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Can We Use Laughter as Medicine for Healing?

By Expert HERWriter
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Dementia related image Photo: Getty Images

Last week I was sitting in a workshop about the philosophies of healing and I heard a lecture about the importance of play in healing! As I was listening I began to think how wonderful it is to remember play as part of every treatment plan.

When saw this study on laughter I thought it was a great example of how play can support all types of disease processes including brain diseases, like dementia.

A humor therapist named Jean-Paul Bell was the key therapist in an Australian based study called the SMILE study. Over a period of three year this play-based study was conducted with 400 residents at 36 nursing homes.

The play therapy's target was to make the participants laugh. Of the patients that participated in the play therapy, 20 percent of the dementia patients were less agitated. Twenty percent is roughly the same percentage that could be managed by medications, antipsychotics to be less agitated.

The percentages are saying that laughing therapy is as effective as antipsychotic medication if you look at the whole group. Those are good results for laugh therapy.

A side benefit is that the staff personally benefitted from the play therapy as well. The staff reported enjoying their work environment more.

As I looked into the science of laughter from an article published in Psychology Today it was noted that laughter is a social phenomenon that not only affects the person receiving the stimulus to laugh but also the person trying to create the laughter as well.

Robert Povine wrote in an article published in Psychology Today that laughter is “not a learned group reaction but an instinctive behavior programmed by our genes. Laughter bonds us through humor and play.”

The article briefly discusses a few other studies that showed that laughter might help people tolerate more discomfort or pain.

Povine goes on to suggest that laughter's primary goal is to bring people together and that socialization may be more of the healing effects than laughter itself. In all of the studies it has been hard to separate laughter, humor and the relaxed setting that allows for it to happen.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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