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How Laughter Can Be Good Medicine for Occupational Therapists and Their Patients

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Guest Post by Dr. Kurt Hubbard, OTR

You’ve heard that old adage: Laughter is the best medicine, right? Well, as an occupational therapist or assistant, there are plenty of opportunities to inject a little levity into your regular routine with patients.


In fact, there’s scientific proof in the occupational therapy community that laughter can be beneficial to one’s health.

A 2005 study by researchers at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine showed for the first time that laughter is linked to the expansion (dilation) of healthy functioning blood vessels, which helps to increase blood flow in the body.

The study also noted that there’s a link between stress and the narrowing, or constriction, of blood vessels.(1)

We’re talking about your patients’ health – and yours as well! Here are some things to keep in mind as you develop your plans for providing therapeutic support:

Incorporating fun events and tasteful humor will make the work less stressful and more enjoyable for everyone.

Just because it’s work for you and therapy for your patient (who may be recovering from injury or relearning a basic skill) doesn’t mean you can’t have fun.

It’s relatively easy to incorporate amusing or entertaining activities that can help with balance, body strengthening, hand-eye-foot coordination, timing, retention, comprehension, and more. For instance:

· Come up with a theme that your patient can relate to.

  • If he or she enjoys sports, employ sports-themed activities such as a foot race (or wheelchair race) or tossing a baseball, football, or Frisbee.
  • If a particular holiday is coming up, get in the spirit by dressing up, decorating the therapy area, and planning some exercises or even crafts that revolve around that holiday.
  • Location-specific themes are also fun, like decorating the area in a Polynesian theme and coming up with therapeutic activities that relate to that theme.

· Learn (or create!) fun rhymes, poems, jokes, or riddles that you can repeat to your patients to help them retain information or just break whatever tension may exist. Relate interesting or funny anecdotes that will help your patients relax – and even laugh! Or watch a funny video!

Involve teams, groups, and physical exercise as appropriate, and make sure the treatment sessions are suitable to your patients’ level of physical and cognition function. Most of all, use your creativity, and have fun with it!

Adding a little personalization to the therapy sessions is an effective way to increase the patient’s motivation.

Laughter can help keep your patients’ spirits up and build a stronger connection with them.

Consider another great expression: Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry and you cry alone.

On top of its physical health benefits, laughter has positive effects on your emotions, on how well you open up to and relate with others, and on how well you cope with potential setbacks — whether you’re the giver or receiver of the therapeutic care.

For patients, laughter and humor can create an increased level of bonding and comfort with you. This can also influence their desire to stick around longer and take part in more of the tasks and activities that can help them to heal, to cope better, or to regain function. If they can approach their therapy with a smile and a light-hearted demeanor, it may make a world of difference in their level of commitment and in how they approach the work involved in their care plan. This is great way to develop a deeper more meaningful relationship with your patient.

For OTA professionals, find out what makes your patients laugh, and use humor to help them decompress and de-stress before, during, and after your sessions with them. You’ll see a real difference in how they approach their interactions with you. Finding the levity in everyday situations and not taking anything too seriously will create an environment in which you’ll get to know your patients better and build a stronger bond with them. Laughter and levity may also help you approach your duties with renewed vim and vigor.

1. http://occupational-therapy.advanceweb.com/article/laughing-is-good-medicine-4.aspx

About Dr. Kurt Hubbard: Dr. Hubbard is the National Dean of the Occupational Therapy Assistant Associate’s Degree and Physical Therapist Assistant Associate’s Degree programs at Remington College. His background includes clinical and academic experience in the field of Occupational Therapy. He is the owner of Hubbard Occupational Therapy, P.C., with offices in Florida and New York, and has taught at the University of St. Augustine, Nova Southeastern University, and Flagler College. His educational background includes a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, Master’s Degrees in both Psychology and Occupational Therapy, and a PhD in Health Psychology/Behavioral Medicine.

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Tonya is a pediatric Occupational Therapist, and loves creating things to work on skills and solve problems.

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