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Laughter therapy

“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” – E. E. Cummings

What is laughter therapy?

We were born with the gift of laughter. Laughter is a natural medicine. It lifts our spirits and makes us feel happy. Laughter is a contagious emotion. It can bring people together. It can help us feel more alive and empowered.

Laughter therapy, also called humor therapy, is the use of humor to promote overall health and wellness. It aims to use the natural physiological process of laughter to help relieve physical or emotional stresses or discomfort.

Research supporting laughter therapy

A growing body of research supports the theory that laughter may have therapeutic value.

For years, the use of humor has been used in medicine. Surgeons used humor to distract patients from pain as early as the 13th century. Later, in the 20th century, came the scientific study of the effect of humor on physical wellness. Many credit this to Norman Cousins. After years of prolonged pain from a serious illness, Cousins claims to have cured himself with a self-invented regimen of laughter and vitamins. In his 1979 book Anatomy of an Illness, Cousins describes how watching comedic movies helped him recover.

Over the years, researchers have conducted studies to explore the impact of laughter on health. After evaluating participants before and after a humorous event (i.e., a comedy video), studies have revealed that episodes of laughter helped to reduce pain, decrease stress-related hormones and boost the immune system in participants.

Today more than ever before, people are turning to humor for therapy and healing. Medical journals have acknowledged that laughter therapy can help improve quality of life for patients with chronic illnesses. Many hospitals now offer laughter therapy programs as a complementary treatment to illness.

The healing power of laughter

For people living with cancer, it may seem strange to find humor when facing such serious issues. Yet, laughter can be helpful in ways you might not have realized or imagined.

Laughter can help you feel better about yourself and the world around you. Laughter can be a natural diversion. When you laugh, no other thought comes to mind. Laughing can also induce physical changes in the body. After laughing for only a few minutes, you may feel better for hours.

When used in addition to conventional cancer treatments, laughter therapy may help in the overall healing process.

According to some studies, laughter therapy may provide physical benefits, such as helping to:

  • Boost the immune system and circulatory system
  • Enhance oxygen intake
  • Stimulate the heart and lungs
  • Relax muscles throughout the body
  • Trigger the release of endorphins (the body’s natural painkillers)
  • Ease digestion/soothes stomach aches
  • Relieve pain
  • Balance blood pressure
  • Improve mental functions (i.e., alertness, memory, creativity)

Laughter therapy may also help to:

  • Improve overall attitude
  • Reduce stress/tension
  • Promote relaxation
  • Improve sleep
  • Enhance quality of life
  • Strengthen social bonds and relationships
  • Produce a general sense of well-being

Laughter therapy at CTCA

At Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), we fight cancer using an integrative approach. Our Mind-Body Medicine Department offers supportive options, including laughter therapy, to help you cope as you receive conventional cancer treatments.

Laughter therapy strives to help you use and enjoy laughter as a tool for healing. Dr. Katherine Puckett, National Director of Mind-Body Medicine at CTCA, first introduced laughter therapy to Midwestern Regional Medical Center upon a patient's request.

CTCA offers humor therapy sessions, also known as Laughter Clubs or humor groups, to help cancer patients and their families use and enjoy laughter as a tool for healing. These leader-led groups take patients through a number of laugh-related exercises including fake laughter and laughter greetings.

Laughter Club is based not on humor or jokes, but rather on laughter as a physical exercise. One group laughter exercise involves patients standing in a circle, with the leader in the middle. Patients put their fingertips on their cheekbones, chest or lower abdomen and make “ha ha” or “hee hee” sounds until they felt vibrations through their bodies. Dr. Puckett says during these exercises, it is hard for people not to join in because laughter is so contagious.

According to Dr. Puckett, at the end of a laughter therapy session, patients have said things like "I didn't even think about cancer during Laughter Club" and "That felt great! Things have been so hard that we hadn't laughed in months." Dr. Puckett adds that, just recently, the eight-year-old daughter of a CTCA patient who attended Laughter Club said afterwards: "I never thought about laughing everyday, but now I realize I can. Like even when I don't feel happy, I can still laugh and feel better."

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