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IS A LAUGHTER CLUB? By Steve Wilson (click here)
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
Womens 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.
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
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
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
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
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 Steves
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.
You Start A World Laughter Tour?
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.
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
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.
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
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.
You Get A World Laughter Tour On The Road?
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
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 werent 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 others 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
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
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
been no looking back since India and the USA lecture tour, mainly
because there hasnt 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
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.
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.
maintains the website as an international clearinghouse for
information, ideas, and activities of interest and importance to
the laughter movement.
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
Donations are tax-deductible in the USA.
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.
now has a presence in many countries, with dedicated
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.
2003 & 2004 World Laughter Day celebrations were conducted
by Certified Laughter Leaders in more than 25 cities in North
than 5,000 people have completed the training workshop,
"How to Create Therapeutic Laughter".
the internet for an experimental distance learning program, Steve
has trained a laughter leader in South Africa and another in Israel.
leaders have come to take Steve's training from many countries,
including Chile, England, Australia, Iceland, the Philippines,
Mexico, Scotland, South Korea, and Canada.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
Certified Laughter Leaders.
television, and print interviews and appearance too numerous to
inauguration of USA Laughter Clubs in cities across the country.
coordination and dissemination of laughter information around
development, production, and distribution of books, tapes and
other resources for laughter clubs.
May of 2001, WLT produced the first-ever United States celebration of
World Laughter Day, in New
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!
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
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.
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
Wilson is the 2010 recipient of the Doug Fletcher Lifetime
Achievement award from the
Applied and Therapeutic Humor.
Now? What Next?
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 lets get the world
laughing as never before.
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
understand how laughter therapy methods may have to be modified
in order to be effective in various cultures, and to share that
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
publish books, manuals, newsletters, videocassettes, CDs and
other information on Laughter Therapy.
bring people of various countries together and promote events
that bring everlasting peace through laughter.
create a membership-based organization for the support of WLT as
a self-sustaining organization.
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
develop a cadre of
competent accredited trainers who will train
and certify Laughter Leaders.
promote Laughter Clubs in public places that can be free and
open to everyone.
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
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.
foster international conferences, meetings, and symposia on the
therapeutic benefits of laughter, laughter methods, and to
foster research and the sharing of research findings.