Is humor beneficial to the process of healing and the health care profession? Within the community of medicine as a profession, this has been a well-debated question for many decades. Several different authors have shown that humor has made a direct positive impact on a number of different physiological aspects in people. In 2002, Martin suggested that laughter could increase immunity, improve respiration and decrease stress (p.216). The use of humor in healing can also have positive psychological outcomes in people.
In 2002, Rosner wrote that one of his patients reported that by having ten minutes of laughter during the day would allow him to have a pain free sleep at night (p.435). Furthermore, it has been documented that humor can improve communication between people, thus building better relationships, which allows for a better patient-professional relationship. Bennet states that when patients feel connected to their medical professionals through communication, they are more satisfied with the care, thus more likely to follow the professional’s direction (p.1258). The use of humor in healing has several different valuable attributes on a person’s experience in dealing with this process.
The use of humor within the healing process can be very therapeutic to the patient. Several authors have shown that humor has positive effects on the psychological aspects of individuals undergoing the healing process. Rosner (2002) states, “Humor, mirth and laughter have numerous psychological effects involving the muscular, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, immune and central nervous systems” (p.434). Other authors have also demonstrated that laughter and humor have positive effects on the psychological changes within a person’s body.
Martin (2002) wrote, “laughter exercises relax muscles, improves respiration, stimulates circulation, increases the production of pain-killing endorphins, decreases the production of stress-related hormones and enhances immunity” (p.216). Another study found that when patients in a controlled group viewed comical movies, their need for pain-killing medication decreased. However, the decrease was only noted in the group that was allowed control over the movie they viewed, which suggested that patients needed to have some ability to chose their personal preference of humor (Bennet, 2003).
Another therapeutic use of humor in the healing process involves the psychological effects of the person. Several studies have shown that people involved in the healing process can obtain positive psychological results from humor. One such study states, that laughing may help the pain by distracting a persons attention from it by reducing stress and changing clients expectations (Rosner, 2002). Other authors have found that humor does not make a person live longer, however individuals with a greater sense of humor report less symptoms of illnesses and medical problems hence their view on their quality of life is enhanced (Martin, 2002). One article demonstrates from a patient’s perspective, the positive effects that humor had on their psychological well being while healing from cancer.
Shlien and Wachs (2000) stated that instead of using denial as a coping method to deal with cancer they used humor. They state that the use of humor throughout their healing process allowed them to endure their most difficult and trying times. It has been found that laughter does not cure the illness but helps the patient to cope with the suffering by changing their state of mind at problematic times while enabling the patient to feel at ease. Laughter has also been shown to be an effective tool for emotional support (Rosner, 2002).
The therapeutic use of humor in the healing process can also be effective within the communication between a patient and their health care professional. The ability to laugh with patients can demonstrate a sign of good rapport between the health care professional and patient. Through the use of humor, patients have stated that they are more effectively able to communicate their discomfort with the care they receive, their frustration involving their health and other things associated with their illness (Bennet, 2003). During a personal interview (See Appendix A) with a man who has been a nurse for 40 years, Glenford Kelly (personal communication, February 3, 2005) stated that the use of humor in communication can ” help me in my work as a nurse because it allows me to connect with the patients. It helps them to see that they can talk with me, that I’m human too, that I can laugh with them and help them to see other things besides their pain”.
One study looked at two groups of physicians: one group had previously been involved in malpractice lawsuits while the other group had never been involved in that type of lawsuit. The study was attempting to find the difference in practice amongst the two groups. The research found that the doctors who had never been involved in malpractice had practiced their profession in three different specific areas then the doctors who had been sued. The three areas were: time spent with clients, use of facilitative statements and frequent use of humor and laughter (Bennet, 2003). In another article written by Rosner (2002), it was stated, “laughter is important in medicine and may enhance conversation between physician and patient. Mutual understanding between patient and doctor when they smile at each other may be more important than the diagnosis of formal treatment” (p.434).
Humor and laughter as a therapeutic tool within the process of healing appears to be a beneficial to health care professionals and their patients. The positive impacts of humor on a patient’s physiological and psychological well-being, as well as, the improved communication between their health care professionals, is a less threatening, non intrusive manner in which patients and professional may be better enabled to cope with the difficult process of healing.