Department of Family Therapy Dissertations and Applied Clinical Projects

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Family Therapy


Christopher F. Burnett

Committee Member

Tommie V. Boyd

Committee Member

Anne H. Rambo


Emerging research into the evolution of play indicates that complex social play may serve important functions in anxiety management and the development of emotional calibration. Bowen family systems theory posits that the behavior of all living things is organized by underlying emotional circuitry, and that each living system is characterized by its capacity to self regulate in relation to the reactivity of the emotional network within which it is embedded. The clinical supervisory system is often at the nexus of multiple anxious systems and its members must find ways to manage this anxious emotional field. This study used interpretative phenomenological analysis to explore the functions of play and humor in supervisory systems. The study utilized the lens of Bowen family systems theory, with particular interest in Bowen’s (1992) emphasis on developing the flexibility to maintain an emotional distance “between seriousness and humor” (p. 299). The findings of the study suggest that neutral objectivity; not taking oneself, others, or the situation too seriously; the emotional climate/circuit; emotional distance; and changing perspective are all significant factors in the expression of play as a manifestation of the emotional process, and are important aspects of the emergence or absence of play in the supervisory system.