What Made Freud Laugh


Judith Kay Nelson

Publication Year






What Made Freud Laugh: An Attachment Perspective on Laughter 1st Edition

In her characteristically engaging style, Nelson explores a topic that has fascinated and frustrated scholars for centuries. Initially drawn to the meaning of laughter through her decades of work studying crying from an attachment perspective, Nelson argues that laughter is based in the attachment system, which explains much about its confusing and apparently contradictory qualities.
Laughter may represent connection or detachment. It can invite closeness, or be a barrier to it. Some laughter helps us cope with stress, other laughter may serve as a defense and represent resistance to growth and change. Nelson resolves these paradoxes and complexities by linking attachment-based laughter with the exploratory/play system in infancy, and the social/affiliative system, the conflict/appeasement, sexual/mating, and fear/wariness systems of later life. An attachment perspective also helps to explain the source of different patterns and uses of laughter, suggests how and why they may vary according to attachment style, and explain the multiple meanings of laughter in the context of the therapeutic relationship. As she discovers, attachment has much to teach us about laughter, and laughter has much to teach us about attachment. This lively book sheds light on the ways in which we connect, grow, and transform and how, through shared humor, play, and delight, we have fun doing so.

Editorial Reviews


“This is a wonderful, insightful, and beautifully written book!  It takes attachment theory in new directions and suggests valuable ideas for research on parent-child and couple relationships.  It sheds a warm light on the positive side of emotional life and loving relationships.” – Phillip R. Shaver, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, UC Davis; coeditor, Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research, and Clinical Applications; Past President, International Association for Relationship Research

“Judith Nelson, a skilled clinician and accomplished attachment researcher, has written a creative, scholarly and clinically relevant magnum opus on laughter. On all levels, this book is a joy to read.” – Allan N. Schore, PhD, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine

“Judith Kay Nelson’s exciting treatment of laughter as a crucially human attachment transaction opens up broad new avenues for clinical analysis and research inquiry. She has with great sensitivity woven together wisdom from neuroscience to ethology, from psychology to literature, subtly weaving light notes of humor amongst deep considerations of the human condition.  Therapists and researchers alike will thank Nelson for her inspiring treatment of laughter.” – Catherine Ann Cameron, PhD, Honorary Professor of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Canada

“What is so impressive about this book is that it manages, within its 200-plus pages, to be comprehensive, detailed, lively and illustrated throughout with clinical material and family anecdotes as well as evidence from research. … This book has wide relevance – learning to be more aware of this aspect of non-verbal communication would be helpful for clinicians of all theoretical approaches. It is also fascinating to look in such close focus at a feature of human behaviour that is so rarely scrutinised.” – Mary Neave, Therapy Today (June 2013)

About the Author

Judith Kay Nelson, MSW, PhD, is the former Dean and currently on the faculty of The Sanville Institute for Clinical Social Work and Psychotherapy, California. She also teaches attachment and neurobiology in the clinical social work doctoral program at Smith College, Massachusetts. She has taught and presented throughout the United States and Europe on topics related to crying, grief, laughter and attachment.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Routledge; 1st edition (July 6, 2012)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 232 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0415998336
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0415998338
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 11.2 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 0.53 x 9 inches

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