Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D.: The Healing Power of Humor | Doing Well #34

In this episode, host Lu Ngo is joined by Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D., who is an expert in therapeutic humor with over 38 years of experience

In this episode, Dr. Steven M. Sultanoff, a clinical psychologist and expert in therapeutic humor, explores the healing power of humor. You can expect to gain valuable insights into how humor can be applied for well-being, understand its different impacts on emotions, thoughts, and behaviors, and learn practical ways to incorporate humor into your lives.

Meet Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D

Steven Sultanoff, PhD, is a licensed psychologist, professor, and renowned expert in therapeutic humor. He has an extensive background in the field, with over 38 years of experience. Steven has published numerous articles on therapeutic humor and is frequently quoted in various print and online publications. He has appeared on television shows such as “What’s Your Ailment” with comedian Maria Bamford and has made appearances on FOX, STARS, PBS, and more. 

Steven is a recipient of the AATH “Lifetime Achievement Award” and offers live and online programs in therapeutic humor. His websites, and, provide valuable resources on therapeutic humor, education programs, articles, and a blog. In addition to his expertise in humor, Steven is an avid softball player and enjoys scouring garage sales for props that enhance his presentations and playful lifestyle.

About the episode

This episode begins with Steven explaining how he has been involved in therapeutic humor for over 30 years. He shares that he initially came from a serious academic background but had always been playful and fun-loving. In the late 1980s, Steven attended conferences on therapeutic humor, where he learned about the importance of humor in psychotherapy. This sparked his interest in the therapeutic benefits of humor.

While humor in daily life can make people feel better, entertain, or experience tickling feelings, therapeutic humor is intentionally created with the purpose of being therapeutic for the listeners. It aims to lighten the mood, help individuals think differently, and provide relief from cognitive or physical stress.

Steven explains that humor impacts well-being in four ways. First, laughter, as a physical response to humor, involves rapid breathing, muscle tension and release, and unique sounds. Second, humor stimulates “Mirth,” which is the emotional aspect of humor, providing a positive uplift and alleviating emotional distress. Third, there is the cognitive facet known as “Wit,” which changes one’s perspective and worldview through humor. Finally, humor plays a crucial role in social relations, fostering connections and bonding between individuals. 

Here’s a list of ways to enhance humor, according to Steven:

  • Passive exposure: To stimulate your sense of humor, enjoy sitcoms, follow comedians, or subscribe to daily jokes or cartoons online.
  • Active engagement: Learn simple jokes, practice exaggeration, or embrace playfulness to improve your ability to share humor with others.
  • Humor buddy: Find someone with whom you can exchange funny content, such as jokes or cartoons, daily to integrate humor into your life.

In conclusion

Humor is vital in enhancing well-being and can be incorporated passively or actively. Developing a sense of humor is not exclusive to naturally funny individuals. Anyone can improve their sense of humor through practice and learning techniques to enhance it. 

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