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“Your body cannot heal without play. Your mind cannot heal without laughter. Your soul cannot heal without joy.” – Catherine Rippenger Fenwick

Sure, it’s fun to have a good laugh, but did you know it can improve your health? I’m not joking! Laughter can “strengthen the immune system, improve mood, reduce pain, and protect from the damaging effects of stress.” As children, we used to laugh on average over 200 times daily, but as we age into adulthood, life tends to be more serious and laughter more infrequent. To counteract this barrier, it is important to intentionally seek out more opportunities for humor and laughter in everyday life, and that includes in the therapy setting. Mental health professionals can safely incorporate tools such as psychodrama and other experiential exercises in session that extract humor to address the mental, physical and emotional needs of clients.

The Science Behind Laughter & Humor

When a person is depressed, neurotransmitters in the brain [dopamine and serotonin] are reduced and the ‘mood control circuit of the brain’ is impaired. Laughter can repair malfunction by fluctuating dopamine and serotonin activity. Laughter can also alleviate the effects of stress by decreasing stress-making hormones and serum levels of cortisol and epinephrine found in the blood steam. Humor and laughter can shift perspective and change the way the mind views or experiences an event. Looking at a problem from a different perspective can create psychological distance. help diffuse conflict, feelings of being overwhelmed and even increase objectivity and insight.

Laughter & Humor in the Therapeutic Environment

Laughter Yoga

Laughter Yoga was created by Indian physician Dr. Madan Kataria in collaboration with his wife Madhuri, a yoga teacher in 1995. Its principle follows a “body-mind approach” to laughter by inviting participants to laugh for no reason”, which sometimes entails faking a laugh until it becomes real. This is possible since the body can functionally laugh regardless of what the mind has to say. A few studies have examined the effects of laughter yoga applied in the workplace and nursing home facilities, and the results show that engaging in exercises that simulate laughter can “increase self-efficacy in employees and reduce depression in the elderly.”

Click this link to hear more from Dr. Kataria and join in on some laughing exercises! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5hf2umYCKr8

Improvisation

Improvisation, or improv, has more recently been applied to group therapy for the treatment of psychological issues and provide opportunities for personal growth and exploration. The benefits of practicing aspects of improv comedy in group therapy include, “active listening,” “risk-taking,” and “group-mind” (Steitzer, 2011). Comedic improv therapy (CIT) a group therapy model inspired by the practice of improv comedy, provides the therapeutic elements of “group cohesiveness, play, exposure, and humor.” Operating in collaboration with The Second City Training Center in Chicago, Mark Pfeffer and Becca Barish have facilitated a program known as Improv for Anxiety for the treatment of social anxiety disorder in adults and adolescents. Improv for Anxiety involves participants meeting twice a week for a period of 8 weeks. Each weekly session provides an opportunity for participants to engage in a traditional improv comedy class led by skilled improvisers at The Second City Training Center and mental health professionals experienced in group facilitation that utilize the proposed CIT model, in combination with other empirically-based models of therapy. They also provide psycho-education about unhelpful thinking styles and discuss methods of restricting negative cognitions. The response from the program’s participants has been positive, and is currently being empirically evaluated by the University of Chicago using the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale.

 

References:

Phillips Sheesley, A., Pfeffer, M., & Barish, B. (2016). Comedic Improv Therapy for the Treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 11(2), 157-169.

Panksepp, J. (2000). The riddle of laughter: Neural and psychoevolutionary underpinnings of joy. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(6), 183-186.

Steitzer, C. (2011). The brilliant genius: Using improv comedy in social work groups. Social Work with Groups, 34(3-4), 270282.

Yim, J. (2016). Therapeutic Benefits of Laughter in Mental Health: A Theoretical Review. The Tohoku journal of experimental medicine, 239(3), 243-249.

 

 

 


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With attempted suicide rates on the rise, it’s imperative to spotlight the transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) community. Prejudice against TGNC people often manifests in forms of denial (in health-care services), harassment, bullying and physical assault. TGNC people may be further marginalized by other microaggressions, such as racial and ethnic identity, socio-economic status, and age. Individuals’ external reactions towards TGNC people may be aggressive as the result of explicit and/or covert fears about what it means to deviate from gender norms. TGNC people are often perceived as “Other,” not “fitting” into a particular box. By challenging constructs, clinicians can provide and advocate for the TGNC population.

Challenging Constructs

Gender has been perceived as a binary construct with mutually exclusive groupings of male or female. Blue or pink. Trucks or dolls. These groupings create an assumption that gender identity is always in alignment with sex assigned at birth. However, for TGNC people, gender identity differs from sex assigned at birth to varying degrees. Gender identity is defined as “a person’s deeply felt, inherent sense of being a girl, woman, or female; a boy, a man, or male; a blend of male or female; or an alternative gender.” To provide the most affirmative care, a non-binary understanding of gender is essential. Whenever I am greeting a client, I always ask them, “How would you like to be addressed? Do you have preferred pronouns you’d like me to use?” Simple, but by using their preferred identification, their self-identity and sense of self-worth is validated.

Trans-Affirmative Care

I wanted to provide the following list that offers a very general overview of language used within the TGNC+ community, and it’s important to emphasis that these terms are constantly evolving. Language is powerful. Staying updated and informed as a clinician will nurture open and collaborative discussions around experience through the lens of the TGNC person. It will also support the TGNC person in the least confusing and dishonorable way. Modelling an “acceptance of ambiguity” may be helpful as TGNC people develop and discover aspects of their gender expression, especially in adolescence and early adulthood. TGNC identities include but are not limited to: transgender (TG), female-to-male (FTM), male-to-female (MTF), transgirl or transboy, they/them, bigender, gender fluid(ity), drag queen or king, gender queer, transqueer, queer, cross-dresser, androgynous.

Research in the Field

It’s important to highlight the progressive work being done by Dr. Diane Ehrensaft and her colleagues at the Child and Adolescent Gender Center in San Francisco, California. They are utilizing what is called the “Gender Affirmative Model” which encourages clinicians against labeling TGNC individuals as “dysphoric” and instead view their varying gender expressions as “fluid.” This deconstructs the concept of gender being binary and stagnant. The ability to respectfully interact in a trans-affirmative manner can help improve TGNC people’s quality of life and experience in therapy overall. By supporting TGNC people to articulate their authentic truth, clinicians can strengthen the therapeutic alliance and cultivate a safe environment to explore gender identity and  gender expression.

 

References

American Psychological Association. (2015). Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People. American Psychologist, 70(9), 832-864.

 

Cassy is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker-Associate who is passionate about transformative justice and advocacy for contemporary social issues. In addition to providing individual counseling, Cassy also enjoys facilitating groups. She currently provides group support for patients who have recently undergone bariatric and weight-loss surgery and a group for young women called SOAR (Staying Open about Recovery), who are making strides to positively stay on track in eating disorder recovery.

 

 


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At Chrysalis, we believe that a supportive, healing environment is essential in order for change and growth to occur. We seek to offer such an environment to clients and help them create that in their lives and relationships. Read More

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