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Registered Play Therapist,

          Certified by the Association for Play Therapy

Family Therapy Session

Humor, an Assertive Means to Fighting Bullying


                Ridicule is a common means of harassing a victim; the injured party must learn to retort using sharp humor as a weapon as opposed to behaving defensively.  A defensive position reinforces the victim’s role of being prey to the bully, assertive behavior is a powerful weapon used to stand up to intimidation and refusing to be terrorized.  This technique is successful when the victim does not respond in anger or pain; he/she uses sarcasm to illustrate the absurdity of the bully.  The following case study illustrates the success of this coping mechanism.

                Sara came into the therapist’s office seeking treatment since she was unable to handle the bullies in her class; they were disdainfully “accusing” her of being rich.  The patient would present to the clinician the scenario and the counselor demonstrated retorting with sharp humor.  The bullies would ask her how much she paid for her sweater; the client would ordinarily respond frankly and the bullies would taunt her for being rich no matter how reasonably priced the item purchased.   The psychotherapist provided the client with psychoeducation regarding the mentality of a bully; the answer is irrelevant, they are interested in ridiculing the designated culprit.   A victim will be bullied one day for being rich and the next day for being poor; if the patient would like to outsmart the bullies she should not answer the question seriously.

Bully: “How much was that sweater? I bet it was a fortune!”

Former Victim: “Yes, it was $10,000.00 and I am worth every penny.  I wouldn’t dare wear anything less!”

                This unexpected response elicited laughter and grudging respect from her peers; the bullies were shocked and laughed along.  Sara held her head high since she was genuinely confident in her ability to handle anyone who dared cross her.  Therapy empowered her with the skill of brainstorming humorous responses; role playing provided her with the opportunity to practice this technique so that she would be able to successfully implement the skill. 

                A successful therapist will assist the child in brainstorming a response he/she is comfortable using; a client who is being bullied due to his/her worn out attire might prefer to respond that his clothes are heirlooms passed on from one generation to the next.  He/she belongs to an old aristocratic family who do not need to impress anyone with their new clothes; they possess antique furniture and wear vintage clothing.  However, not every child is capable of cultivating the necessary aplomb needed to implement this response with humor.  Therefore, the role of the therapist is to help the child brainstorm a sharp retort he/she is comfortable with and role play with him/her until he/she acquires the necessary poise needed to deliver his/her retort effectively.  The comical response similar to the retort Sara used would be to sarcastically agree with the bully, “Who could afford to buy clothes? I get my clothes from the Salvation Army!”  The therapist would encourage the victim to embellish his/her response or modify his retort so that he is comfortable executing his/her strategy; furthermore, the greater input the patient has composing his/her dialogue the more empowered and confident he/she feels.  The patient masters the skill of instinctively using sharp and humorous responses to offensive comments that will deter him/her from ever again becoming a victim.