Laughter and Healing
By Dr. Michael Basso
When I was in high school, a friend, also named Mike, and I, decided to skip school and hang out with another friend who had moved to another town and also decided to play hooky. Unfortunately, we were in a car accident with his mom’s car that day. Mike was hurt seriously with broken ribs, internal bleeding and a broken nose.
At one point, he was by himself in the ER, yet was laughing uncontrollably. We at first though that he was laughing at our fear of telling our parents what had happened, but that was not the case.
Laughter can serve a variety of adaptive psychological functions. These functions include, but are not limited to, stress relief, panic abatement, and distraction.
The results of these psychological functions are not only adaptive from a psychological perspective; enhanced immunity, mitigation of severe pain reactions and many positive physical results can occur.
In one case, a famous editor, Norman Cousins, claims that he cured himself of a very painful and often lethal connective tissue disease, ankylosing spondylitis, primarily by a strategic use of laughter. ( He did some important nutritional things as well)
Cousins would watch amusing videos every day while in the hospital. He concluded that even ten minutes of intense laughter would allow him to sleep peacefully for several hours afterwards.
Of course, it is extremely important that the patient:
1) Is OK with this type of therapy
2) Is not offended by either the type and / or timing of the laughter intervention
3) Is not in a severe crisis state when the intervention is happening
When a person has suffered a severe trauma, it is reasonable to conclude that they might not resonate with jokes, funny videos or even want to converse in any way. So, it my not be appropriate to commence laughter therapy until the patient is: somewhat stable, they have been assured that someone close to them is alive and safe, and that they have an inkling where they are and what has happened to them.
Some believe that the laughter sometimes heard coming from someone who has just come out of anesthesia is also a stress coping mechanism.
It is extremely important that the patient not assume that they are being laughed at and the jokes are done at the right time. The person who has just been electrocuted or has suffered a serious heart attack may also want assurance that laughter therapy is not the only therapy that they may expect.
Of course, inappropriate humor, including off color jokes, insulting, slanderous or racially oriented humor may resonate with negative emotions.
Some researchers believe that laughter can be a gateway to the positive emotions – including joy, hope, love, purpose and confidence.
Next time we are going to talk about fun.
For the fun of it, I published a few books over the last year that some of you might find of interest. The titles are: Holistic Tips for Everyday Living a guide for Being on Planet Earth; The Human Side of Quality and the TAO the Greening of Leadership; and High Steel and Great Whites a Mystical Adventure Novel. Hope you like them!
Dr. Basso has a Ph.D. in Professional Psychology and Biomedical Systems and an MBA in executive leadership. Michael is president of the CT Holistic Health Association, is an adjunct faculty member at UCONN and is a research affiliate at the Yale School of Medicine.