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The use of irony and humor in psychotherapy

The use of irony and humor in psychotherapy

May 9, 2021

Irony is a serious thing It is a great human resource, even though Freud has labeled it as a defense mechanism.

Lately, its importance has been reassessed in therapy, and this element has been considered as a facilitating resource for the construction of the therapeutic relationship .

The role of humor in psychotherapy

Humor stimulates laughter and, as we know, physiological stimulation through laughter leads to a series of health benefits. It is associated with a reduction in stress, and it also seems to increase pain tolerance.

But, in addition to this, laughter also helps us to have a satisfying emotional experience. Not only does it induce us to states of intense physiological activation. If a person is angry or sad and starts laughing for a funny comment said by someone from their environment, their mood will change instantly and go from anger and sadness to a more pleasant feeling, even if only for a moment .


That is why irony, as part of humor, can be a powerful weapon to combat bad mood and sadness .

Actually the recent research of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor have highlighted the positivity of therapeutic humor defining it: "an intervention that promotes health and well-being through stimulation, discovery, expression and appreciation of inconsistencies and situations absurdities of life. These interventions can be used to improve health or be used as a complementary treatment of diseases either to cure or face physical, mental, emotional, social or spiritual difficulties.


What is the use of irony in psychotherapy?

Irony is an excellent therapeutic tool , because the fact of being able to laugh at something that is oppressing us, even if only for a moment, is a bit like decompressing the accumulated tension.

The basic functions of irony in psychotherapy are these:

1. It is adaptive

It represents an adaptive and effective coping strategy to contrast painful mental states, offering an alternative view of critical events. Through an ironic intervention, which leads to a modification of the rigid vision of a problem, the therapist can teach ironic aspects of an event helping the patient to live it with greater detachment and lightness and teaching how to adaptively manage negative emotions .

2. Increase the ability to deal with problems

Increase the capacity of "problem solving". As Borcherdt says, "if we can laugh at a problem, it is solved." The majority of situations, also the most difficult, have an ironic side, but living certain negative emotions prevents us from perceiving the fun side of these . With time, the diminution of the intensity of the negative emotions puts in the background the critical and painful aspect, allowing to appreciate the comic side.


3. Increase optimism

It works as a mediator between positive emotions and a humorous commentary, which can lead to experiencing confidence, optimism and happiness. In addition, irony allows to express certain feelings that are experienced intensely. This expression occurs in a controlled and safe manner. The irony It also allows to express emotions and feelings that otherwise they would have remained silent.

4. Improves the patient-therapist relationship

It helps to increase the therapeutic alliance, helping to establish and maintain the positive therapeutic relationship . During a session of psychotherapy, a humorous commentary expressed by the therapist, can help communication between him and the patient, also decreasing the resistance to the sessions, as it leads to establish a more relaxed and open conversation.

5. Help improve self-esteem

Facilitates to increase self-esteem: laughing at oneself represents a useful mechanism for the patient to reach self-acceptance and acceptance of his defects. Those who have the ability to laugh at themselves present a higher level of well-being, since they develop less depressive symptoms and increase their tolerance towards negative emotions.

Indications for the proper use of irony in psychotherapy

It must be borne in mind that humor and irony should be used as a complement to make recovery processes easier and more fluid, and not as something that is used simply because "it is fun", as this could interrupt the dynamics of psychotherapy. It is used as a way to interpret in a more adaptive way facts that produce discomfort .

In addition, we must remember that irony and humor should be used once the therapeutic link has been established and consolidated as such, at the time when the patient can also use it in his comments to the psychologist or psychologist Otherwise, comments of this kind can be taken as a lack of respect or professional seriousness, which would greatly damage the progress of the therapy.


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