Monday February 20th 2017

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Laughter as addiction treatment

By Louise A. Stanger Ed.D, LCSW, CDWF, CIP

Laughter as addiction medicine?

Are you an addiction treatment provider looking for new ways to engage patients? Here, we take a look at how laughter can aid practitioners in treating addiction…by relating and sharing special moments! Plus, 12 new ideas on how you can incorporate laughter to your addiction treatment program.

More here on the physical and mental health benefits of laughter, with a section at the end for your comments or questions. In fact, we try to respond to all real-life questions personally and promptly! Send us your thoughts…or make us laugh!

Where has all the laughter gone?

It’s award season in Hollywood. All the stars are adorned with glitter and designer finery and coming together to promote themselves and their art. This year I wonder where did all the laughter go?

In the cadre of awards chatter movies, from Manchester by the Sea to Fences, Moonlight, Hacksaw Ridge, Arrival, Lion and Hidden Figures, the lauded movies portray a world of unmeasurable grief. Themes of:

  • addiction
  • devastation
  • death
  • racism

…and ultimately redemption and recognition resonate on the screen in these stories. Perhaps as a professional who deals with sudden death, grief, loss, addiction, family enmeshment, mental health disorders, and rapid life style changes…. I wonder where has all the laughter gone? How did we lose humor in the equation of life experience?

What is true laughter?

Merriam Webster defines laughter as:
“…the mental faculty of discovering, expressing or appreciating the ludicrous or absurdly incongruous. The ability to be funny or amused by things that are funny.”

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If distressed thoughts can raise the temperature on the physical effects anxiety and depression have on your body, then humor does the opposite: A whooping laugh makes you feel better!

How can laughter aid your addiction recovery?

Laughter is more than just brightening up your day. In fact, sharing a good laugh can improve your health. Laughter is shown to:

  • reduce stress
  • reduce anxiety
  • reduce depression
  • strengthen your immune system

Additionally, since a belly full of laughs is a universal human feeling, it connects you to those around you, keeps you in the present, helps you release anger, and conjures feelings of compassion for others.

If we stop and think for a moment, laughter can be the best medicine. Here are the physiological benefits of a good laugh:

  1. Relaxes your whole body
  2. Triggers release of endorphins
  3. Protects the heart
  4. Burns Calories (people burn 20% more calories while laughing)
  5. Lightens feelings of anger
  6. May help you live longer

Other physical benefits of laughter include:

  1. Lowers stress hormones
  2. Decreases pain
  3. Relaxes your muscles
  4. Prevents heart disease

The benefits of relating through laughing!

When laughter plays into our emotions, it brings us into the community of others; the feeling of loneliness is no more. Socially shared laughter is an effective strategy to keeping relationships fresh. Think about how all the TV sitcoms use laughter tracks to draw us in. Laughter in solitude is great, however, the shared impact of a group of laughter seems to be better. As such, laughter in this arena can be used to engage others.
You cannot laugh unless you are in relationship with another. Laughter allows one to be spontaneous in an instant gratification way. You can:

  • Let go of defenses!
  • Be silly!
  • Express your true feelings!
  • Let your inner child out!

Maybe that is why Snapchat has become popular … it allows one to be silly in community to put a funny nose or rabbit ears on one’s head.

How can you bring laughter into addiction treatment?

As a behavioral health care specialist, it’s important as an individual provider or even as a treatment center to bring laughter into the conversation. Here are 12 ideas to get you started:

1. What was the funniest thing that ever happened to you? Today – Yesterday – This week – Your life? This may open a new way of exploring past embarrassments.

2. Show a funny movie to residents and process.

3. Use cartoons or the funny pages. Rabbi Abraham J Terski is a psychiatrist and a prolific addiction specialist with well over 30 publications. His use of Peanuts cartoons to instruct and to help us learn is noteworthy. (Waking Up Just In Time and When do the Good Things Start) are just a few examples of the power of cartoons.

4. Encourage clients to seek out people with a sense of humor.

5. Try sharing a funny story with clients from your own life. Or, create a base of YouTube videos or humor based storytelling podcasts that you can refer clients to.

6. Play with a pet. Look into implementing animal therapy in your program.

7. Provide Laughter Yoga Classes!

8. Provide Drumming Classes!

9. Provide Dancing Classes!

10. Run laughter therapy groups.

11. Make time in your addiction treatment program for outdoor or fun activities that lead to laughter – karaoke, bowling, miniature golfing, ropes courses, scavenger hunts, hiking, fishing, board games …just to name a few.

12. Let your imaginations soar on how to bring laughter in!

Life has many challenges. The clients we serve in the behavioral health care field including families, friends and loved ones have many ways of bemoaning their lot. They get in the car and travel down:

  • Martyrdom Lane
  • Resentment Way
  • Grief Highway

When this happens, levity and laughter will neither diminish the problem or allow for denial. Instead, a good laugh opens the opportunity to look at the problem from a new perspective and to play with the human feelings of hope and inspiration, leading to healing and transformation.

Please write and share what ways you bring laughter into your life? What ways do you bring laughter into your behavioral health care centers?

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About the Author: LOUISE STANGER Ed.D, LCSW, CWDF, CIP – speaker, educator, clinician, and interventionist – uses an invitational intervention approach with complicated mental health, substance abuse, chronic pain and process addiction clients.
Louise publishes in the Huffington Post, Journal of Alcohol Studies, The Sober World, Recovery Campus ,Addiction Blog and other media. The San Diego Business Journal listed her as one of the “Top 10 Women Who Mean Business” and is considered by Quit Alcohol as one of the Top 10 Interventionists in the country. She speaks all over the country and trains staff at Paradigm Malibu, New Found Life , Lifeskills etc. and develops original Family programs such as the one at Driftwood Recovery in Austin Texas. She is the recipient of the 2014 Foundations Fan Favorite Speaker Award and the 2016 Joseph L. Galletta Spirit of Recovery Award. She is honored to be part of Vendome Summits’ for Clinical Excellence this year doing keynotes across the United States and also being part of Foundation Recovery Network conferences. Her book Falling Up: A Memoir of Renewal is available on Amazon and Learn to Thrive: An Intervention Handbook on her website at www.allaboutinterventions.com.

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