SYNOPSIS OF IPS CONVERSATION, JUNE 4, 2017
Humor in psychoanalysis is different from joke telling. A joke is a witticism. It’s a one-way
communication; and, although there is a shared recognition on the part of the joke teller and the
hearer, that’s the extent of the shared feeling.
Humor, on the other hand, is a shared experience between the analyst and the patient, but it’s not
directly translatable to other people because it summarizes a unique recognition on the part of
the analyst and the patient that they share an understanding. The analyst’s unconscious and the
patient’s unconscious meet. We know that we’ve been successful in humorous joining with the
patient when there is surprise or relief, and, frequently, when there is laughter.
Humor can’t be planned. It is a spontaneous manifestation of the space between the analyst and
the patient and is only funny to the two of them. Sometimes when people tell about a funny
thing that happened, they say, “You had to be there,” and that’s true. You had to be there, not
just in the sense of being in the room, but in the sense of two people being there with each other.
Freud wrote Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious right after he wrote The Interpretation
of Dreams, so this suggests a continuation of his thoughts on the unconscious. He recognized
that many of the same processes that occur in dreams occur in jokes, including symbolism,
condensation, and stream of consciousness. A laugh implies a discharge—inhibitions have been
loosened. The cathartic energy used for inhibitions has become superfluous and has been lifted.
Therefore, that energy is discharged in laughter.
Obviously, humor should be used to acknowledge the shared humanity between the analyst and
the patient, never to belittle the patient. Humor should convey the message that we both
recognize the absurdity of life and our shared reaction to that absurdity.