Humor in Treatment Is No Joke Laughter really may be the best medicine. An SLP uses jokes to target communication and social skills. Features
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Features  |   July 01, 2015
Humor in Treatment Is No Joke
Author Notes
  • Ginger Anderson, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a clinician in the outpatient rehabilitation department of Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Georgia. ginjuh@gmail.com
    Ginger Anderson, MEd, CCC-SLP, is a clinician in the outpatient rehabilitation department of Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Georgia. ginjuh@gmail.com×
  • *Disclaimer: Any methods and approaches discussed in “Have You Tried This?” are not necessarily evidence-based and are not being promoted as such by The ASHA Leader.
    *Disclaimer: Any methods and approaches discussed in “Have You Tried This?” are not necessarily evidence-based and are not being promoted as such by The ASHA Leader.×
Article Information
Language Disorders / Social Communication & Pragmatics Disorders / Features
Features   |   July 01, 2015
Humor in Treatment Is No Joke
The ASHA Leader, July 2015, Vol. 20, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.HYTT.20072015.np
The ASHA Leader, July 2015, Vol. 20, online only. doi:10.1044/leader.HYTT.20072015.np
“Would you like to hear a joke?”
The “comedian” is my client, Mr. G. His steps are labored as he crosses the waiting room with his walker, but his voice is strong and confident. Clients and family members lower their magazines and look away from the wall-mounted television.
“What did the bottle of ranch say to the refrigerator?” he asks.
Everyone sits up. They meet his gaze, smile and shake their heads.
“What?” they ask.
“Close the door, I’m dressing!”
The lobby erupts in laughter. Mr. G. smiles, and I am reminded that the ability to communicate with others, to inspire laughter with nothing more than the words you’ve spoken, is such a basic joy.
That joy had diminished for Mr. G. as his Parkinson’s disease advanced. He had lost the confidence to sing hymns with the rest of his church congregation on Sunday mornings. He was reticent to speak in group settings. When his children called, he would pass the ringing phone to his wife rather than say, “Hello.”
But that was before treatment. Mr. G. worked hard to regain functional use of his voice. The payoff? He has also regained the joy of communicating. Prior to treatment, he avoided crowded rooms. At treatment’s conclusion, he is working them!
The circumstances under which clients seek speech-language treatment are no laughing matter. Some, like Mr. G., have Parkinson’s disease. Others may have suffered a stroke or traumatic brain injury. In treatment, however, there are plenty of opportunities for humor. Tapping into them is a boon to clients’ communication skills.

The circumstances under which clients seek speech therapy are no laughing matter. In treatment, however, there are plenty of opportunities for humor. Tapping into them is a boon to clients’ communication skills.

Joke power
I conclude each session by teaching the client a corny joke. Jokes are ideal treatment targets—for a number of reasons.
Jokes tap into universally familiar themes, topics and concepts. Chickens crossing roads. Bears walking into bars. The client can tell the same joke to his wife of 50 years that he tells to a stranger at the pharmacy.
The smiles, laughter or even good-natured groans that jokes elicit from others serve as powerful social reinforcement. The client’s desire to be heard, to use clear, intelligible speech, will be strong.
Jokes are ideal carryover tasks. I write each “joke of the day” on a Post-it note, so my clients literally carry the joke home. The joke a client practices during our session is the joke she tells in the physical therapy gym, the lobby and at home that evening. Outside of the treatment room, the client and I have the opportunity to address obstacles that didn’t exist earlier in the session, such as background noise, distractions and unfamiliar listeners.
Jokes, when chosen mindfully, capitalize on principles of motor learning, as reviewed by Medstar National Rehabilitation Hospital speech-language pathologists Ilana Oliff and Brooke Hatfield in their 2013 ASHA Convention presentation, “Applying Principles of Motor Learning to Group Therapy for Adults with Apraxia of Speech.” If you are familiar with the work of Lorraine Ramig and Cynthia Fox, researchers in voice therapy for clients with Parkinson’s disease and co-founders of LSVT-Global, this will sound familiar.
The first principle of motor learning is specificity. Clients have better treatment outcomes when they practice desired utterances: phrases and sentences, as opposed to sounds and single words. Generalization is more likely if the client practices more complex utterances.
Some of the jokes I teach are funnier than others. I select jokes not on their comedic merits, but on their appropriateness for respective clients’ needs. The chart below provides guidance on how to accomplish this.
I hope you are inspired to incorporate more humor into your treatment sessions. Our patients often feel isolated by their deficits. SLPs have the skills to teach them how to jump back in socially—to be the center of attention in a positive way—and that is no joke.
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2 Comments
August 7, 2015
Amy Diamond
Test
Test
November 6, 2015
Katey Felling
Great article
This approach is fantastic, thank you! I may try out this technique with my next appropriate client. We all deserve a good laugh :)
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July 2015
Volume 20, Issue 7