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Fabian, E. (2002). On The Differentiated Use of Humor and Joke in Psychotherapy. Psychoanal. Rev., 89(3):399-412.

(2002). Psychoanalytic Review, 89(3):399-412

On The Differentiated Use of Humor and Joke in Psychotherapy

Egon Fabian, M.D.

The controversial discussion in the literature about the use and the effect of humor in psychotherapy, particularly in psychoanalysis, is far from being concluded. Even if the legitimancy of the use of humor in psychotherapy today is generally accepted (Baker, 1993; Christie, 1994; Frings, 1996; Grotjahn, 1957; Pasquali, 1986; Poland, 1990; Rose, 1992), opinions differ widely about what kind of humor, when, and in connection to which psychopathology it can or should be used, as well as about the dangers and precaution of its use. One of the earliest critics, Lawrence Kubie, concluded his 1971 article, “The Destructive Potential of Humor in Psychotherapy,” with the words: “Humor has its place in life. Let us keep it there by acknowledging that one place where it has a very limited role, if any, is in psychotherapy” (p. 866). There is no doubt that Kubie's warning, that humor between the therapist and the patient may blur the aggression and animosity of the patient, “to mask hostility behind a false façade of camaraderie or to blunt the sharpness of disagreement,” (p. 37) and be used to seduce the therapist, should be kept in mind.

Some authors however (Zillmann, 1983), differentiate little or not at all between benevolent, friendly humor and cynical, sarcastic humor, or even speak about humor in general as malevolent. Following in Freud's footsteps, Sarah Kofman's central statement (1986) in her book The Laughing Thirds is: “One always needs someone who is smaller than oneself” (p. 105).

For the philosopher Henri Bergson (1900), humor was to such an extent identical with biting, mocking humor that his book The Laughter should rather have been entitled The Ridicule.

[This is a summary or excerpt from the full text of the book or article. The full text of the document is available to subscribers.]

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