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More than 50 years ago that I decided that the best therapy for me to practice is W.W. – Whatever Works!

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Me, in my grad school office (broom closet with window), Temple U, 1962.

After graduate school (1963) I discovered that, although I had studied many ‘schools’ of therapy (Freud, Perls, Ellis, Satir, Skinner, Maslow, Adler, Moreno, EST, encounter groups, Psychodrama, sensitivity training, therapeutic community, and more) I could not reproduce results the way their founders could. Specializing in just one type of therapy did not work for me.

I was most effective at counseling and psychotherapy when my own personality came through a blend of methods that I could tailor to meet the needs of each individual. My practice became eclectic and pragmatic, and thanks to my own therapy with Dr. Lee Spade (of blessed memory), I was encouraged to incorporate a generous portion of strategic humor.

Inspired in 1984 by Dr. Joel Goodman, my fascination with the potential for therapeutic humor led me to develop tools such as the “Humor History” and “Humor Assignments” that led clients to better understandings of their families, their personalities, and bolstered self-esteem and the self-confidence to keep their funny sides up. They learned novel tools for re-framing difficulties in their lives, for finding emotional balance and, often, they found that they could function better by using the creative expression of their lighter side.

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From Dr. William Glasser I learned the importance to healing of the personal relationship. From Dr. Gerald Jampolsky I learned what love had to do with it. From neuroscientists I learned what our brains have to do with it. From Dr. Joel Goodman I learned what humor had to do with mental health.

Many years later (1998) my practice of W.W. therapy made for an easy transition to laughter therapy.

Fast forward to Act Resilient (2012), in which I see the trend in funny therapies as a parallel development to integrative medicine. A zeitgeist (spirit of the times) is at work here. And it is a good thing, too, because as much as related programs may have proliferated over the past dozen years, ‘funny therapies’, i.e., laughter-humor-play-based therapies, are still in short supply. More of them are needed.

My vision is that there will be at least one qualified laughter therapist is every long-term care facility in North America. To achieve that goal, we would need to train 75,000 individuals. We need to train 3,000-5,000 for hospitals, 100,000 for public schools, and untold thousands more for businesses. And then the rest of the world. I’ve got my work cut out for the 50 years 🙂

Imagine us getting closer and closer to those goals. What a wonderful world it would be! Applied and therapeutic humor and laughter are necessary to health and well-being but they are not sufficient. We added Good-Hearted Living™ long ago. And, we have been adding activities from music, games, art, stand-up, neurobics, guided imagery, and affirmation, to our method right along. In our Advanced Workshops we study the expanded role and applications of a various activities and interventions.

Countless individuals have worked for many years to overcome the resistance to humor-as-therapy, gradually carving out a path to acceptance of programs that come from the rubric of applied and therapeutic humor.

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Norman Cousins

There are too many trailblazing pioneers of funny therapies to mention them all here, but as I type these words, in my mind I hear the roll-call: Adams, Allen, Anderson, Berk, Buxman, Cousins, Crane, DeKoven, Dunkelblau, Fry, Gessell, Goodheart, Goodman, Hegesteth, Klein, McGhee, Metcalf, Moody, Passanisi, Provine, Robinson, Ruch, Seligman, Stephenson, Stewart, Weinstein, Wilde, Wooten… and many, many others from whom we have been able to draw and integrate a multidisciplinary menu of activities, theories, philosophy, and methods. As you read this, dozens of people around the world are working for the same cause. Many of them are doing their work quietly and out of the spotlight. I am searching for them. I will bring them to you.

Years ago, Dr. Dale Anderson, Roseville, MN, taught us “J’ARMing”. Do you remember that? Blending the stagecraft methods of successful actors with the sweeping gestures of orchestra conductors (and there is a longevity study of conductors), he taught us that there is a connection between ‘acting-as-if’ and achieving positive change. He had us all engaging in conductor-like motions as exercise to ‘conduct ourselves well.” His book about his belief in acting-as-if for successful aging, is “Never Act Your Age.” You might also like a book that answers the question “Why Do Music Conductors Live into Their 90’S?”.

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J’ARMing personified.

One wonders whether the term Therapeutic Laughter may now have become too narrow and limiting. Is it time for a new name for these therapeutic processes, treatments, and practices for health and well-being that are taking many forms now? Evolving from traditional therapies and treatments which had historically been the exclusive domain of physicians, with relative speed we’ve moved from traditional medicine to alternative to complementary to complementary & alternative to integrative.

Trending in the marketplace of well-being from medical and non-medical treatments and psychotherapies is a wider acceptance of ‘funny therapies’ such as laughter therapy, therapeutic humor, laughter yoga, playshops, and even ‘fun conspiracies’. These interventions are purposely designed to be highly enjoyable, typically producing peals of laughter from participants along with claims of a variety of benefits in health, well-being, productivity, and resilience. This variety-based menu looks to me to be very much like what has come to called integrative medicine.  An excellent balanced overview of integrative medicine can be found on Wikipedia, “Proponents of integrative medicine say that the impetus for the adoption of integrative medicine stems in part from the fact that an increasing percentage of the population is consulting complementary medicine practitioners…In addition, some patients may seek help from outside the medical mainstream for difficult-to-treat clinical conditions, such as fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome…A primary issue is whether alternative practices have been objectively tested.” (Italics and underline added.)

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It seems to me that the consumer will be best served (1) by ongoing research on these methods and (2) by having access to a variety of ways to shop for them. Some individuals benefit from talking therapy and/or taking medication, yet these may turn out to be among the least effective methods, slow and far from cost-effective. Many more people could be reached through large ‘warehouse stores’ for multi-disciplinary one-stop shopping; others will prefer supermarkets, small specialty shops, roadside stands, direct-sales parties, or artisnal boutiques, to meet their needs. And, with the proliferation of smart phones and digital technology, some researchers envision a digital-age approach on the horizon that can provide individualized attention while simultaneously reaching hundreds of thousands of individuals at a cost of pennies per person: “…the self-administered nature of PAIs [Positive Activity Interventions] allows for potentially wide and cost-effective distribution of the treatment.” (Italics added.)

I have been wondering about the future of this field. Where is it headed? How will it evolve? Who will nurture that evolution? It is important that the field remain cooperative and collaborative. We will be held back if various programs compete to be the single perfect solution, trying knock out the others.

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The future is bright.

The next generation of laughter leaders are professional and dedicated. When I see new programs like the Starfish projects endorsed by the Laughter Arts and Sciences Foundation (501.c.3), I am enthused.  I see opportunities for collaboration. I see us tightening and strengthening the network of kindred programs. I imagine us reaching a critical mass in which historically resistant attitudes relent or make a U-turn, making applied humor and laughter and play-based programs as routine as aspirin and band-aids. My red nose is aglow with joyful optimism that the future is bright.

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