If you're living with a chronic illness, you're in the right place.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Humor and Chronic Illness

12:30 PM Posted by Stephanie Horgan , , ,
Anyone remember the show Candid Camera? I was an avid viewer as a kid, and once I was diagnosed with a chronic illness, I took advantage of their "Laughter Therapy" program. They send four videotapes of Candid Camera shows (hopefully DVDs now) one-by-one to patients with illnesses who can use a laugh. Now-a-days, there are so many options to watch comedy on-demand, whether it is on your DVR or streaming from a source like Netflix. Regardless of where you get your comedy, there is something therapeutic about laughing.

Recently I came across an article about how patients and doctors are drawing upon their experiences and writing comics about what they have been through. One artist who works in graphic medicine, Emily Haworth-Booth described her work eloquently. She said, "You can also manipulate and change something on the page, more easily than something that’s inside your own body. You can draw the pain, as a big black cloud perhaps, and then you can draw it again, but smaller, and smaller again, until it’s gone." Comic strips can be a way to name what has happened to you, and to bring healing through creating, reading, and sharing through art. There was also a recent conference at Johns Hopkins where the increasing and varied use of graphic arts was the focus. The power of laughter and comics in reaching patients is getting more and more attention for good reason.

When working with cancer patients, the topics in therapy can get pretty intense. I have found that being able to balance the intensity with laughter lets me build tremendous rapport with patients. Even the American Cancer Society website suggests laughter can ease symptoms. They say, "Available scientific evidence does not support humor as an effective treatment for cancer or any other disease; however, laughter has many benefits, including positive physical changes and an overall sense of well-being. One study found the use of humor led to an increase in pain tolerance. It is thought laughter causes the release of special neurotransmitter substances in the brain called endorphins that help control pain. Another study found that neuroendocrine and stress-related hormones decreased during episodes of laughter. These findings provide support for the claim that humor can relieve stress. More studies are needed to clarify the impact of laughter on health."

Here at Oak Park Behavioral Medicine, we enjoy a good laugh, so please feel free to send along any chronic illness stories, comics, or quotes, that we can add to our collections. And now go get laughing!