Why Laughter Therapy Can Help You Deal With Chronic Illness

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Does anyone remember the show Candid Camera? I was an avid viewer as a kid, and once I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, I took advantage of their "Laughter Therapy" program. They send four videotapes of Candid Camera shows (hopefully DVDs now) one-by-one to patients with illnesses who can use a laugh. Now-a-days, there are so many options to watch comedy on-demand, whether it is on your DVR or streaming from a source like Netflix. Regardless of where you get your comedy, there’s something therapeutic about laughing.

Recently I came across an article about how patients and doctors are drawing upon their experiences and writing comics about what they've been through. One artist who works in graphic medicine, Emily Haworth-Booth described her work eloquently. She said, "You can also manipulate and change something on the page, more easily than something that’s inside your own body. You can draw the pain, as a big black cloud perhaps, and then you can draw it again, but smaller, and smaller again, until it’s gone."

The power of laughter and comics in reaching patients is getting more and more attention for good reason. Cartoonist, Matthew Mewhorter used art journaling to cope with a colorectal cancer diagnosis and ostomy surgery. He created the website Cancer Owl, drawing himself as an owl.

Owlcancer.com logo

Connect with Matthew on Twitter @CancerOwl

When working with cancer patients, the topics in therapy can get pretty intense. I have found that being able to balance the intensity with laughter lets me build tremendous rapport and connection with my patients. Even the American Cancer Society website suggests that laughter can ease symptoms saying, "Available scientific evidence does not support humor as an effective treatment for cancer or any other disease; however, laughter has many benefits, including positive physical changes and an overall sense of well-being.” One study found the use of comedy can help people tolerate pain. Studies show that social laughter is correlated with an elevated pain threshold which causes the release of special neurotransmitter substances in the brain called endorphins that help control pain.

Some people say that laughter is the best medicine. It connects me with others in positive ways and has been shown to produce positive changes in mind, body and emotion. When I laugh, my body relaxes and my mood improves. Here at Oak Park Behavioral Medicine, we enjoy a good laugh, so please feel free to send along any comics, funnies or quotes. And now go on, get laughing!