Joy and laughter in the therapy room: a grounded theory study

Arora, Elena (2017) Joy and laughter in the therapy room: a grounded theory study. Other thesis, Middlesex University.


This research project investigated moments of joy and laughter during therapy sessions when these occur simultaneously between a therapist and a client. In the context of this study, joy and laughter moments were considered as heightened affective moments that play an important part in the organisation of interactive encounters between individuals. Whilst theorists often place them at the core of the process of therapeutic change, very little empirical data beyond observational studies of mother and infant interactions has been produced so far. This research project made an attempt to fill this gap.

Semi-structured interviews of experienced practitioners were conducted to collect the data and Grounded theory methodology was applied to analyse the results of this study. A theory of joy and laughter ‘crescendos’ in relational psychotherapy was developed that defines joy and laughter moments as processes rather than individual events. These processes include elements of the implicit and explicit communication between a therapist and a client that interact and mutually influence each other in a complex, iterative and mutually influencing way. These processes have a distinctive sense of a flow, a sense of a build-up, a climax and a reverb. Furthermore, the data analysis indicated that joy and laughter ‘crescendos’ involve the intersubjectivity of the participants within the dyad as they are engaged in the process of therapy.

The implications of this study were discussed in terms of their applicability and contribution to the clinical practice, theoretical knowledge, and, in relation to the training of the counselling psychologists and psychotherapists encouraging clinicians to engage in the explorations of not only negative affective states, but the positive interpersonal experiences too. Whilst this study highlighted a valuable role that positive, non-threatening interpersonal experiences can play in the process of therapy, limitations of this research project were discussed and further research ideas were put forward.

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