Banter in Psychotherapy

2019 – 2023 / Project Head: Prof. Dr. Dr. Dorothea Huber

Project Description
This research is part 2 of a four-part dissertation investigating the use of banter in psychotherapy. The first part was a systematic review of the literature and the foundation for the other parts. Building on the results of that part 2 examines whether the results found in part 1 show up in empirical data from naturalistic psychotherapy sessions. Any examples of banter discovered in part 2 would then form a basis from which to develop a banter questionnaire in part 3. This questionnaire would then be applied in a further clinical setting to collect more data on the actual use of banter in naturalistic settings.

Part 1 – Key Results
The first part of this study showed evidence in the literature for examples of banter or nuances of banter. Aside from the examples explicitly named as banter, defined throughout this study as “the playful and friendly exchange of teasing remarks”, there were many nuances or banter-like descriptions, for example:

  • Mocking, irony with positive intentions
  • Aggressive humor style [If I don’t like someone, I often use humor or teasing to put them down]
  • Teasing therapists to increase their perceived humanness and reduce fear towards them or therapy itself
  • Ridiculous descriptions of the client

In one recent study, Yonatan-Leus, Tishby, Shefler, and Wiseman (2018) positively correlated the use of an aggressive humor style in therapy to the outcome of therapy. Another result of this review was an initial theory-based category system for banter-related humor in psychotherapy shown in the table on the next page.

Category Name Frequency
C1: Challenging 2
C2: Promoting/facilitating therapy 17
C3: Authentic harmony between therapists 2
C4: Risky yet essential interventions 14
C5: State transformation through confrontation 13
C6: Humanizing the therapist 1
C7: Negative banter or banter-related humor 3

Part 2 – Research Plan Summary
If banter or banter-related humor does have roles to play in psychotherapy, we’d expect to find instances of the categories (or further additional categories) in a deductive content analysis. The empirical data collected in the Munich Psychotherapy Study (Huber, Zimmermann, Henrich, & Klug, 2012) is an excellent source for this purpose because of the day-to-day clinical practice by experienced psychotherapists, therapy outcome data, as well as blinding of the investigator to treatment modality. The aims for part 2 of this study are: to check the categories from part 1, calculate frequency statistics for banter, as well as break down those results by treatment modality and therapist. Also, to replicate the Yonatan-Leus et al. (2018) finding in so much that banter usage is related to positive therapy outcomes.

Huber, D., Zimmermann, J., Henrich, G., & Klug, G. (2012). Comparison of cognitive-behaviour therapy with psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapy for depressed patients–a three-year follow-up study. Zeitschrift für Psychosomatische Medizin und Psychotherapie, 58(3), 299-316.
Yonatan-Leus, R., Tishby, O., Shefler, G., & Wiseman, H. (2018). Therapists’ honesty, humor styles, playfulness, and creativity as outcome predictors: A retrospective study of the therapist effect. Psychotherapy Research, 28(5), 793-802.

Project Head
Responsible Supervision
Prof. Dr. Dr. Dorothea Huber
International Psychoanalytic University
Stromstraße 3b
10555 Berlin
Email: dorothea.huber(at)

Study centre and overall cooperation
Universität Klagenfurt
Team Klagenfurt:
Prof. Dr. Sylke Andreas
Doktorand: Adrian Brooks