Experiencing humour: A critical care phenomenon


Skinner, Jan. (1997) Experiencing humour: A critical care phenomenon [Thesis]. https://doi.org/10.26199/5cb6b10c99d01
AuthorsSkinner, Jan
Qualification nameMaster of Nursing (MNurs)

Humour, whilst frequently occurring within the Critical Care environment, has been traditionally viewed as both macabre and in poor taste. However, for the Registered Nurse working in this setting, humour plays a vital role in the day to day functioning at the unit level, and is identified as an important component in the development of interpersonal relationships between both co-workers and clients. Therefore, by describing this experience, the thesis seeks to elucidate this concept of humour and the experience of this phenomenon for the Registered Nurse working within the Critical Care environment.

On reviewing the literature it becomes evident that humour is identified as conducive to both the physical and psychological wellbeing of an individual. In many ways, humour provides positive benefits in times of stress, as well as in the event of personal disillusionment and crises. Humour's role in one's daily life, as well as the recognised paucity of literature concerning the topic of humour in the area of Critical Care, and the Critical Care Unit's bent toward jocularity and play then lends itself to further exploration of this fascinating topic. Therefore, it is from this foundation that the impetus for this research thesis emerges.

The research study engages Husserlian phenomenology (Kersten, 1982) as the methodology for the explication of the meaning of humour as experienced by the Registered Nurse working within the Critical Care environment. Colaizzi's (1978) method for data analysis is employed to explicate the formulated meanings which evolve from the data. As an adjunct to this, aspects of both Bergum (1994) and Wolcott's (1990, 1994) notion of narrative storytelling of critical events, and the importance of this concept within data collection and analysis, have been incorporated within the work.

Six themes emerging from the data focus on humour as it is experienced for the participants within the study. The first of these themes identifies humour in response to the culture of the environment and is evidenced by the group's socialisation, supportive relationship and role referencing through the use of jocularity and play. The second theme emerges through the consistent use of humour in response to the event of cardiac arrests and death or dying. Registered Nurses make constant reference to the use of humour at these times as a coping mechanism, to relieve tension and support co-workers during stressful situations.

In conjunction with these two themes, the four remaining themes relate to the use of humour. Firstly is the use of humour in response to the receptiveness of other individuals. The timing and nature of humorous interplay has been described as dependent on the feedback from the recipient. Co-workers and clients alike are often tested informally as to their response when mirth is employed and the nurse gauges this response as a trigger for future interactions.

Furthermore, the use of humour as a method for communication is identified as a theme emerging from the data. Participants cite this strategy as an aid in the development of co-worker and client relationships. Communicating through humour enables life experiences to be better understood, bringing a humanness to the relationship that builds rapport and provides the basis for shared understanding between individuals. The data also outline the use of humour as a means for cheering co-workers and clients. The essence of this theme consistently weaves a path through much of the research study.

Finally, the very nature of nursing practice undertaken during the nurse's daily working life within the Critical Care Unit sets the scene for episodes of jocularity and wit. Care of the client involves the development of personal relationships whereby the nurse may perform the most intimate tasks for that individual. This milieu gives rise to the generation of humorous play that may place the client at ease during stressful and embarrassing times.

Whilst the participants' data have been analysed for the development of each theme, the thesis has then returned to the current literature for discussion. From this discussion, the implications for future nursing practice and the subsequent questions for future research have been outlined. This then paves the way for further research into the area of humour within the Critical Care environment, and indeed other settings. In conclusion, it would appear that the essence of humour as it is experienced for the Registered Nurse working within the Critical Care environment, whilst informally acknowledged, has not been well understood or explicated within the literature. Therefore, this thesis seeks to illuminate this for the reader by describing the experience of humour for the Registered Nurse working within the Critical Care Unit.

Keywordsregistered nurses; interpersonal; well-being; critical care
PublisherACU Research Bank
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26199/5cb6b10c99d01
Research GroupSchool of Nursing, Midwifery and Paramedicine
Final version
Publication dates01 Nov 1997
Additional information

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