By Alison Palkhivala
—Heritage Home residential treatment center for addiction is breaking new ground by incorporating laughter therapy into their comprehensive therapeutic program. Laughter therapy boosts endorphin production and helps those suffering from addiction find joy and humor again, without resorting to drugs. Laughter and humor are being used worldwide to treat pain, addiction, depression, anxiety, stress, and other disorders.
Can you cackle away your cravings? Guffaw away your jonesing? As any addict can tell you, escaping drug and alcohol dependence is not that easy, but this doesn’t mean laughter can’t play a healing role.
At Heritage Home, a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located near Montreal, Quebec, laughter therapy is proving to be a powerful salve for addicts who may otherwise feel themselves to be in a very dark place.
Laughter therapy is gaining popularity as a treatment for depression, anxiety, stress, and even physical pain. Evidence of its effectiveness is mounting. In one study, women were able to tolerate the pain of having their hand submerged in ice cold water for longer if they watched a funny movie first. Psychologist Paul McGee of Laughter Remedy in Wilmington, DE has developed a humor training program that is being picked up worldwide as a way to manage stress and depression. A recent Swiss study has demonstrated that humor training combined with medication helps improve life satisfaction among elderly depressed patients.
Learning to Laugh Again
At Heritage Home’s 6-week Laughter Workshop, “we go from one person to another and go ‘hah, hah, hah, hee, hee, hee’,” explains Heritage Home director and addiction expert Catherine Cosgrove. “At first it feels like it’s forced because it is artificial. But if you’ve got 12 people doing this [soon] it’s not forced anymore. By the time you come back to the 12th person for the second time around, they’re really laughing.”
But that’s only one part of the Workshop. It also involves stretching and other physical exercise as well as skits and role playing that help participants turn ordinary or potentially stressful situations into funny ones.
The Workshop is led by “laughologist” Albert Nerenberg. An expert on the therapeutic effects of laughter, Nerenberg says, “I believe that laughter is itself a language and the primary positive form of communication between people. It is a powerful way to reach people who might be otherwise unreachable. Because laughter is naturally contagious, it can be used to affect people who would otherwise be withdrawn. Laughter causes powerful de-stressing and calming changes in people and can elevate mood.”
Getting High without Drugs
Both Nerenberg and Cosgrove were impressed with the results of the Laughter Workshop. “The therapeutic aspect that I was interested in was, can we get [addicts] to find a way to increase those endorphins, to increase that sense of well-being that they used to get from the euphoria of their drug usage?” says Cosgrove.
Nerenberg is convinced they did just that. Many addiction experts assert that cocaine addicts cannot produce natural mood-elevating and pain-fighting endorphins without cocaine. Still, Nerenberg has been able to get cocaine addicts to comfortably hold otherwise painful martial arts positions simply by inducing intense laughter beforehand.
Act Happy, be Happy
Cosgrove points out that laughter therapy fits in with the Alcoholics Anonymous slogan of “fake it till you make it.” Pretending to be happy can actually help elevate mood, and laughter therapy provides addicts with an easy technique to cheer themselves. Laughter is free, and the technique requires no assistance from experts, tools, or medications.
She is also enthusiastic about adding laughter to her comprehensive treatment program because most other aspects of the treatment of addiction can sometimes feel pretty harsh. “When clients first come to see us, they’re often just starting on their road to recovery, and they aren’t yet able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They usually come in with a long history of loss: lost friendships, lost jobs, lost personal relationships, lost opportunities. For these people, treatment can at first seem to be very heavy; it can be very painful; it can be very sad. It’s amazing how a little laughter can lighten their mood and help them gain perspective.”
Nerenberg wholeheartedly agrees. He was moved by his experience at Heritage Home, “It was really inspiring to see recovering addicts who had been sobbing inconsolably earlier that day laughing tears of joy,” he says.
The Laughter Workshop also played in nicely with the already established Happiness Workshop offered by Heritage Home. This Workshop is about how changing perceptions and beliefs can help change mood. Actions such as doing good deeds for others and cultivating spirituality can actually offer mood benefits.
“The number one thing that makes laughter therapy so intriguing is that it seems to be able to get people liking themselves again,” says Nerenberg. For an addict, that can be a welcome gift, indeed.
About Heritage Home
Heritage Home is an alcohol and drug rehab center located in a serene and restful environment approximately 10 minutes from the US border and 1 hour from scenic Montreal, Canada. At Heritage Home, we provide a personal, unique and successful approach to emotional healing and sobriety. We offer specialized care and an alternative to 12-step programs, with a holistic approach to recovery that focuses on the body mind and spirit. Sobriety is maintained because Heritage Home not only treats addiction issues but the person as a whole.
Author: Alison Palkhivala, Heritage Home Drug &; Alcohol Treatment Center