What is Laughter Therapy?

Exploring laughter for theraputic benefit is a reasonably new but fast developing approach to psychological and physical human wellness. There are a variety of names and practices in this field including Laughter Yoga, Laughter Therapy, Laughter Wellness, Laughter Mindfulness, et al.  Although different in their approach and exercises, all have the same basic principles; to provide therapeutic benefit through the participation in genuine or forced laugher. 

 

It is easy to overlook the effects that laughter can have on our well-being and how these affect our health in general. A growing body of evidence, through research and medical trials, supports the claim that laughter can have provide remarkable benefits to range of conditions far wider than we first thought. The common saying goes - "Laughter is the best medicine." Laughter as a possible medicine is not a new discovery. For thousands of years, cultures, communities and religions have acknowledged the importance of laughter on our health. It can be found in Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Taoism, Sikhism and Islam, not to mention the Laughing Buddha in Buddhism.

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Since the 1940's there has been a more focuses medical study on the actual effects of laughter, where there have been over a thousand medical research papers exploring mirth's medicinal worth. The physical act of laughing activates, stimulates and exercises so many parts of our brain and body that, in the same way that stress can negatively impact on our mental, physical and emotional health leading to serious illness, so too laughter can have the opposite effect. Laughter can strengthen the immune system, develop resilience, provide spiritual balance and trigger healing.  Since the mid 1970's, exciting studies in the field of psychoneuroimmunology which explore the mind and body in states of health and disease are revealing the connection between our brain, our emotional state and our immune system. These studies are proving that a happy and joyful approach to life promotes energy, health and vitality and that areas of the brain related to humour have medical benefits. 

The practice of laughter as a mode of treatment, a form of pain relief, a method of therapy, etc, is most commonly known through the work of Dr Hunter 'Patch' Adams. 'Patch' founded The Gesundheit Institute - the world's first silly hospital. He charges no medical fees, runs entirely on voluntary donations and carries no malpractice insurance. His medical centre and its philosophy and practice have provided benefit to tens of thousands. His story was dramatised in the 1997 film 'Patch Adams' starring the late (and great) Robin Williams. His pioneering approach to treatment and patient care is not unique. There are a growing number of medical practitioners, university professors and consultant psychiatrists, who are adopting similar approaches based on extensive trials and studies.  Among these are: 

  • Dr Madan Kataria - A Mumbai medical practitioner who founded Laughter Yoga in the mid 1980's

  • Norman Cousins - A journalist whose book 'Anatomy of An Illness' charted his own battle with a serious degenerative spinal condition and how laughter and mirth provided pain relief and a reversal of many symptoms. His best selling book paved the way for further research and made the use of laughter as a complementary therapy a 'serious' issue. 

  • William F. Fry, a professor of psychiatry, has devoted 30 years of his life to studying humour and laughter and its effects on mind and body.

Other notable practitioners who have studied the topic at length include:

Professor Sigmund Freud, Professor Rod Martin and Herb Lefcourt, Sven Svebak, Dr Lee Berk, Dr Robert Provine, Professor John Morreall, Robert Holden, Professor Sophie Scott, Dr Paul McGhee, Dr Annette Goodheart, Don and Alleen Nilsen, and many more. Links to these people and their fascinating findings will be shared in our blog posts.

Robin WIlliams as Patch Adams 

The real Patch Adams at Club Noel Hospital August 16, 2003.  Universal/Getty Images; Carlo Durna Araujo—Corbis

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What should I expect from a Laugh Therapy session?

Depending on the individual, their condition and reasons for exploring this avenue of therapy, a laugh therapy programme can include:

Positive psychology, mindfulness, CBT, breathing exercises, laughter yoga, meditation, elation and relaxation, Alexander Technique, NLP, brain training, warm-up activities, playfulness, rediscovering 'fun', game playing, social interaction, eye contact and human connection, joke sharing, puns, improv, funny books, poems, tongue twisters, songs, limericks, films and tv sketches, stand-up comedy clips, comics and cartoons, understanding your own sense of humour, exploring laughter triggers, practical jokes, pranks, silly costumes, props and accessories, noise making, face pulling, funny movements, silly walks, humorous voices, noises and gibberish, inventing games, dances and songs, looking for the funny in everyday situations, exploring the absurd, learning to smile more, developing a laughter charter and network of contacts and tracking the benefits gained through participation.

Take a look at the services we offer and see which suits you. Our Laugh Event provides the best introduction and broadest understanding of the subject, its benefits, exercises, activities and resources. These events take place a various venues around the country and generally cover 3-4 hours. One to one or small group appointments can be made (either in person, as a home visit or via video conferencing) where a personalised programme can be created to suit your situation, condition and circumstances. We also run local Laugh Clubs which provides an informal meet-up with a more generalised programme.  These Laugh Clubs are an excellent way to experience the benefits of Laugh Therapy in a regular, social setting.

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"As a therapist, I've had thousands of hours of experience working with people suffering from minor ailments and terminal illnesses, including cancer, AIDS, MS and arthritis; I have worked with anorexics, survivors of sexual abuse and the suicidally depressed. The good news is that laughter is a powerful healing force. It's not a panacea, but it can be part of a program for healing - physically, emotionally or spiritually."

Dr Annette Goodheart - Psychotherapist.

Click the link to find out about our services, events and classes in your area or follow the link to find out more about who might benefit from Laugh Therapy.

Who Would Benefit From Laugh Therapy?

The short answer? ...virtually anyone.  

 

For a long time, laughter has been an under-researched area of psychology. However, we are now learning the impact that laughter can have on the human body.  Evidence from research trials conducted show that the extent to which laughter can aid mind and body is far reaching. It seems there are many health benefits to laughter.

 

Take a look at our research page to find links to extensive articles exploring the health effects of laughter.

Below we have listed and explained some of the areas where research evidence has proven that laughter can offer either therapeutic health benefits, relief from symptoms or enhancements to professional or personal wellbeing.

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Physiological Conditions:
Physiological Effects of Laughter

Among other physical effects; there is evidence to suggest laughter can lower blood pressure, blood sugar and bad cholesterol, increase blood flow, blood oxygen and virus killing cells. Boosts energy and the immune system, improves breathing and blood vessel function, reduces inflammation and pain. It can even burn calories and exercise shoulder, back and abdomen

 

Click the link to find out more.

Psychological Conditions:
Psychological Benefits of Laughter. Laughter Effects Wordcloud

Research shows that laughter can improve mental health, enhance mental function and create a healthy link between mind and body by reducing cortisol levels (connected with stress and anxiety) and increases gamma waves, (related to memory and learning). Laughter also releases dopemine and serotonin, which are linked to happiness, mood and pain management.

Click the link to find out more.

Social and Emotional Conditions:
Social and Emotional Benefits of Laughter Wordcloud

As a social tool, laughter unites people. It strengthens relationships, signals social interest and builds trust. Laughter can defuse conflict, heal resentments, alleviate anger and resolve disagreements.

Laughter can provide an emotional release, offer respite, build emotional resilience, breed mindfulness and foster emotional connections with others. As they say... laughter is the best medicine.  

Click the link to find out more.

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