Humor as a Therapeutic Recreation Intervention. (Therapeutic Recreation)

By Williams, Richard | Parks & Recreation, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Humor as a Therapeutic Recreation Intervention. (Therapeutic Recreation)


Williams, Richard, Parks & Recreation


"Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritation and resentments slip away, and a sunny spirit takes their place."

-- Mark Twain

For centuries, people have speculated about the various effects of humor, often attributing to it more than just a sunny disposition. Long have people suspected that humor provides real psychological and physical benefits. Only relatively recently have the effects of humor been systematically examined and the use of humor been incorporated into the repertoire of therapeutic recreation interventions.

As the amount and quality of humor research has increased, a picture of humor's benefits has become clearer, and justification for including humor in therapeutic recreation programs is stronger. Generally, researchers have suggested that a well-developed sense of humor is associated with a wide range of benefits. Therapeutic recreation specialists should integrate humor into their programs.

Get Them Laughing

The most obvious, and perhaps popular, way to use humor therapeutically is to simply expose people to humorous materials such as movies and audio recordings. Passively watching or listening to funny materials or people appears to have some benefits, but research findings suggest that active or produced humor can lead to greater effects than passive humor. Specifically, it appears that the ability to make a joke in a stressful situation can help people cope better than merely laughing at someone else's joke. Thus, learning to produce humor appears to be an important skill.

In light of the potential benefits of both passive and productive humor, consider integrating humor into their service. There are a growing number of models used in the delivery of services, but the framework for this discussion will be the time-tested Leisure Ability model's basic organization of treatment, leisure education and recreation participation.

Treat the Funny Bone

Researchers examining humor's effect suggest several ways that recreation specialists can use humor to achieve therapeutic outcomes. For instance, exposure to humorous material appears to bolster the immune system, and therefore, could be beneficial to people with compromised immune systems, like people with AIDS or people recovering from burns.

Humor can assist in the learning process as well. People tend to memorize humorous material better than non-humorous. This aspect can be beneficial for use with people with cognitive or learning impairments. For instance, by infusing humor into cognitive training or skill instruction, you can help people to learn better.

Additionally, humor has been found to contribute to the cohesion of groups. Given that most therapeutic recreation programs are delivered to groups, humor is a great way to help the group bond. A joke shared among group members contributes to the affiliation they feel towards one another. When you share a laugh with your participants, you can appropriately bridge emotional divides that separate individuals.

Many people receiving therapeutic recreation services experience discomfort due to illness or injuries, and the management of pain is often a first priority. A number of researchers have concluded that exposure to humorous material increases pain thresholds. Thus, in the presence of humorous materials, like a video or audio presentation, people can tolerate pain better. Unmanaged pain can degrade the quality of life, add to the distraction of participants or undercut the effectiveness of therapeutic recreation services. To reduce pain, consider using some form of humor during uncomfortable treatments or recovery from surgery.

Learning to Laugh

Leisure education is a family of therapeutic interventions that facilitate the examination and expansion of skills and abilities related to recreation and leisure. Leisure education sessions are often cognitively based, making them an appropriate context for humor-based interventions. …

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