I’d like to say a some serious things about fun and laughter. People might not think therapy sessions and laughter go together. Crying, maybe, the ever-present Kleenex box close at hand. But laughter? Therapy is serious stuff, isn’t it? Sessions are all about dredging up problems and pain and laying them out for examination and, hopefully, new insight. From our counselors we expect careful attention, compassion and respect. Laughter seems a little …. well …. inappropriate.
As a lifelong lover of play – I made sure to research laughter, play and humor when it came time to write my master’s thesis in graduate school. How does it fit into the therapeutic process? It’s kind of weird, really, this shoulder shaking thing we do, accompanied by huffing, grinning and snorting. Sometimes falling down or wetting our pants. Total loss of dignity and control. What was Mother Nature thinking when she programed this into us humans? It has to have a survival benefit, but what is it? And why do we laugh? What makes something funny?
The answers I found were fascinating and reassuring. We know a lot now about the physiology of laughter. And, yes, sometimes “laughter is the best medicine.” It seems this ha-ha reaction is key to stress relief. And it occurs as the stress is leaving. When we’re terrified or humiliated – we don’t tend to laugh. We go into fight, flight or freeze mode with adrenalin and cortisol flooding our bodies. We freeze,, we run, we fight or hide. It’s serious stuff. But as soon as the danger (real or imagined) passes and we feel safe – the body instinctively releases this tension and one of the ways is the jiggle jiggle release of laughter. Laughter has been called a full body massage. Depending on how hard we laugh – lots of our internal organs can get a good jog. We finally stop holding our breath and gulp in oxygen. The stress chemicals dissipate and give way to ones of calm and well-being. The laughter on the outside is always an indication that things are calming down on the inside.
And while our bodies are undergoing these gyrations – the mind is usually busy coming up with reasons why. Not always. Sometimes we laugh and can’t give a good explanation. But most times we have a different perception that accompanies the laughter. And what we find in therapy is that when the heavy terror, anger, grief, humiliation lesson – the feelings get lighter and new perspectives and realizations automatically arise. What was so distressing now seems amusing. Clients often say something like “Oh isn’t that silly!” and mean it when minutes before they were in the throes of high angst. Almost like being scared of the monster under the bed and then laughing with relief to see that when the light is turned on – it’s only your shoes.
Many times, the client him/herself will crack the joke and the counselor laughs along.
Sometimes, though, it’s the counselor who, not being in the clutch of heavy feelings or negative beliefs, can offer up an alternative perspective, a reframe, that allows for release and laughter. Either way – it’s been my experience that there are more minutes of laughing in an EFT session than most other counseling modalities. Perhaps it’s the speed with which emotional relief comes. I wonder if that’s true? Perhaps that’s topic for a research paper or someone else’s master’s thesis.