History of Therapeutic Humor

A Good Laugh’s inspiration comes in large part from the 1979 landmark book, “Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient”. The author, Norman Cousins, was the first person to “mainstream” the idea of therapeutic humor; the link between mind and body, or what is now becoming better known as the field of psychoneuroimmunology (PNI). The book chronicles how Mr. Cousins was diagnosed with a life threatening illness and complemented his medical treatments with funny movies. He found that the laughter from the movies provided him with an anesthetic effect that allowed him hours of pain-free sleep.

While humor may lack the hard science behind medicinal treatments, Dr. Lee Berk (of the University of California-Irvine’s Susan Saueli Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine and previously of Loma Linda University School of Medicine) has built a reputation for conducting research into the physiological benefits of laugher. One of his studies conducted controlled scientific experiments to prove humor’s power on the body. While watching funny movies, Dr. Berk drew continuous blood samples and found that laughter did increase the immune system and decreased stress.

Dr. Berk also ran a study of 48 cardiac rehabilitation patients for one year. In it, half of the group, in addition to standard rehab therapy, was given the chance to watch a funny video every day. Blood, urine, tension, depression, anger, vigor, fatigue, and confusion readings were measured. At the end of the year, the group whose daily regimen included laughter showed a reoccurrence of heart attacks of only 8% versus 42% in the other group. The humor group also had lower blood pressure, required lower doses of medication and had less abnormal heart rates.

In the thirty years since “Anatomy of an Illness”, therapeutic humor has made many inroads in the medical community as a complementary therapy. Some examples are:

  • The American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) lists humor therapy under its “Complementary Therapy” treatment section and also cites studies in which humor can relieve stress and increase pain tolerance. It goes on to state that close to 20% of National Cancer Institute-designated treatment centers offer humor therapy.

  • CancerSource (www.CancerSource.com) notes therapeutic humor as a coping suggestion in its Cancer Stress Management Program.

  • WebMD (www.webmd.com) has a Topic Overview on Humor Therapy.

  • Duke University Medical Center offers the Duke Humor Project.

  • Massachusetts General Hospital (www.massgeneral.org) lists humor therapy as one of its complementary therapies offered through its Cancer Center HOPES Program Wellness Services.

A Good Laugh is pleased to join the ever growing community of therapeutic humor providers. We believe that laughter is a tool that has gained acceptance as a complementary therapy for its power to ease pain, boost the immune system, open communication, empower patients and above all, provide hope.