Whether used in the classroom or in the workplace, humor ultimately promotes creativity, exploration and critical thinking — skills that carry on for a lifetime. Mark Shatz, professor emeritus of psychology at Ohio University, sees such value in humor that he’s taught a class on the topic and released the third edition of the book “Comedy Writing Secrets” earlier this year.
Two of Shatz’s former students, Megan Dailey and Stephanie Wahl, say the concepts presented in Shatz’s class have transferred well to their professional lives.
“When I am working with clients, I always try to pull out those elements when appropriate,” said Dailey, a mental health clinician in the Residential Treatment Unit at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. “I even have two copies of the book in my office that I allow clients to borrow who like to write poetry and use writing as a coping skill.”
Dailey took Humor Writing as well as Thanatology – the scientific study of death – from Shatz during her undergraduate education at Ohio University Zanesville.
Wahl said someone who can teach both humor writing and thanatology has “a pretty unique and gifted personality.”
“As a therapist I utilize humor daily to earn trust, build rapport and decrease negative power differentials,” said Wahl, who serves as a clinical therapist at Mid-Ohio Behavioral Health in Zanesville. She added that clients often come to her feeling nervous and overwhelmed, and she uses humor to help them feel comfortable.
“If they leave feeling a little better than when they first walked in, then I know they will be back,” Wahl said.
Dailey said adding humor to a therapy session makes her seem “human” and helps her gain a better rapport with her clients.
“Using humor and allowing people to ‘see the funny’ can change a person’s life, and even save it,” she said. “I think about Mark’s class all the time at work, whether it’s applying the skills with clients or coworkers. I try to add an element of humor to meetings or lectures to gain attention or lighten the mood. Sometimes I use it for my own sanity so I can deal with the stress of my demanding position.”
Wahl said her work in mental health can also be stressful and demanding, but humor helps her maintain balance.
“Laughter is universal and very relational. It’s like sharing a meal with someone, you are always closer to that person afterward,” Wahl said.
Shatz said humor has become a way to draw a larger audience to various topics.
“Humor as an instructional tool creates a positive classroom environment that opens minds, fosters communication and encourages active participation,” Shatz said. “More and more markets are begging for humor material – speeches, social media, advertising, blogging, podcasts and e-learning.”
As students such as Dailey and Wahl enter the workforce, they put into practice the experience they gained in Shatz’s classes as they interact with clients.
“Humor reduces anxiety concerning challenging subjects and makes difficult concepts clearer and more memorable,” Shatz said.