ASU alumnus speaks about humor therapy in health care at Project Humanities event

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(Molly Bilker/DD)
Humor Horizons President and ASU alumnus David M. Jacobson drew on his personal experiences to teach the power of humor in health care and therapy for a Project Humanities event Wednesday. (Molly Bilker/DD)

Humor Horizons President and ASU alumnus David M. Jacobson returned to his alma mater for a Project Humanities event Wednesday to spread the message that humor can be an effective form of therapy in health care.

The event, “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Funnier,” focused on how humor can be used for both self-care and the treatment of illness in others. Jacobson used his own experience of being diagnosed with arthritis at a young age and choosing to cope with humor as an example.

Jacobson was 22 and living in Israel when he noticed that his normally athletic body had become weak. A few days later, joints in his body had swollen up and he realized he was in critical condition. This is when he was diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis.

“I used my humor to improve my health,” Jacobson said.

He also discussed his experience working in Tucson as a social worker when the Gabrielle Giffords shooting occurred in 2011. A genuine smile is important in order to treat patients, Jacobson said.

Jacobson said the body tends to react to traumatic settings with a stress response in which blood pressure and heart rate increase, forcing someone into a “fight or flight” response. Humor can help relieve that stress. With a laughter response, the muscles tend to relax and blood pressure is relatively low, he said.

People who have been through traumatic experiences can make use of humor therapy, which promotes psychological, social and spiritual benefits. Being able to look at a situation from a different perspective allows one to be open-minded, sincere and sociable, Jacobson said.

Nursing senior Madison Raver said she can use some of the techniques Jacobson discussed in her own practice.

“It’s a new window in health care from a social worker’s point of view,” Raver said.

Retired counselor Helga van Muijen heard about the lecture through the New Frontiers program at Mesa Community College, which is a lifelong learning program for adults. She said she was inspired by Jacobson.

“You can use humor deliberately as a healer,” van Muijen said. “It is a healing tool, just like medicine. We are more than just physical beings, we are spiritual beings.”

Jacobson interacted with the audience by introducing habits included in his book “The 7 1/2 Habits of Highly Humorous People.” He asked the audience to stand in a circle and introduce themselves with a movement that was then to be copied by everyone else in the room.

Nursing senior Shelby Armentrout said she was inspired by Jacobson’s approach.

“It’s really a good way to learn how to interact with patients in order to make situations lighter,” Armentrout said.

Jacobson concluded the presentation with a poem he wrote.

“I open the door, joy walks in. I explain that she has the wrong address, she should be next door. She comes in anyway. Joy, like pain, knows not of manners or proper protocol,” Jacobson said. “I open the door, humor walks in. It fills the empty spaces. Pain is still here, but it has little room.”

Editor’s note: Ruby Ramirez is Downtown Devil’s inaugural editorial intern and the sole participant of a new internship program between Downtown Devil and Bioscience High School.

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