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The Use of Humor in Forensic Mental Health Staff–Patient Interactions

Gildberg, Frederik A. PhD1; Bradley, Stephen K. PhD, BSc2; Paaske, Kristian J. MScN3; Hounsgaard, Lise PhD4

doi: 10.1097/JFN.0000000000000029
Review Article

ABSTRACT Humor utilized in the practice of forensic mental health nursing might seem somehow inappropriate, given the serious circumstances surrounding most forensic mental health patients. However, some recent research has pointed to the use of humor as an important component in staff interactions with forensic mental health patients. This study reviews the existing international forensic mental health research literature on humor to investigate (a) what characterizes forensic mental health staff–patient use of humor and (b) what significance humor holds within the forensic mental health setting. The search was conducted in June 2013. Scopus, CINAHL, PubMed, and PsychINFO were searched using keywords relevant to the study. Articles were categorized using a literature matrix and analyzed using thematic analysis. Twelve research articles were reviewed and included in the analysis. Three themes were identified: (a) “humor as staff skill,” showing that staff found humor to be important as an interpersonal ability; (b) “humor as a relational tool” with the purpose of establishing and maintaining staff–patient interactions; and (c) “the impact of humor on patients,” describing impacts on conflicts, dimensions of health, and motivation. The results of the analysis are however limited because of the dearth of published articles on the subject.

Author Affiliations: 1Research Development Unit, Department of Psychiatry, Middelfart, Region of Southern Denmark Institute of Regional Health Research, University of Southern Denmark; 2School of Nursing and Midwifery, National University of Ireland, Galway; 3University College Lillebaelt, Nursing Education in Odense; and 4Research Unit of Nursing, Institute of Clinical Research, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southern Denmark.

Acknowledgment/Disclosure Statement: The authors declare no conflict of interest but disclosed receipt of the following support for the research and authorship of this article: Department of Psychiatry, Middelfart and Psychiatry in the Region of Southern Denmark.

Correspondence: Frederik A. Gildberg, PhD, Department of Psychiatry, Middelfart, Oestre Hougvej 70, 5500 Middelfart, Denmark. Tel: 45 5164 0965; E-mail:

Received December 9, 2013; accepted for publication April 1, 2014.

© 2014 by the International Association of Forensic Nurses. All rights reserved.