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Rush Uses Therapeutic Humor to Help Patients Heal

There’s no doubt that laughing feels good, so Rush University Medical Center is using it as an innovative approach to enhancing patients’ hospital visits. The first annual Therapeutic Humor Week at Rush, March 4 through 8, seeks to capitalize on the physical, emotional, cognitive, social and spiritual benefits of humor to facilitate healing.

“Literature shows that humor may enhance health and be used as a complementary treatment of illness,” said Robyn Hart, MEd, director of Rush’s Child Life Services and co-author of Therapeutic Activities for Children and Teens Coping with Health Issues. “When faced with illness or disability, people experience a lot of stressors. A patient who has a variety of coping strategies is likely to have greater success adapting to those stressors. Humor can be one of those coping strategies.”

During Therapeutic Humor Week at Rush, the Child Life Services department has coordinated a number of ways to introduce humor into patients’ care and show clinicians appropriate ways to use humor with patients, including:

  • Magicians from Open Heart Magic, a therapeutic magic program that began at Rush and is now in six other hospitals will demonstrate how they use magic as a therapeutic intervention.
  • Funny Bones, an improvisational theater group that works with hospitalized children and their families will provide an interactive seminar to Rush employees on the benefits of humor and ways to incorporate therapeutic humor in a health care environment.
  • A Laughter Yoga class that initiates laughter through exercises and games and combines it with yogic breathing to increase oxygen levels.
  • Jokes, written by kids, will be put on patients’ meal trays for a day.
  • Daily humor activities will take place on the pediatric unit.
  • Nursing units will receive humor baskets to use to incorporate humor on the unit with patients.

Humor can be used to help patients from pediatrics to geriatrics cope. Some of the benefits can include reduced tension, anxiety and stress; lower blood pressure; improved circulation; increased release of endorphins; establishment of positive interpersonal relationships; release of anger, hostility and aggression in a socially acceptable manner; and management of shame and embarrassment.

In addition to the focus on the benefits of laughter during Therapeutic Humor Week, Rush partners with Funny Bones all year long to provide semi-monthly improvisational performances for children and families in Rush’s pediatric unit.

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