A famous Stock Pose originating in Freudian tradition of psychiatry. As short hand for therapy, someone lies on their back on a couch and stares at the ceiling while avoiding eye-contact with their therapist. This is not very common nowadays, but some therapists still use it, even if only as an option, because some patients relax more in this position and open up with their problems.
In real life, Sigmund Freud trained in psychiatry under Doctors Jean-Martin Charcot and Josef Breuer, both of whom used hypnosis as treatment. In hypnotherapy, the couch was a necessary piece of equipment used to make the patient relax and drift off into a hypnotized semi-sleep. Although Freud later moved away from using hypnosis, he kept the couch as he found the relaxed state helpful in allowing the patient to form free associations.
Comes from All Psychology Is Freudian. Fans of Freudian psychoanalysis note that during free association the therapist and client are not facing each other, but this has become a visual symbol of therapy anyway.
Used often as a joke in cartoons and comics, but it appears in all media.
James is in a therapy session. They have a slightly weird little dialogue which goes something like this:
James: Man, this couch is comfy. I could fall asleep on it.
Therapist: Really? Hmm, does that mean you're tired? Have you been having trouble sleeping lately?
James: Now you mention it, yes.
His therapist gives him the choice of where to sit but he feels that he needs to lie on the couch to get the "full therapy experience".
Callie, the protagonist of Cut, is on one of these during her Individual Therapy sessions in Sea Pines, while her therapist sits on a "dead cow chair".
In Dreamcatcher, Henry briefly ponders his patients' choices between the couch or a chair when they come into his office.
Live Action TV
Sherlock: In the episode "The Hounds of Baskerville", Henry Knight has a conversation with his therapist, Doctor Mortimer, about his reccuring dreams, while lying on a couch in his home while she takes notes.
Played completely straight in the first season of Mad Men. Don Draper sends his wife Betty for psychoanalysis, and the setup is correct for free association: the couch is set away from the chair the therapist is sitting in, and he freaks out slightly when she sits up and makes eye contact.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Buffy does this on a grave in "Conversations With Dead People" when a vampire she's about to stake turns out to be a psych major who went to high school with her.
The living room couch is frequently (though informally) appropriated for this, due to the fact that two of the main characters are psychiatrists.
In the episode where Frasier goes back to private practice, he gets a Freudian Couch in his office too.
Frasier and Niles did this as kids as seen in their old home movies.
Played with in Graduados. Vicky does not use a couch with her patients, in fact she is not Freudian at all, and criticized the couch thing sometime. But each time that Tuca has a crisis and need her help, he storms uninvited into her consulting room, heads directly to the couch and lies down in it... even when nobody ever told him to do that.
Detective Murdoch usually lies down when he has a hypnosis session with "his favourite head doctor", Dr. Roberts, who is a pioneer in mental health care in Toronto.
Doctor Ogden becomes a psychiatrist between seasons five and six. She even went to Vienna to consult professor Freud himself. Freudian Couch is played for laughs when Inspector Brackenreid comes to see her and he's lying on a couch in her office, talking about some random stuff. She reminds him that he wished to speak about something important. Inspector immediately rises up and asks her to see his son who he's afraid might be a "sissy".
Variation occurred on Friends when Phoebe dated a psychologist. She was lying back on the couch in the coffee place and was talking to him while avoiding his look, but she had her head in his lap.
On Community, Britta is lying down on the couch when she has a therapy session in season 1 finale "Pascal's Triangle Revisited". It's a Continuity Nod because therapy sessions with Prof. Duncan were a condition of her acquittal for cheating in "Advanced Criminal Law" episode. Duncan tells her she needs not lie and she angrily responds that he could have told her sooner, not in the last session.
The Far Side used this rather often, even though creator Gary Larson had some issues with it:
In the 10th anniversary retrospective, Larson said he considered the device a cliché. He also described how having an animal visiting a human psychiatrist would frequently break his own Willing Suspension of Disbelief and cause him to start questioning everything about his comic.
One particular comic embarrassingly backfired when Gary Larson thought it would be funny to draw a creature who had to see a psychiatrist because of his severe anger-management problems over having been born as nothing but a disembodied eyeball. Most readers either missed the eyeball entirely or thought it was just one of the buttons sewed onto the couch. In his 10th anniversary retrospective, Larson briefly tried to defend the cartoon before admitting that, yes, it sucked. To those who have read 1/0, it becomes a reference.
In Blondie when the title character is looking for a cargo van for her catering business, one van was formerly owned by a psychiatrist who went to people's homes. And had the Freudian Couch set up in the van.
In one, the patient, dressed as Napoleon, is sitting up on the couch and reading a despatch while an officer in a Napoleonic uniform stands at attention. The psychiatrist fumes, "We'll never get anywhere with these constant interruptions from the front!"
The psychiatrist is a bespectacled, Freud-bearded corpse in advanced decay, and the patient on the couch, blithely looking at the ceiling, asks, "How long has it been since we had our little disagreement, Doctor?"
The psychiatrist is down on his knees kissing the hand of the patient, who says irritably, "This is not going to help my Messianic complex, Doctor!"
"When did you first become aware of this imagined 'plot to get you?'"
One, uncredited but resembling work by Jim Toomey of Sherman's Lagoon, showed a bull lying on the couch, with a matador in the psychiatrist's position. The bull is saying, "I know it's a symptom of my neurosis, doctor, but I'm having difficulty trusting you."
Dr. Bonkus of Beetle Bailey always uses one with his patients. Beetle himself has been known to fall asleep immediately or mention it as the only reason it's worth visiting him.
Level 30 Psychiatry uses them what with the whole premise being video game characters getting therapy. It's destruction and replacement in another color is a running gag. For example, the first one is destroyed in the second comic due to a nervous Creeper.
In Ménage à 3's June 13, 2013 strip (#753, NSFW), the trope is played with and perhaps lampshaded. It looks like a Freudian therapy session at first, but there's more than one sort of therapy, and more than one use for a couch.
Used as a throwaway gag. They cut away from Perry and Doofenshmirtz and when we see them again Perry has Doof on a couch talking about his childhood for a moment before they react to something happening offscreen.
In the episode "The Monster from Id", it's revealed that Baljeet went to pyschology camp. Cut to a flashback of a hundred kids talking to other kids on couches, all saying "And how did that make you feel?"
Used with a bench (and complete with reading glasses and a notepad) by Twilight Sparkle in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Lesson Zero" in an attempt to alleviate her friend Rainbow Dash's mistakenly perceived anger issues.
Used in the VeggieTales silly song "I Love My Lips". Larry sings the song while lying on the couch, in therapy with Dr. Archibald. Twice in the song, he gets so carried away that he gets up and starts dancing around the room.
Dr Scratchensniff would have these in his office. One episode ('La La Law') featuers him lugging a new one on his back from a supply shop to his (illegally parked) car.
Yakko slaps Miles Standish on a couch in Turkey Jerky. "Tell me all about Petey."note A hamster. That Miles made pajamas for.
In Batman: The Animated Series episode "Mad Love" we see a montage of how Harley Quinn met The Joker while she gave him psychoanalysis. It starts with him on the couch, but as he twists her mind, later scenes have the Joker as the psychiatrist, with Harley on the couch.
A Pink PantherClip Show had the little guy with the big nose Pink is always annoying go to a therapist (Actually Pink in disguise) and lay down on the couch.
The Looney Toons short "Hare Brush" has Bugs Bunny take Elmer's place in a mental institute. One scene has Bugs briefly lay on a couch while the doctor talks to him. Bugs soon turns tables.