”

No, really, if you have a sense of humor, please do.

Meaghan Mobbs, Psychology Today, on the benefits of humor and laughter in therapy:

Humor moderates stress. Creating a humorous narrative about a stressful situation can result in reduced physiological stress response, less emotional distress, and lower negative emotions (link is external). Black humor in particular typically takes a negative event or experience and reconsiders it from a less threatening point of view. This allows the person who experiences the negative event to look directly at what is painful but see and interpret it in a less harmful or threatening way…

The act of laughing itself improves oxygen consumption, and its after-effects include slower heart rate and lower blood pressure due to changes in the body’s endocrine system. Moreover, the function of laughter potentially serves as a release of nervous energy—which is why people might laugh uncontrollably when enormously angry or grieving (link is external)and it promotes group cohesion. Literally, cracking up keeps you from cracking up.

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