Humor as Therapy – The Limelight Interview

humor as therapy porch light

Addiction treatment has been impacted by the uncertainty and isolation of the past few months. During this time, we learned that group therapy can be conducted, with positive outcomes, via telehealth. And we also learned that glimpses of the lives and living environments of our clients and therapists during virtual treatment creates a new intimacy.

Humor as Therapy

Although the stay-at-home directives were difficult for those new to recovery, technology brought us together. We were able to establish community and connection with our virtual platforms. And the way our therapists and clients have interacted, during this unprecedented time, underscores their common humanity. All of our therapists agree that a key component to conducting outpatient programs online during a pandemic is a sense of humor.


And speaking of humor, our Limelight subject, Carli Noffsinger, is a very funny lady. As the facilitator of The Family Programs at Sanford, Carli knows when a well placed one-liner will ease the tension. Or unify those with the common experience of loving someone with a substance use disorder.


Building a relationship with a therapist is certainly a key component to long-term recovery. But I think that a sense of belonging in an accepting, non-judgmental group is the most important thing we can help those with substance use disorders achieve to rebuild their lives. 


humor as therapy smiling therapist


The Limelight Interview: Carli Noffsinger, LMSW, CAADC

1. What is your primary focus as a therapist?

My favorite thing is to work with women who have had a history of trauma. And also to bring the families of those with substance use disorders to the table. I have unique experience to do this work. I am educated and certified as an addiction therapist, and both my parents and my brother suffered from the disease of addiction.

Did your family history impact your relationship to drugs or alcohol?

I learned about addiction in my twenties, working for the Kent County Health Department’s “alcohol clinic” as it was called at the time. So I knew I had a genetic proclivity toward addiction. In college I drank a lot, but as an adult I’ve maybe had 2 alcoholic drinks? It just isn’t a part of my life.


2. Why did you become a therapist?

To make people feel happy. To make them feel good. I was naive. Instead, I turned into an agent of positive change for human beings. Unfortunately, people need to feel pain before they can experience a sense of acceptance and ownership of their substance use disorder.


3. And your philosophy? Those things you know to be true about addiction therapy?

Most people do not know the facts about addictive disease. When a person feels the pain they are causing, they are ready to change. They stop blaming others for their disease. It is so important, at that point, to be met with compassion, education, honesty and directness. And when we educate the whole environment this person lives and functions in – family, employers, friendships – we provide a healthy foundation for long-term recovery.


4. What are the keys to success in recovery?

True support – someone who listens, hears and responds. Laughter. And a person in recovery has to be able to say, “I am human and I know I can’t do this myself…”


For so many years the addiction owns you. You have to find a sense of meaning and purpose in sobriety, develop sober passions, pursue something you feel deeply about.


5. What about the pitfalls?

I think the biggest pitfall is when someone does not realize that their thinking patterns or beliefs could lead to trouble. There are stages to recovery – transitions – in the early stages a person might not recognize old patterns. And it’s hard to be motivated to change if one’s partner won’t change or is still using. Or if they’re dealing with multiple psychosocial stressors and recovery at the same time.

If a person is poorly educated about the facts, their substance use disorder becomes personal. The natural reaction is anger, a need to control, and mistrust.


6. You are a funny person. What is the “fun” part of your job?

It’s rewarding to work with the people at Sanford! My colleagues are positive and constructive. They believe in a professional environment and they want and expect excellence. And I love to laugh with my clients. I’m “addicted” to it! We have to laugh at ourselves as we learn.

How have you dealt with the new virtual platforms for your Family Programs?

There’s been a lot of changes the past three months. And we were excited to provide virtual groups for our clients’ families and loved ones. We went virtual with both our psychosocial education group and our support group. People from all over the country joined us – far flung relatives – who might not have been able to benefit from the in-person groups. And we feature articles from Sanford’s online magazine,Excursions, as a family resource.


humor as therapy resource for articles


7. What about the challenging part?

Actually, the challenging and rewarding parts of the job go together. The challenging part is dealing with the “old way of thinking”, dealing with a client’s anger because they are threatened by the loss of the addictive substance. Or when they don’t want to see the problem, and are not ready to make the change. It’s like you want to get across the lake and the boat is there, but you don’t get on – it’s right there – and it leaves you standing on the dock.  But it’s rewarding when a client takes responsibility instead of laying blame and says, “Oooooh. I see what you mean.”


8. What do you read?

I have zero passion to read for pleasure. Probably because I was a terrible reader as a child – don’t ask. I read for knowledge and understanding about addiction, blogs … that’s about it.


9. What is your favorite journey?

Favorite journey …. hum … challenging myself to be my best with what I have to work with. Let the right brain go with it! And my journey as a mom and grandma. Being a grandma is the most wonderful, freeing love I have experienced.


10. What makes Sanford unique?

The positivism and excellence in treatment. The environment – and the warm, compassion and directness. The mission and staying connected to the mission every day! My clients have never experienced a place like this (and many of them have experienced A LOT of places).


12. What is your most marked characteristic?

Talking with my hands. And humor. My sense of humor.


13. Words or phrases you use a lot?

They missed the boat …


11. What is your motto?

Know what you feel. Know what you want. Stay the course. More boat stuff – it’s like sailing – stay the course.

Great advice for those who are new to recovery. Thanks Carli. This was fun. SH


Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit