The Playful Therapist

The Playful Therapist

7 Clinicians Share Their Best Strategies

By Cloe Madanes, Courtney Armstrong, Frank Pittman, Kirsten Lind Seal, Lynn Lyons, Ron Taffel, Steve Andreas

May/June 2022

From Our Archives

Laughing has serious effects: it lowers cortisol levels, rachets up our immunity and endorphins, and makes us feel connected to the world. So incorporating humor into clinical practice seems like a no-brainer. But for therapists who weren’t offered a Comedy 101 class in their graduate or licensure programs, the idea of using playful strategies with clients may feel at best transgressive, and at worst, dangerous.

Can we really be lighthearted in sessions while giving clients a felt experience of being deeply heard and understood? What if we tell a joke that falls flat? Will awkwardness envelop the session or even destroy the therapeutic alliance?

These aren’t new questions for experienced clinicians. In this collection from the Psychotherapy Networker archives, master therapists share how they’ve managed to incorporate humor into sessions in ways that both enliven and enrich the work.

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November/December 1995
Turning Tragedy into Comedy
Frank Pittman

Psychoanalysis, despite Freud’s most optimistic intentions, was mired in an air of tragedy, conducted in an atmosphere of shame-based privacy. The stereotypical psychoanalytic therapist would sit still and silent, and avoid contaminating the 50 minutes of self-pity with another human point of view. The psychoanalytic posture became a joke to everyone except the analyst and the patient.

Family therapy is inherently able…

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