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Laughter: a treatment option or pain avoidance?

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I had a very interesting conversation with my sister yesterday. I told her of my session with my therapist from last week and told her I was laughing at all the stuff I had been through with my father. It was like it was not a laughing matter at the time the crap was happening, but when I was talking to my therapist it was as if "well it wasn't funny at the time but now all I can do is laugh". I laughed a lot in that session. I guess I laugh a lot generally, but it is not happy laughter. This conversation with my sister is probably the most constructive conversation we've ever had.

She said as I typed,

"Laughing about your experiences with Judy was like negating your own feelings the day before when you were crying about it, just like other people (Dad, Dr. Johnson, the pharmacist from Tuesday) were doing to you and with Judy you were doing it to yourself.”

“You were down but the next second you were crying really hard and it startled me. You said you were sick of your life and you were sick of this business and you wanted people to listen to you and to pay attention to you and show you some respect and couldn’t deal with dad anymore.”

I guess what I am getting at in this post is that I do not know how to be serious. My sessions do not appear to be constructive which is entirely my fault. Outside of therapy I can be laughing one minute and my mood can change instantly just like that.

On the other hand, can laughter have a therapeutic effect on a person's mental state or mood? Is it a positive coping mechanism or is it detrimental to one's progress?

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Hi Wintersky-

I have a wicked sense of humor (in a good way) and I used to joke around a lot more than I do now. It seemed like such a cliche to me when people would say that I hid behind my humor. As I look back on my progress in therapy and recovery from compulsive gambling and prescription drug abuse, I realize that they were right. :)

Just to give you an idea of how funny I could be, about 3 years ago or so, I once got my therapist out of control laughing. He said it was like having Robin Williams in therapy. However, when I went back the next week , I told my therapist in no uncertain terms that he was NEVER to let me take over like that again, saying "I will self sabotage, if you let me." He admitted that he had let his "therapist guard" down & it has never happened again.

There was a compulsive, almost manic quality to my humor then. To tell you the truth, I sometimes miss the way I used to get on a humorous "roll" and say some really funny stuff. :) I still have a good sense of humor but it is much more subdued than it was.

Humor can be a healing thing also. It is a way of getting a broader perspective on one's problems beyond the narrow perspective of being in pain.

So, I think that humor is a double-edged sword that can promote healing or hiding, depending on how it is used.


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Laughter is one of those rare things that is truly "of the moment" and often seems strange when we reflect on it out of context afterwards. I think it can be easy for those of us who are particularly hard on ourselves ('self critical thinkers') to look back and judge too harshly moments when laughter has carried our mood.

The phrase "laughing to keep from crying" comes to mind as a particularly appropriate metaphor because laughter can convey all kinds of extreme emotions: joy, sorrow, nervousness, guilt, anger, ambivalence, or confusion. In fact, laughter is often what comes out when we feel something strongly but don't know exactly WHAT to feel because the sensation is a strange mixture of emotions. It is so easy to look back in embarrassment or grief or more confusion and still feel shame about not knowing exactly what we felt. Laughter is usually spontaneous, but it can seem so superfical when we look back on it.

WinterSky and Catmom, I think you're being a little too hard on yourselves. When we laugh and use humor, it is serving a function for us in that moment, one which we can seek to understand afterwards, but which we don't need to second guess, because it worked for us at the time it was supposed to--in the moment.

I don't know that there is a way to actually nurture laughter as a standardized treatment option, since the healing form of it is spontaneous. I'm not sure it can be manufactured, but when it genuinely happens, it is a physiological way for our bodies to release some bottled up emotions--ones we usually don't know how to express otherwise.



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Guest ASchwartz

Oh yes, laughter is the very best of all medicines. I am a full advocate of laughter. In fact, in my opinion, a real measure of mental health is when we are able to laugh at our own silly mistakes and foibles.


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Oh yes, laughter is the very best of all medicines. I am a full advocate of laughter. In fact, in my opinion, a real measure of mental health is when we are able to laugh at our own silly mistakes and foibles.


My doctor agrees. He says it is good for you and is much better than lows in Bipolar, as lows are difficult to work with. I think I had a good cry that day and then I was able to see the humor in an extremely stressful day. Ah, another strike in my sister's favor. :)

Thank you for the response, Dr. Schwartz. :)

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I really enjoyed your post, John! Thanks for that.

"From my adoptive father [Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius] ... his high regard for genuine philosophers ... [for] sociability too, and a sense of humour, not taken to excess; sensible care of his own body, neither vain nor valetudinarian, but not negletful either, so that his own attention to himself left very little need for doctors, doses or applications."

[Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 16.5]

The highlighted part suggests not in excess, so I guess don't laugh so hard you cannot breathe? You could have a heart attack or a stroke, or pass out due to lack of oxygen. :)

I can think of one good thing about laughing that hard, is that it strengthens your abdominal muscles. :cool:

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