Maria Elena: Hey Abby—how are you?

Abby: I’m good, how are you?

ME: I’m good. So, I’m interviewing you today….what does humanness mean to you?

Abby: I’ve been thinking about this in anticipation of our talk today, and after hearing what everyone else has said…I just really want to think about what does humanness mean to me specifically. And as I was thinking about it, I saw that it has two meanings for me. One is that it’s a reminder of my own work with perfectionism and that I am a human…with flaws, with things that I’m working on, and with things that I want to do differently. In some ways, it allows me to have self-compassion - to remember my own humanness and come into contact with it. And I was also thinking part of humanness is resiliency for me…that we as humans are capable of handling much more than we think we can. There’s something really beautiful about the fact that we are both flawed and imperfect…and yet sometimes even stronger than we could imagine. So, I think some combination of this self-compassion and this resiliency is what humanness means to me. 

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ME: Wow, thank you so much for sharing. I feel inspired right now. So, you chose humor to represent your humanness. What does humor mean to you?

Abby: Humor has always been a way to connect with people…and in some ways a way to connect with myself. I remember when I was a kid… at the dinner table….I had this impression that I did of one of my teachers at school and my family use to request that I do the impression. And it would make everybody laugh. So, I have these really rich and vivid childhood memories of humor being a way that I could connect with people that I love and a way that I could let go of some of the stress that would carry throughout the day. And as an adult, it still continued to show up for me. I did a comedy standup set one time, and realized that I like to be more in the audience than the one up front, but it was part of this way of me engaging with humor and engaging with how much it takes a weight off of you. I think sometimes about some of the difficult things we talk about in the therapy room…and sometimes you just have to bring some humor in there. Some of the most amazing parts of sessions for me are the ones where you have these really intense moments and you also get to laugh with your client. And so I think that same type of connection and relief that humor brings is not only important to me as a human but it’s also really important to be as a therapist, and it’s something that I try to utilize a lot in the therapy room.

ME: Wow, have there been any shining moments as a clinician where you use your humor since you already said you use it clinically?

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Abby: One moment that comes to mind for me was with a teenager that I used to work with who was particularly resistant to therapy, as most teenagers are (laughs). Who was really having trouble engaging with the things that she wanted to work on and with even what it meant to her to be in therapy. We started…I don’t even really remember how it started…but we started doing voices together. We would start our sessions with accents. We kinda had our “go-to” accents. Mine, because I’m from Texas originally…I like to do a good Southern accent. Sometimes we would switches into British accents. And we would have different accents that we would do. It was a way of breaking ice and way of us connecting at the beginning of the session to remind her that yes, I was her therapist, but I was also somebody sitting with her…wanting to connect with her and care about her and help make what was not going well for her better and help her find healing. That’s one silly thing that I don’t do all the time, but that definitely comes to mind for me when I think about how I’ve used humor in the past with clients.

ME: Wow, I really enjoy your spin on humor and how it helps facilitate hard conversations or even just helps to bring the human in the room. And say like, “Hey, we can laugh together, cry together, and heal together.”

Abby: What’s tricky about humor…I think I even mentioned this to you…is that it can definitely be a form of avoidance. I think we see that a lot as therapists…that someone will come in contact with a hard part of their story and will deflect with humor. I’ve definitely been guilty of that before, too. It’s one of those ways to care for self and to connect. But I’m also aware there’s a shadow side to humor…where you can use it to try to escape moments of intimacy with people. I try not to use humor in that way and I think It’s helpful to even be aware of that because it’s something that we all do sometimes. 

ME: Yeah, yes. It was really great interviewing you. I feel a little more inspired. I feel a little looser to use humor in the room with clients instead of being so serious…us art therapist are just so serious. Just kidding. (laughs).

Abby: Yes, exactly. (Laughs).

ME: Well, thank you.

Abby: Thank you. 

Abigail (Abby) Wambaugh, M.S., is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #94231, working under the professional supervision of Michelle Harwell, Psy.D., MFT 50732. She specializes in treating relationship difficulties, trauma, and sexual issues.

Maria Elena Marquez, MA, is a bilingual Spanish-English Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, IMF #103470, working under the supervision of Michelle Harwell, PsyD, LMFT.  As an art therapist, Maria is passionate about helping clients unravel complex cultural beliefs and family pressures through the use of expressive art.