Laughter in Therapy
– Dr. John Rowan
As far as I know the major research on laughter in therapy was conducted by that great theorist of the humanistic approach, the late Alvin Mahrer (1985). In his 1996 book he says: “Experiential therapists may not be widely emotional of feeling in their actual lives. They may not be screamers or hard laughers. But in the session, they must be able to have strong feelings. They must be more open than the patient to strong feeling and to just about any kind of feeling. You must allow yourself to undergo pain, hurt, turmoil. anguish, all kinds of bad feelings. In the same way, you must be able to undergo strong good feelings. You must be skilled in undergoing scenes, moments, opportunities for absolute silliness, whimsy, laughter, clowning, rollicking, giggling and chuckling.” This injunction is followed by no less than twelve references to the research literature including the classic study of 1984 by Mahrer and his wife.) Before that it was the amazing work of Eileen Walkenstein, who had a completely fresh and unboundaried approach to therapy – full of real humour and fun.
Not well-known enough or referred to is the exciting work Frank Farrelly (Farrelly and Brandsma 1974) which is still being carried on in London by Brian Kaplan. This approach relies a great deal on being open to the incongruous, the quirky, the unexpected. Brian even creates badges for his clients to wear, with humorous references to their supposed problems.
It seems this is a serious challenge to the therapists here, whatever their labels or persuasions. Are we bringing to the session the full range of our own capabilities, or are we making a quite restricted choice of what to reveal? Are we allowing our full range of feelings to come into the session, and encouraging the client to do the same? Are we noticing the incongruous and the quirky, the surprising and the funny, and allowing it into the session?
(from blog post | John Rowan | 21 February 2017)
Are You Feeling Funny?
– Arnold Brown
When I first met Brian and Hephzi (Kaplan) in the early 1980s, we could not have predicted that forty years later, we would all still be enthusiastically involved in stage shows, workshops and now our latest exciting project, the podcast, ”Are You Feeling Funny?” (master-minded by Alan Nixon, the iconic former BBC Radio producer, the brilliant Snipper Nixon team and me, the Comedy Consultant). All of our projects are driven by one basic concept – laughter is the very essence of well-being!
When I first began to visit Brian in his surgery, he was my doctor and I had the role of his personal jester. I told him my new jokes and routines – and in exchange, he prescribed solutions to many hypochondriacal inquiries with his trademark ‘twinkle in the eye’ persona. Visits with Brian also involved him explaining that when we laugh, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals, endorphins, are released.
The belly laugh is the apex of laughter and the three individuals I know personally who react in this way to jokes are comedians Paul Merton, Alexei Sayle – and, yes, the very same Dr. Brian Kaplan.
“Are You Feeling Funny?” was one of the first podcasts to reveal the personal stories of the performers who give us the precious gift of laughter, while perhaps having to deal with their own demons and health issues. It is gratifying to note that many of the participants, formerly unknown to the general public, are now today household names on TV and Radio; indeed the legendary Stewart Lee was named in 2018 by ‘The Times’ as “the best current English language comedian in the world.”
Of course, laughter is sometimes not the only aim of many of today’s stand-ups. Some want to radically change society, railing at injustices and inequalities. But the an intriguing question always remains – what is the real personal story behind the comedy mask of these performers?
I look forward to 2023 when we hope to exclusively reveal the next guest on the Are You Feeling Funny? podcast is the most famous (former) comedian in the world – Volodymr Zelensky.
Arnold Brown | Comedian, Winner of the Perrier Award for Comedy, 1987
Wishing for More Laughter
– Hephzibah Kaplan
recently ran an art therapy workshop inviting participants to make images of anything they wished for themselves. One participant made this image and it is shared with her permission.
The painter said it was inspired by the 2022 ‘Art is the Antidote’ exhibition at the Voorlinden Museum in the Netherlands where they say that they are offering ‘visitors a good dose of humorous, socially critical and colourful artworks to build up their resistance.’
The participant described how a friend of hers is superb at making her laugh when she’s going through a rough time, which makes a significant difference in her resilience. Her image expressed her wish for more laughter in her life.
I commented that all these ‘hahahas’ were like different types of laughter: the belly laugh, the shy, tentative laugh, the ironic, the mean, the warmhearted, the loud and the loving. Someone else in the group commented on how the lines resembled the rhythm of a heart monitor, like a laughter pulse. Another person commented on how the laughter lines move horizontally across the page and yet there are also vertical lines that look like tears. The paper itself looks wrinkled, as if it was flooded with tears. We made a connection between how we may laugh to overcome, as well as deny, our internal tears of grief, just as we may have tears of rage, and yet we also have those catalytic tears of laughter – this being the laughter of liberation.
Comedy and art have a long association. Just as art can bring people to a better place, so can comedy. In the Tate Museum’s podcast, The Art of Comedy, Charlie George states the origins of comedy as an art form can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece. Humour and irony were consistently used by comic poets and playwrights to influence political opinions. There is a picture by Hogarth called Caricatures and Characters. Many others, including DaVinci, DuChamp, Magritte, Lichtenstein, Richard Hamilton, Grayson Perry et al all use humour in their work to comment on social and political issues. Laughter unites others as well as helping to recalibrate one’s self.
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