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Laughter as Therapy: The Results are Excellent
Humor is a perspective that enables one to view stress and pain with a softer
edge. Though not an immediate cure for trauma, chronic illness, or emotional
difficulty, humor can be a therapeutic tool. It offers positive outlets for
chronically ill patients and also for chronically ill patients and also for
stressed out medical and corporate staff.
For many years medical staff have recognized that those patients who maintained
a positive mental attitude and shared laughter responded better to treatment.
Physiological responses to laughter include increased respiration, circulation,
hormonal and digestive enzyme secretion, and a leveling of the blood pressure.
Many report a general sense of euphoria after vigorous laughter. But until the
New England Journal of Medicine in 1979 published the Norman Cousins case study,
few considered the therapeutic uses of humor.
The first documented case of humor positively affecting disease was in 1964
when Norman Cousins, published "Anatomy of an Illness". Medical professionals
were for the first shown that humor biologically reversed Cousins' ankylosing
spondylitis, a painful disease causing the disintegration of the spinal connective
tissue. Given a one in five hundred chance of recovery, Cousins decided to infuse
himself with humor treatments. With Cousins' self-designed humor treatments,
he found that 15 minutes of hardy laughter could produce two hours of pain free
sleep. Blood samples also showed that his inflammation level was lowered after
the humor treatments. Eventually Cousins was able to completely reverse the
Following the example of Cousins, many health care facilities as well as corporations
have established humor programming as an aid to patient/employee health. To
meet the growing demand for therapeutic humor, Carolina Health & Humor Association
(Carolina Ha Ha), incorporated in 1986 as an educational service foundation.
Carolina Ha Ha specializes in humor programming for health care, for business,
and for personal growth. The founder, Ruth Hamilton, continues to serve as Executive
An early program included the Laugh Mobile and was developed for Duke University
Medical Center in 1987 by Hamilton. This became the Duke Humor Project and offers
bedside humor interventions to cancer patients. Coordinated with the Department
of Oncology Recreation Therapy, patients receive humorous interactions that
invite them to use the Laugh Mobile. This rolling display cart with a circus
motif delivers a wide variety of humorous media including books, audio and video
tapes, games, and clowning props. Patients are invited to use their hospital
time to learn a new skill that will increase creativity and keep the mind active.
Distraction becomes a resource for pain management. Boredom is combated through
Humor interventions offer a plan to promote joy and laughter in patients which
offers many positive effects in their recovery. Humor volunteers may engage
in yo-yo demonstrations, guitar playing, or just friendly banter that reveals
clues to patient humor preferences. Water-guns may be dispensed to allow the
patient to fight back during the rigorous oncology treatment. Patient assessments
document the effectiveness of the humor intervention and offer the recreation
staff and volunteers continuity of interventions. Over the last nine years,
Hamilton has assisted dozens of hospitals nationwide to implement humor programming
patterned after the Duke Humor Project. The Laugh Mobile is also manufactured
by Carolina Ha Ha and has been sold nationally. Medical staff report Laugh Mobile
programs build morale and endorse the value of the sense of humor.
Ruth Hamilton and Frank Jeffreys may be
contacted at (919) 544-2370 for consultation or presentations. Carolina Ha Ha
offers monthly community mini-seminars and also clowning classes and the Certified
Humor Presenter series. Their web site URL is email@example.com.
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