Laughter Therapy

Imagine that you are a newly diagnosed cancer patient and your doctor has assigned you to a cancer support group. You’re sad, your scared, and you don’t know how talking about your problems is going to fix anything. As you sit in a room full of other cancer patients waiting for a facilitator to begin the meeting, you imagine what kind of somber, depressing conversations are about to take place. The facilitator enters the room, asks everyone to stand up. Then, without warning, he begins to forcibly laugh… loudly and deeply like Santa Claus for the next 30 seconds.  He then smiles and asks you to do the same. You are in a Laughter Therapy group.

Laughter therapy, a new trend in mental health treatment, stems from the long standing Eastern tradition of Laughter Yoga. This trend, which began as a community activity in India, may be the next big thing in the treatment of anxiety and depression. In laughter therapy groups, a group facilitator begins the session by inviting participants to follow along in mimicking the facilitator’s demonstrated laugh.  This laugh may be a deep belly laugh like Santa might produce, or it may be a maniacal cackle suitible for an evil villan in a kids cartoon. After warmed up from mimicking the facilitators laugh, participants take turns leading the group in various kinds of laughter. Some leaders may choose to facilitate the iconic Popeye laugh (hear “gugguggugguggug”) while others may lead the group in mimicking Beavis’ memorable “hehehehe yeah…yeah…yeah”.  Whatever laugh is chosen, all the group members follow along.

These groups can last between 10 minutes to upwards of an hour and, while not so popular with the neighbors, are almost always a hit with participants. Cancer Treatment Centers of American recently posted an article about their use of laughter therapy in cancer treatment, and even National Public Radio (NPR) has chimed in with its article about a Colonel leading laughter therapy groups for National Guard families whose loved ones were about to be called into active duty.  I can personally attest to the power of Laughter Therapy. I have had great success in using laughter therapy to help patients suffering from social and performance anxiety overcome these debilitating conditions.

Next time you are about to go into a highly stressful situation like a job interview or a first date, take 5 minutes and try, as loud as you can, to imitate Santa Claus, Woody Woodpecker, and The Count from Sesame Street. If the authorities don’t come and take you away, you’ll end up feeling a lot more relaxed.