In many ways, laughter is a phenomenon that we still know very little about. The question of why we laugh, for example, is still generally considered unsettled. There is no clear consensus, and researchers have yet to definitively answer the question of why we laugh (Louie, Brook, & Frates, 2016).
While the exact origins and causes of laughter remain obscure, however, research has been shedding light on the many benefits of laughter, both psychological and physiological, as well as its possible role in wellness.
If you have an interest in wellness counselling, understanding the benefits of laughter and its role in a person’s overall wellbeing can be of incredible value to your clients, your wellness counselling practice, and even yourself.
Laughter Has Important Psychological Benefits
Laughter has been shown to provide a host of psychological benefits, including improving cognition, reducing stress and anxiety, counteracting symptoms of depression, encouraging creativity, and of course, improving mood (Brown & Johannson, 2011).
One study examining the therapeutic effects of laughter on community care workers (Hatzipapas, Visser, & van Rensburg, 2017), for example, showed that after attending daily “laughter therapy” sessions for one month, participants reported more positive emotions and positive coping, improved interpersonal relationships, and even improvement in their care work. Questionnaire data also suggested participants experienced lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Students in wellness counselling training should know that laughter can be particularly important in managing stress, as it has nearly the opposite effect on the body and mind, stopping the release of stress hormones like cortisol, and triggering the production of mood-elevating neurochemicals like dopamine (Heid, 2014).
Laughter Can Also Have a Positive Impact on Physical Health
Laughter has been shown not only to have positive psychological benefits, but physiological benefits as well. One recent study (Yoshikawa et al., 2018), for example, showed that laughter therapy using stand-up comedy as a stimulus improved several important measures of health for older subjects. The effects included a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure and heart rate, as well as an increase in plasma concentration of serotonin.
Other positive physical benefits associated with laughter include a reduction in tension, stress hormones, and the risk of heart disease, as well as a boost to the immune system and an increase in pain tolerance (Brown & Johannson, 2011).
Using Laughter Therapeutically After Your Wellness Counselling Training
Given the many benefits of laughter for both body and mind, it is no surprise that many researchers and counsellors have explored the use of laughter in a therapeutic context.
For those interested in becoming a wellness counsellor, laughter can also improve the counsellor-client relationship and encourage a more positive and open environment, as shared laughter can help convey a measure of trust and light-heartedness between a wellness counsellor and their client (Louie, Brook, & Frates, 2016). Studies have also suggested that laughter might increase people’s willingness to disclose personal information (Gray, Parkinson, & Dunbar, 2015). Wellness counsellors should be careful when employing humour or laughter, however, as there are some situations where it may not be beneficial or appropriate.
Clients could use laughter as a defense mechanism to avoid difficult issues or to mask discomfort, and inappropriate laughter from a wellness counsellor could create awkward or hurtful situations for the client (Howes, 2013). Still, the benefits of laughter are well-documented, and by learning to encourage laughter in a healthy and positive way, wellness counsellors can bring their clients a range of valuable benefits.
Are you interested in training for a career in wellness counselling?
Contact Rhodes College for more information about our Wellness Counsellor Diploma program!
Brown, A.D., & Johannson, E. (2011, Sept 2). The Benefits of Laughter. Retrieved from https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/the-benefits-of-laughter/
Gray, A.W., Parkinson, B., & Dunbar R.I. (2015). Laughter’s influence on the intimacy of self-disclosure. Human Nature, 26(1), 28-43. doi:10.1007/s12110-015-9225-8.
Hatzipapas, I., Visser, M. J., & Janse van Rensburg, E. (2017). Laughter therapy as an intervention to promote psychological well-being of volunteer community care workers working with HIV-affected families. SAHARA J : journal of Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research Alliance, 14(1), 202-212. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5706473/
Heid, Markham (2014, Nov 19). You Asked: Does Laughing Have Real Health Benefits? Retrieved from http://time.com/3592134/laughing-health-benefits/
Howes, R. (2013, Dec 31). Laughter in Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/in-therapy/201312/laughter-in-therapy
Louie, D., Brook, K., & Frates, E. (2016). The Laughter Prescription: A Tool for Lifestyle Medicine. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 10(4), 262-267. doi:10.1177/1559827614550279. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6125057/#bibr4-1559827614550279
Yoshikawa, Y., Ohmaki, E., Kawahata, H., Maekawa, Y., Ogihara, T., Morishita, R., & Aoki, M. (2018). Beneficial effect of laughter therapy on physiological and psychological function in elders. Nursing open, 6(1), 93-99. doi:10.1002/nop2.190. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6279721/