Laughter Therapy

One of the most difficult things I do as an Admissions Director is to listen to parents who are distraught and yearning for answers. Our conversations typically begin with how their daughter is isolating and disengaging from life as this is a common reported symptom of anxiety. After speaking to parents about their daughter’s history, they often recall that she is missing play, fun and laughter in her daily life. Parents sadly express things such as:

“I can’t remember the last time I heard her laugh.”
“Play, what is that?”
“She has lost her desire to have fun.”
“I’m not sure what she enjoys doing anymore.”
“She takes everything way too serious, even fun activities we do together as a family.”
“She has stopped participating in sports and things she once loved to do.”

More than anything, parents want to see their daughter happy and fulfilled.

We recognize an important part of our program is to ensure that all of our students are taught to live a balanced life. They tend to take themselves, everything and everyone around them way too serious. They have lost the joy in living. Those suffering with severe anxiety and OCD oftentimes suffer with depression as well. The additional diagnosis of depression only exacerbates their symptoms which makes it even more important to focus on helping our girls remember to take time to play, have fun and laugh.

The Clinical Team at Cascade Academy finds the positive passionate qualities of each student. One way they help our students awaken their desire for play and fun is for them to experience being enjoyed. When a student has an experience of being enjoyed, they can in turn enjoy the world around them. For example, spontaneous group dance and karaoke parties, playfulness during therapy sessions, impromptu snowball fights and family style meals that entail joking and laughing are all therapeutic interactions.

Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams, a physician born in 1945, believed that the best course of treatment included understanding the patient as a whole person, not just by their condition or pathology. He used humor to treat his patients as he observed it helped to alleviate their stress, emotional and physical pain. Dr. Adams was oftentimes discredited until 1979, when Norman Cousins published his book, Anatomy of an Illness. The medical community then took notice that laughter could have an analgesic effect on pain.

Dr. William Fry, in a study at Stanford University School of Medicine, discovered that endorphins, natural pain killers, were produced in the pituitary through humor and laughter. In addition, the research was conclusive that laughing improved blood circulation and decreased stress. The medical community is now finding that laughter therapy is scientifically supported. In Jongeun Yim’s recent peer-reviewed article, Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review, he describes the physiological and psychological effects of laughter.

Physiological Outcomes: exercises and relaxes muscles, improves respiration, stimulates circulation, decreases stress hormones, increases the immune system’s defenses, elevates pain threshold and tolerance, and enhances mental functioning.

Psychological Outcomes: reduces stress, anxiety and tension and counteracts symptoms of depression, elevates mood, self-esteem, hope, energy and vigor, enhances memory and creative thinking, improves interpersonal interaction, increases friendliness and helpfulness, promotes psychological well-being, improves quality of life and patient care, and intensifies mirth and is contagious.

Laughter therapy is an evidence-based treatment modality as a part of the family of cognitive-behavior therapies. The American Association for Therapeutic Humor (AATH) explains laughter therapy as an activity that improves health by using novel experiences and expressions. Laughter is a simple aerobic exercise of contracting and relaxing your facial, chest, abdominal and skeletal muscles which can surprisingly relax your muscles for up to 45 minutes!

At Cascade Academy we value and understand the significance of fun and laughter as part of treatment. Throughout the organization we model appropriate humor and the enjoyment of life as a part of self-care. Brad Gerrard, our Executive Director, oftentimes reminds our students and staff that, “self-care is important and should be a top priority.”

Now that we know the supportive research, that laughter promotes healing, why don’t we take notice, relax and find ways to experience joy? Let us all, even in these trying times, take time to play, laugh and heal.