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Psychotherapy And Humor

Awhile back I put up a YouTube audio that I thought was funny. A commenter didn’t like it and felt it promoted stigma. So I took a vote, and while most people were fine with it, a number did not like it, and I took the post down. We received this note, and I thought it was substantial enough to be its own guest post (with permission, of course).

Hi. I am a practicing psychiatrist based in New York City. I find your blog interesting, informative, and, at times, funny. Now, can you guess which entry I’d like to comment on?

Mel Brooks once said (paraphrased) that if you slip on a banana peel and land on your butt, it’s comedy. If I fall down a flight of stairs, it’s tragedy. I’ve had a long-term interest in humor, and a brief career as an unpaid stand-up comic in L.A. (Brief because my bombing to “killing” ratio was about 15 to one.) With respect to my experience as a therapist, I now occasionally utilize humor in my treatment, but only extremely judiciously once I have gotten to know my client. I learned my lesson early.

At the beginning of my residency training, during my second session with a client, I commented that perhaps he felt like Groucho Marx when Groucho said that he “wouldn’t want to be a member of any club with standards low enough to accept [him].” I sat back, feeling as if I had made the interpretation of the century, and waited for a reaction. I got one.

The client stormed out of my office and never returned. My supervisor later told me that, as I suspected, I had screwed up royally. This memory resonates with Dinah’s statement that it’s the recipient’s reaction to a joke or a comment that counts. So know thy audience, and know thyself. You’re obviously on much safer ground if you make a joke about a community or an ethnic group that you belong to. We do, however, live in an era of enhanced sensitivities and political correctness, and need to be extra careful not to anger or offend.

With respect to the You Tube audio, I, like a number of your readers, have heard other versions and have become desensitized to it. Ironically, I read about a version of it being told by a psychiatrist moonlighting as a standup comic years ago. My immediate reaction was, “Keep your day job, doc!” Since “Psychiatry Hotline” is available to a large and varied audience, including people suffering from mental illness, I would not personally have posted it. Although it appears comparatively innocuous, I voted for it as offensive from a psychiatrist’s point of view because it trivializes mental illness and is potentially hurtful to many.

Warmest regards,

Edward W. Darell, M.D.

Blog: ShrinqueRap (on Wordpad). Very soon to be updated. Please do not sue me. I registered the domain name before hearing of your blog, and my pockets are extremely shallow (just short of being inside out).

And while we’re on the subject of humor, Sarebear sent us a link on A Proposal to Classify Happiness as a Psychiatric Disorder. Hmmm…it’s a joke, right? And don’t worry, Dr. Darell, we’re not going to sue you, but do keep your day job.

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

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