There is a rare and elusive joy that comes from making your therapist laugh. Not only is it a sign of a healthy therapeutic relationship and a nice reminder that there is room for levity in sessions, but it’s also one of the hardest laughs to generate. In fact, more often than not, attempts to deflect with humor in therapy bomb harder than James Franco in a dress.
The typical crash-and-burn trajectory of a joke in therapy often looks like what Twitter user @TechinallyRon experienced when his therapist shut down his “less depressy, more progressy” with a hard “no.” Over two years, 800 retweets and 4,000 favorites later, the exchange has become it’s own meme.
Of course, many of the “Therapist: No” memes are satirized accounts. But inaccuracies aside, a lot of therapists are fans of the meme, perhaps because they’re the ones who are getting to laugh.
“I love this meme. It’s very funny to me as a therapist,” says mental-health counselor Josh Gorelick. While he doesn’t think the memes are an accurate representation of how therapists actually speak to their clients, he acknowledges that “it’s a great example of a client not taking the work seriously or deflecting rather than facing the hard feelings or topics being discussed.”
Psychotherapist Patrick Turbiville speculates that most people who are posting these memes have likely been to therapy, know the process doesn’t work that way and are in on the joke. But for those who aren’t, Turbiville “could see it perpetuating inaccurate ideas about therapy being about advice-giving or a therapist having all the answers, or that it’s as simplistic as defining new responses to old situations, and that the client is expected to perform in a particular way.” That said, he believes the “Therapist: No” meme does more good than bad because it shows how therapy can be weird, abrupt, playful and even funny, just like the bit suggests.
Scott started going to therapy around 20 years ago, but only recently began creating “Therapist: No” memes. Yet despite joking around a lot in therapy, he rarely gets a no out of his therapist. Instead, “she laughs and asks me to answer the question,” the 39-year-old tells me. It’s not exactly like the meme, but “she is very quick to shut down that kind of joke.” And although he admits it’s a deflection, just having the space to joke and get a little laugh from his therapist is one of many things he’s worked to achieve in nearly two decades of treatment. For him, it highlights how he and his therapist have built a good rapport because “genuine laughter is a sign of comfortability.”
According to Turbiville, the biggest difference between the meme and real life is that a client will often say something that’s “a clear repetition of a pattern they’re trying to break,” or something like, “I don’t know why I do that.” Then Turbiville will raise his eyebrows and give a knowing smile, and “they almost always come to it on their own without me saying no.”
Ultimately, Turbiville suspects that these types of memes get people to try therapy — not because they want to hear the word no, but because it may feel less intimidating. Maybe even more importantly, it won’t make them feel as though their (emotional) life is too much of a mess for treatment. “Indicating that messiness and fun and rambunctiousness is allowed might attract folks to therapy,” he reasons.
At the very least, it’s not something a therapist is gonna say no to.