Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Use of Humor When Counseling African American College Students

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Use of Humor When Counseling African American College Students

Article excerpt

Humor has long had its place in daily life. People consistently see its value in shaping their perspective in times of difficulty and in helping them to adjust to stressful situations. The literature highlights the place of humor as a valuable tool in the counseling process (Ellis, 2000; Gladding, 1995; Glasser & Zunin, 1979; Maples et al., 2001; Mindess, 1976; Yonkovitz & Matthews, 1998). More recently, the literature advocates for the use of humor from a cultural perspective when working with clients who are culturally diverse. For example, Maples et al. presented the idea that as counselors and counselor educators, we must be aware of how the culture of both the counselor and the client influences the use of humor in the therapeutic setting.

Although the importance of using humor is well documented as a clinical tool for counselors, it is often a forgotten ingredient in the didactic experience of counselors-in-training. Both counselors and counselor educators need to further explore the use of humor as a tool for clinical intervention with various cultural groups and populations.

One such population is African American college students, whose experiences and worldviews differ greatly from those of other college students. For example, many African American students are first-generation college students, and although many of their needs are similar to those of other students, they have just as many needs that are different (Nikelly & Majors, 1986). Many African American students are also attending predominantly White institutions for the first time in their lives and, as a result, require different interventions to meet many of the same needs that other students have. The challenges that face African American college students include adjusting to a new environment, and this challenge is compounded by historical oppression and bias within various systems of higher education (Atkinson, 1987). As a result, it is paramount that both counselors and counselor educators recognize the struggles that members of this population face as they matriculate in and move through college.

Because the experiences of African American college students vary and are different from those of other students, so must the interventions used to aid them in matriculation in college and retention across the college career. The literature (Arredondo, 1998; Lee & Bailey, 1997; Nikelly & Majors, 1986; Sue & Sue, 2003) highlights the need to provide counseling services that are culturally relevant to address issues specific to the client. The unique needs of African American college students arise from the challenges that they encounter compared with the challenges that other students encounter. The need to provide culturally relevant counseling is critical, especially because African American college students historically do not seek counseling due to their mistrust of counselors and their view of the counseling process as an extension of an oppressive system (Constantine, Lewis, Conner, & Sanchez, 2000; Lee & Bailey, 1997; Nikelly & Majors, 1986; Smith, 2003).

The counseling literature illustrates the value of counseling from a multicultural perspective and how, as both counselors and counselor educators, we need to be cognizant of the developmental needs of those with whom we work. We are thus challenged to address those needs that are specific to African American students. In keeping with this charge, the purpose of this article is to explore the use of humor with African American college students. We investigate how humor can function as a clinical tool to facilitate new ways to connect with these students. We further explore the cultural foundations, parameters, and implications of using humor with African American college students. In addition, the literature demonstrating the effectiveness of humor as a tool in the counseling and therapeutic setting is highlighted. Finally, we discuss implications for the use of humor with this student population. …

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