Is Laughter the Best Medicine? Inspiration for us all.

The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor (AATH) just hosted its 28th Annual Conference May in Philadelphia. Humor and laughter professionals and enthusiasts from around the world gathered to learn the latest applications and benefits of therapeutic humor presented by field experts, share best practices and network.

Beth Usher

Beth Usher

The conference coincided with the graduation of AATH’s Humor Academy. Graduate Beth Usher gave a moving keynote speech on her experience of having gone through a hemispherectomy. In 1985, when she was five-years old her family learned that her brain was dying of Rasmussen’s Encephalitis. Two years later, suffering from hundreds of epileptic seizures per day, doctors proposed a bold solution to save her life: the removal of the entire left side of her brain!

The operation was done at Johns Hopkins University Hospital by the “Gifted Hands” of neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

Bly32bWIgAAw-Gm[1]Beth’s path to recovery was long. After a two-month coma, she underwent spinal fusion, loss of function in the right side of her body, loss of vision, and then years of physical therapy.

One wonders how a child could enjoy life after such an ordeal?

Mister Rogers and Beth Usher in Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital[/caption]Beth’s overcame all of this and more with the support of a loving family and the devotion and encouragement of life-long friends including neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson and children’s television legend Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood)

Mister Rogers and Beth Usher in Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital

Mister Rogers and Beth Usher in Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital

Most of all, Beth survived life’s toughest battles with humor, love and kindness. She says her name “Beth” stands for “BE The Happiest!” and she lives up to her name. Although she spoke with obvious difficulty, needing her brother to help her turn the pages in her notes, she spoke with great joy and humor.

In the hospital she “developed a coping mechanism – one that I thought would make the doctors and nurses like me. I began to tell jokes. Knock-knock jokes were easy to remember and who can resist a kid saying ‘knock-knock’?” Later, when they learned she would require spinal fusion and her Mom was in tears, she cheered her family up joking, “Buck up guys! It’s not like I need to have the other half of my brain removed.”

To the audience, she referred to her neurosurgeon, mentor and friend Dr. Ben Carson — who last month in Detroit announced that he was running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination: “He is my ticket to the Lincoln bedroom.”

Beth quoted Carl Jung, “I am not what happened to me, I am what I chose to become. I choose gratefulness. I choose happiness.”

The other inspiring graduates included:

  • Kathy Laurenhue who works in geriatrics and has developed an online course on Humor and Aging,
  • Melissa Mork, a psychology professor, who is doing research on the relationship between emotional intelligence, parenting and humor and how these impact on children’s resilience,
  • Jae Pierce-Baba, occupational therapist, who is developing a series of children’s books to help children with disabilities,
  • Dr. Shirley Trout who has developed a Web-based brochure for the use of humor in higher education teaching, and
  • Laurie Young who has developed a 3 credit university course on Health and Humor.

According to Aetna, a good laugh will

  • Activate and relieve your stress response by revving up your heart rate and blood pressure and increasing the flow of oxygen rich blood. It then cools them both down, resulting in an enjoyable, relaxed feeling.
  • Relieve physical tension and stress, leaving muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after a good, hearty laugh.
  • Release endorphins, our “feel good” brain chemicals, which improve mood, attitude and overall sense of wellbeing.
  • Distract you from negative emotions such as anger, guilt, or sadness with a positive release of energy.
  • Decrease stress hormones, specifically cortisol and epinephrine, which suppress the immune system and increase infection-fighting antibodies.
  • Enhance the intake and utilization of oxygen rich air, stimulate the efficiency of the heart, lungs and muscles, and increase the endorphins released in the brain.

There is truth in the theory that “laughter is the best medicine”. Best of all, laughter is fun, free and infectious! You can’t help but laugh and smile when others are laughing around you!

955193_logo[1]The Dream Doctors Project

In Israel the group Medical Clowning in Action supports the healing through humor. When my father-in-law Dr. Armand Cohen-Scali (z’l) passed away last year, we reflected on his sense of humor and the role humor had in giving him the strength to fight for years when the doctors had only given him months, we think the Dream Doctors Project would be a fitting tribute. Read more in the Jewish Tribune or on the Dream Doctors Project website:

aath-savethedate2016-phoenix[1]The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor

The Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor‘s 29th annual conference will be held April 7-10, 2016 at the Phoenix Mesa Hilton in Mesa, Arizona. Whether you are a healthcare provider, a patient, a caregiver, a comedian, comedy aficionado or just someone suffering from stress, this is a conference you should not miss.

Founded in 1987 and headquartered in Rockford, IL, AATH is a non-profit, member-driven international community of humor and laughter professionals and enthusiasts. AATH’s mission is to provide its members with education, resources and a supportive community to excel in the practice and promotion of healthy humor. Members represent a wide variety of occupations including scholars, psychologists, healthcare practitioners, educators, business executives, and many others.



  1. Doovermom says

    Thanks so much for this article on my daughter, Beth. She has come a long way with the help of her Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor’s Humor Academy mentors and classmates! This is an outstanding organization filled with people who not only want the world to be a happier place – they are doing something about each and every day! Life is better when you can laugh a little each day. Beth surrounds herself with positive, upbeat people who support and encourage her every step of the way! Next April’s conference in Mesa, AZ promises to be one that will benefit us all!

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