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WHAT IS A LAUGHTER CLUB? By Steve Wilson (click here)


           Steve Wilson

 

SOME HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES FROM STEVE WILSON


I STARTED IN 1964
     I have been working with therapeutic activity concepts since my first professional position as the psychologist at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, in 1964. In that era, "milieu therapy" along with concepts of therapeutic activity and "adjunctive therapies" were gaining popularity. Mostly it was framed around strategies for residential treatment, but it also found applications in outpatient treatment. Out of this era came a host of new therapies that were novel departures from the Freudian principals that had come to wide acceptance in the Western world. Experimentation led to the development of art therapy, music therapy, movement therapy, horticultural therapy, bibliotherapy, psychodrama, Esalen & Gestalt, EST, sensitivity training, Glasser's Reality Therapy, Redl & Wineman's programming for "Children Who Hate," and others. In California and Connecticut, drug treatment programs like Synanon and Daytop Lodge were fine-tuning these ideas for application with populations that had deeply entrenched issues. Modalities that we now think of as established, accepted practices, at that time were cutting edge and often viewed as suspect; and I was very taken with these exciting possibilities.


 
    In those days, through my own reading, attending self-help retreats & educational workshops, and meeting some of the key innovators, I continued to learn as much as I could about these novel approaches, and from time to time, I tried them in practice. Thanks to some great mentors and people who believed in me (even when I was unbelievable!) from 1967-1972, I was given tremendous latitude and support to apply these practices in positions at the Weeks School (juvenile residential treatment) in Vermont, the Women’s Reformatory in Niantic, Connecticut, and as Director of the Nicholas Youth Center, a progressive & innovative residential program of Montgomery County Juvenile Court (Dayton, Ohio).

TEACHING ACTIVITY THERAPY
     From 1973-1981, as Chairman of the Mental Health Technology at what is now Columbus State Community College (WLT's co-sponsor), I led a magnificent pioneering faculty team as we literally invented a curriculum to prepare a workforce that had not previously existed: the mid-level mental health generalist. We blended our understanding of several disciplines to create a dynamic program based on a three-part foundation of knowledge, skills, and values. With the guidance of some of the pre-eminent adjunctive therapists in the country, on staff at the prestigious Harding Psychiatric Hospital (Columbus, Ohio), we incorporated and taught activity therapy including activity planning, analysis and evaluation. To this day, the program produces a cadre of Associates Degree mental health workers every year who are in high demand; for more than 30 years the program has maintained a 99% employment rate of its graduates. Since 1983, I have been producing an annual humor & laughter workshop as the primary fund-raiser for my scholarship fun at the college.

ADDING HUMOR & LAUGHTER TO THE MIX
     At some point during the late 1960s, the literature of residential treatment began to include references to sense-of-humor as part of understanding personality and having therapeutic potential, and group therapy activities and applications were being tried. Much earlier (1905), Freud had written extensively about this, and others like Henri Bergson were also fascinated by laughter and humor. The new activity therapy concepts made sense to me and I tried them in various settings and liked the results.

     With this brief professional history explained (some of you know that I have an even longer personal history with humor), it should come as no surprise that a major epiphany occurred for me during a workshop Pam and I attended presented by Joel Goodman in Chicago in 1984. From 1984-1997, I immersed myself in the burgeoning field of therapeutic humor and laughter, learning, speaking, writing, and teaching about it. In 1997, the INDUS Foundation invited me to lecture on my work about "How to Create Positive Working Environments" to emerging businesses in India. That program was an outgrowth of my popular talks, workshops and books about "Putting Humor to Work at Work."

LAUGHTER GURUS IN INDIA
     Meeting Dr. K in India in 1998 enabled me to add another piece to the work that I had been evolving for more than 30 years, much of which was about cutting-edge, original, novel therapies. There are many gurus (teachers) in India who advocate various aspects of healing laughter and a variety of associated practices. Add to that my many, many collegial relationships and learning through my memberships in the International Society for Humor Studies, the National Speakers Association, and the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor. With the influence and help of many others, Karyn Buxman, MA, RN, and
I decided to start the World Laughter Tour so that the methods of the East could be combined with ideas of the West to benefit the whole world.

     I found many people in the Western world were interested in getting advice and guidance from a psychologist who had a solid background in the role of activities, attitudes, emotions, humor and laughter. As a mental health educator and practitioner of therapeutic humor and laughter activities, I have been able to draw from and integrate the best schools of thought, conventional and alternative, and build on my forty years of practice to create group and self-care strategies, to show people how to get the most out of themselves and life, and enjoy every minute of it.

AND THE BEAT GOES ON

    The Certified Laughter Leader training program was created and designed by me to be a substantive curriculum and the most fun you can have while getting credit and learning how to make a huge positive difference in your own life and in the lives of others.
The World Laughter Tour mission, vision, curriculum, content, and structure for training others, just like its support mechanisms, advisory committee, code of ethics, and strategies to give the method credibility and gain widespread acceptance, are the natural outflow of all that preceded it in my life. And the beat goes on.

More History

How Do You Start An Epidemic Of Happiness?

By the end of 2009, more than 5,000 people had completed the remarkable training designed by Steve Wilson to qualify for the designation of Certified Laughter Leader
(tm). This accomplishment demonstrates his contribution to the field of mind-body science, by creating a systematic therapeutic method that has been found to be credible by professional organizations of nurses, psychologists, counselors, activity therapists, health educators, marriage & family therapists, and social workers. The roots of his methods go back to ancient practices, biblical prescriptions, and modern science. The method reflects a 40+ year career in psychology and a philosophy of happiness through living with a positive sense of urgency, summed up as "Don't Postpone Joy".

Steve Wilson was already a well-established professional in 1998, when he dedicated a portion of his life's work to teaching and promoting the health and world peace benefits of laughter. 

In addition to his family life (wife Pam, five children and seven grandchildren), he had already achieved a successful college teaching career as a mental health educator, which was followed by a career as psychologist (since 1964), psychotherapist (since 1973), and founder of Ohio Professional Counseling Services. In 1983, his students honored him with the creation of the Stephen H. Wilson Scholarship Fund and Grants-in-Aid Program. He had already written and compiled several books (now there are eight) and written more than four dozen articles on topics ranging from to humor, healing, and positive working environments, to how to have successful marriage and family relationships, and raising self-esteem. The National Speakers Association, had awarded him the designation of Certified Speaking Professional. 

He has served on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Self-Esteem, Employment for Seniors (Columbus, Ohio), and currently serves on the board of Directors of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.

Steve's life purpose had been unfolding since his tap-dancing debut at age four, and is visible in many subsequent life events and accomplishments. Many of the laughter lovers associated with WLT have often voiced the deep belief that the mission is imbued with remarkable synchronicity, such as Steve’s being selected in 1997 by the Indus Foundation to lecture in India on the topic of “How to Create Positive Working Environments.” While he was in India he met a physician (Dr. Kataria) and others (Dr. Om Kharbanda) who were proponents and teachers of various laughter/healing/health methods, and the rest, to paraphrase a cliché, is condensed in the history presented here.

How Do You Start A World Laughter Tour?

World Laughter Tour, Inc., is the brainchild of psychologist and self-proclaimed “Joyologist” Steve Wilson, who describes his role as “Cheerman of The Bored.” The idea came to him during his 1998 lecture tour to India, after he had participated in the Juhu Beach laughter club at the Arabian seaside in Mumbai (Bombay), where. laughter clubs were referred to as 'Hasya Yoga'. The vision was clear: with adaptations to suit the Western mentality, certain laughter and attitudinal practices could be systematized and taught in order to influence both health and peace. The clubs were popular in India, and were attracting attention in other parts of the world. 

In January of 1998, as he was preparing his lectures for India, Steve was intrigued to learn that there were gurus in India teaching the importance of  laughter for physical and mental health. After several failed attempts, Internet contacts finally produced a list of telephone numbers for people in India who were associated with the laughter clubs.

In March of 1998, Steve connected with some of these people and found an instant rapport,  based on a mutual sense of urgency to disseminate information about the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual healing powers of laughter. There followed a flurry of e-mail exchanges until East finally met West in person in April of 1998. There could be no doubt that they were energized to work together for the benefit of all people.

In Mumbai, Steve and others continued their conversations, asking and answering many questions about the work with laughter. Steve recognized the enormous potential that existed in a systematic routine for laughing without using jokes, under the guidance of a trained leader/motivator. He also knew that it would be important to bring the message beyond India. Struck by a noble impulse, Steve made a commitment that he would bring an Indian physician who had never been outside of India, to the United States for a series of lectures and demonstrations, and that he would help spread the message of the power of laughter around the world.

Inspired by the reaction of audiences and the media to a laughter exercise program, and with the enormous support and encouragement of his wife, Pamela, and professional speaking colleague and nurse, Karyn Buxman, World Laughter Tour was launched in July of 1998, adopting the slogan, “Think Globally, Laugh Locally.” WLT has since come to be recognized as a significant global influence in the practical applications of laughter and humor for health and world peace.

How Do You Get A World Laughter Tour On The Road?

It took one year for Steve and Karyn to put together what turned out to be a 14-city lecture tour during which they  demonstrated the method to diverse audiences. 

Thanks to the generous support and encouragement of Dr. Valeriana Moeller, president of  Columbus State Community College, the World Laughter Tour had a very successful kickoff on May 27, 1999, in Columbus Ohio, complete with an evening lecture and demonstration followed by a complete catered Indian dinner feast. The tone was set for collaboration and friendship, bridging continents and cultures, connecting two colorful characters advocating for laughter.

For the next seven weeks this hearty laughing troupe crisscrossed the USA making appearances in cities such as Phoenix, New York City, Louisville, Minneapolis, San Jose, Philadelphia, Boca Raton, and St. Petersburg. When they weren’t flying or driving to engagements the doctor and his wife were houseguests of the Wilsons. This was a marvelous time for the two "gurus" to exchange ideas, information, and visions while deepening appreciation for each other’s culture. Hashing over all aspects of therapeutic laughter was a 24/7 activity during those seven weeks. The doctor learned better English along with improved presentation skills, and Wilson learned the ins and outs of Indian-style laughter clubs. It was an incredible introduction to the United States for the doctor, and for Wilson it was the beginning of a new career!

On the eve of his return to Mumbai, it was agreed that, “The world is a big place. I cannot be everywhere, and I cannot start all of the laughter clubs. Why don't you take North and South America,” the doctor suggested, “and see what you can do with them.” Steve agreed that he would give the hemisphere his attention. Following an old  story about 'acres of diamonds' in one's own backyard, he decided that he would focus first on Ohio and North America, but simultaneously promote the message globally.

Then What Happened?

There has been no looking back since India and the USA lecture tour, mainly because there hasn’t been time. After the USA lecture tour, WLT seemed to take on a life of its own, gaining momentum on a daily basis. With Pam always at his side, Steve has more than gotten the laughter ball rolling. He has created momentum, credibility, interest, and an ever-improving method that will take it place alongside other complimentary practices in the growing field of integrative medicine. 

When Steve Wilson witnessed the phenomenal interest in laughter clubs in India, and saw them in action there, he saw a breakthrough looming on the horizon.

While Steve created a laughter therapy method based on a model familiar to the Western world that already embraces music therapy, art therapy, horticulture therapy, and others, Dr. Kataria continued to develop laughter yoga based on practices familiar in the East. Although the activities may at time appear similar, the breadth and scope of the two methods are significantly different.

In the modern era of Gelotology, the science of laughter, and Positive Psychology, WLT laughter therapy programs represent something new and different. We are now able to bring the world a unique combination of systematic methods, information to improve physical health and emotional balance, and a socially conscious value system. Much research remains to be done, but laughter therapy appears to produce desired outcomes relatively quickly.

 

HISTORICAL AND RECENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Here are just some of the developments, and the people who helped, with apologies because we are bound to omit the names of important supporters in this short synopsis.

  • A web presence was established that has grown into the site you see today, attracting more than 500,000 visitors annually. WLT maintains the website as an international clearinghouse for information, ideas, and activities of interest and importance to the laughter movement.
     

  • Steve and Pam Wilson fostered the establishment of the Laughter Arts and Sciences Foundation, a non-profit (501.c.3) charity to promote awareness of the value of laughter & humor, to promote education & training in the field, and to promote research in the field. Donations are tax-deductible in the USA.

  • The first USA Laughter Club was established even prior to the lecture tour, by Jenni Reusser, at the YMCA in Orrville, Ohio. There are currently hundreds of laugh clubs and therapeutic laughter sessions conducted very week in North America.

  • WLT now has a presence in many countries, with dedicated authorized representatives.
     

  • WLT set up a Professional Advisory Committee whose members are eminent in various specialties and systems of medicine, science, business, education, other professions & occupations, and public life. They advise and guide the initiatives of WLT and to advise as to the validity of scientific studies and research work as to how laughter can affect the physical, mental, social and spiritual well being of the participants.

  • In 2003 & 2004 World Laughter Day celebrations were conducted by Certified Laughter Leaders in more than 25 cities in North America.

  • More than 5,000 people have completed the training workshop, "How to Create Therapeutic Laughter".

  • Using the internet for an experimental distance learning program, Steve has trained a laughter leader in South Africa and another in Israel.

  • Laughter leaders have come to take Steve's training from many countries, including Chile, England, Australia, Iceland, the Philippines, Mexico, Scotland, South Korea, and Canada.

  • Steve and Pam taught the laughter club exercises to a Japanese theater troupe visiting Washington, CD, and became convinced that “laughter has no accent,” and that this method could be used worldwide, even among people with major language barriers.

  • An order of cloistered nuns now uses Steve's methods as part of their recreation and exercise program. Steve has taught them in two of their 20 convents worldwide.

  • With the support of an Army Reserve Colonel at the Pentagon, through the network Family Readiness Groups, the method is being incorporated into the gamut of support options to bring important coping skills to the families of military personnel who are deployed to active duty.

  • The Laughter Arts and Science Foundation was developed to provide scholarships and other supports to disseminate education, research, and information about applied therapeutic laughter, including the role of both the arts and sciences.

  • WLT created and hosted the First International Symposium on Laughter (May 2003, Orlando, FL); the next will be held in conjunction with the Canadian Humour Summit in Windsor, Ontario,  April 2005.

  • The first USA Laughter Club in a nursing home was established in Canton, Ohio, and then the first club in an elementary school in the same city, and an intergenerational club, too, thanks to Peggy Stabholtz and Nancy Engle.

  • With the help of a good friend and champion of mental health and world peace, Lenore Schneiderman, WLT created the only college-affiliated professionally accredited training program, which has produced a growing cadre of competent, trained, dedicated Certified Laughter Leaders.

  • Radio, television, and print interviews and appearance too numerous to mention.

  • The inauguration of USA Laughter Clubs in cities across the country.

  • The coordination and dissemination of laughter information around the world.

  • The development, production, and distribution of books, tapes and other resources for laughter clubs.

  • In May of 2001, WLT produced the first-ever United States celebration of World Laughter Day, in New York City.

  • In March 2005, the Certified Laughter Leader training program designed by Wilson became approved for professional continuing education by the National boards of nurses, psychologists, social workers, activity therapists, counselors, and marriage & family therapists, making the training the first-ever to achieve such status, as well as the most fun a any of the professionals can have while getting credit for it!
     

  • In 2007. Steve Wilson was selected to be the recipient of Rire d'Or, The Golden Laughter award, from the French School of Laughter. Awarded once annually to an individual who has been a significant influence in promoting the value of laughter internationally.
     

  • In 2008, Steve Wilson was selected to become only the second Director of National Humor Month (April), founded in 1986 by Larry Wilde. This meant a larger sphere of positive influence for promoting the appreciation and value of humor and laughter.
     

  • In 2009, the 2-day standard workshop curriculum was incorporated into a 30-hour 3-credit course, "Therapeutic Laughter", offered twice a year as an elective in the  Human Services Division of Columbus State Community College (Ohio).
     

  • Steve Wilson is the 2010 recipient of the Doug Fletcher Lifetime Achievement award from the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor.

What Now? What Next?

We want to get YOU laughing, maybe even get you to organize or lead a Laughter Club. What we are about is changing the face of the world, one smile and laugh at a time. There is a lot to do. This website opens the doors for you to learn about the amazing and amusing powers of laughter. Walk through these doors and you will achieve better health, find more compassion through the Spirit of Laughter and sensible living, and enjoy your life more. WLT is a dynamic, growing organization, helping to weave together a laughter movement whose time has come. We invite you to join us at whatever level is most comfortable for you. Then, tell your friends, families, neighbors, and co-workers, and let’s get the world laughing as never before.

Our Aims:

  • To create awareness of new techniques of therapeutic laughter all over the world, by setting up Laughter Clubs and imparting practical training in various techniques of laughter. Thus, we can help to cultivate the spirit of laughter by understanding ways and means of sensible living and putting them into practice through laughter.

  • To understand how laughter therapy methods may have to be modified in order to be effective in various cultures, and to share that information.

  • To recognize the websites of other individuals and organizations that support the aims and philosophies of WLT and LCI. We will do this through creation of a website award to be bestowed on deserving honorees.

  • To publish books, manuals, newsletters, videocassettes, CDs and other information on Laughter Therapy.

  • To bring people of various countries together and promote events that bring everlasting peace through laughter.

  • To create a membership-based organization for the support of WLT as a self-sustaining organization.

  • To disseminate accredited training around the world, and to develop models for advance training using traditional educational methods as well as modern technological innovations, such as distance learning.

  • To develop a cadre of competent accredited trainers who will train and certify Laughter Leaders.

  • To promote Laughter Clubs in public places that can be free and open to everyone.

  • To promote the installation of laughter therapy programming in every long-term care facility in the United States, as well as in schools, government, and workplaces, as an effective, reputable, professional program, on a fee-for-service basis wherever it is appropriate.

  • To create a professional association for accredited Laughter Leaders and providers of therapeutic laughter programs, to enhance credibility, and spread the access to these methods around the world.

  • To foster international conferences, meetings, and symposia on the therapeutic benefits of laughter, laughter methods, and to foster research and the sharing of research findings.
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