Laughter Yoga – Gimmick or Game?

I was listening to a podcast from Studio 360 called, Can Laughing Make us Healthier?, and my first thought was, everybody’s got a gimmick.

In the 1970’s there was primal scream therapy, where the patient remembers and reenacts a disturbing past experience that occurred in childhood. They express their repressed anger and frustration with spontaneous screams, hysteria, or violence.

I’d hate to share a neighboring office with a primal scream therapist. Does it, work? There is no good evidence for it and it’s looked on as a gimmick.

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What about EMDR, Eye Movement desensitization and reprocessing? This is a treatment for PTSD, where the patient recalls distressing images while receiving a type of rhythmic sensory input, such as watching the therapist’s finger move from side to side.

It reminded me of the hypnotists in old movies who would swing a pocket watch in front of the subject’s face and tell them, “You’re getting sleepy, you’re feeling very relaxed…snore…zzz”

I have no doubt that reliving a stressful incident in the safety of a therapist’s office can work. EMDR combines exposure therapy with cognitive behavioral treatment, which are both found to be effective therapeutic strategies.

But there is a lot of controversy over the effectiveness of the specific gimmick of back and forth motions.

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I once went to a training where a therapist demonstrated tapping.


No, not tap dancing! TAPPING! It’s a therapeutic technique.

The audience stood and imitated the leader, tapping two fingers over different parts of our bodies. We hummed together, and the finale was a rendition of all of us singing happy birthday to ourselves.

We all burst out laughing. Did it feel good? Well, yeah. Laughing is fun.

Did I think it would be an effective therapy technique? The answer is more complex. The therapy relationship is based on human connection and listening, and learning to think and perceive in new ways. It’s greatly influenced by the placebo effect as well. While I use humor with my clients, I won’t be using tapping. (I might use tap dancing, though.)

For the past year, my mailbox has been inundated with weekly fliers for seminars that teach therapists how to use mindfulness in their practice.

Really? This is something new?


I’ve used different forms of meditation, mindfulness, breathing exercises, and visualizations with my clients for decades already. While it can be effective, it’s not new. The practice may be attributed to Zen Buddhism, but you can find the same idea in Jewish or Christian prayer and ritual, and probably all other religions.

Mindfulness doesn’t work for everyone. And when it does work, it’s usually one more tool in our toolbox of psychological strategies. Mostly, my clients just want to talk, because there is no one in their life they can safely unburden their deepest fears, shames, and desires to.

So is Laughter Yoga a gimmick or a game?

Although my first reaction to this new therapy flavor of the month was “You’ve gotta be kidding,” my second reaction was to consider it. We humans are a curious bunch. We love novelty. We’re at our best when we’re playing with life.

In the ice-breaker party game “2 truths and a lie”, each person tells 2 true, unusual things they’ve done in their life, and 1 lie. Everyone else guesses which is which. These games make us laugh, give us a sense of wonder, and bring us closer together. I’ve used it as an introduction in small classes, and it starts everyone talking excitedly.


If you’re having fun, you’re not endangering your life, and you’re not being conned out of money (like paying $2500 for a personal mantra from Transcendental Meditation teachers) then try it.

Just be careful about placing too much faith in the latest fad. If it works, great. But if it stops working, move on.

Are there any gimmicks or games that have worked for you?

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