Laughter IS Medicine

laughing eyes

I bet you smiled when you saw this–I know I did. Laughter is contagious.

Most people don’t think about therapy as a funny space. But, in my office, it often is. Not because I have stand-up skills (I don’t). But because sometimes there is a layer of absurdity wrapped up in the painful parts of life. And if you can find that absurdity, then you can laugh. And laughing reminds us that there is more to life than pain. Even laughter that ends in the release of tears begins with an acknowledgement of the silly, contradictory, demanding, nonsensical experiences of daily life–especially life with illness.

Blogger Anne Marie Ciccarella (@chemobrainfog on Twitter) pointed this out in the tweetchat I did with the #BCSM (Breast Cancer and Social Media) community about coping with cancer during the holidays when she said:

Last bit of advice: Don’t forget to laugh! If the tree is lopsided, LAUGH… if the cookies are overdone, LAUGH… #bcsm

Laughing is our connection with that space inside us that is hopeful, playful, childlike and fun. Laughter is a way to stand in the shadow of something dark and scary like cancer and claim our own slice of silliness and light. Finding the space to laugh means that we are finding space in the face of something that felt like it was too big to contemplate.

I use humor in therapy to help my clients understand how choosing to shift focus to something a big “lighter” can broaden their horizons. There is an interesting “permission” to laugh that can happen when I open that door.

Laughter can get tricky though. Sometimes, laughter is intended to mock instead of to heal. It’s felt as exclusive, or unkind. A quick joke might serve as a way to avoid a painful topic–even if that is an important discussion to have. And sometimes, as discussed in this #BCSM chat on humor, what makes you laugh may seem dark to someone else. While I use humor often, I am much more cautious about how it is applied in early sessions–until I get to know someone better. And even then, I use humor with an awareness that it can be a double-edged sword.

This may mean that you need to spend some time checking in with yourself before you use laughter as part of your self-care. Are you finding things to laugh about that promote your own healing and growth, or does your laughter have an angry edge?

Dark humor can be appropriate too–it may serve as a stress relief. No one else can determine what’s helpful to you or what’s over your line. You’re allowed to use whatever tools help you focus and stay healthy–even if others would pick a different tool.

So, whether you go in for silly cat pictures, painful YouTube videos, snarky web comics, satire, dark humor, or another flavor, I hope that you find something to laugh about. And I hope you share it with us, in the comments.


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