What some Japanese newly licensed therapists do is no laughing matter. These laughing therapists help their patients laugh!
The first 49 laughing therapists recently passed their examinations and are now licensed to make patients laugh to improve their immune system, and in general to help prevent illnesses, said Kazue Takayanagi, assistant professor and pediatrician at the organizing Nihon Medical School.
A doctor herself, Takayanagi has prescribed laughter to her patients for years.
She recalls a patient diagnosed with lymphoma who chuckled when he opened an envelope from Takayanagi with a picture of her inside with 'You need to laugh hard' scribbled on it.
The laughter made him feel more upbeat and he began smiling more, and feeling depressed less frequently, his doctor said.
Takayanagi first realized how healthy laughter is and how it could help fight serious illness when she was practicing medicine in Kuwait.
'Ideally patients should feel the urge to laugh from the bottom of their hearts,' she said, adding: 'For some people, however, such as those who suffer from depression, it can be difficult to feel amused.'
The therapists try to make their patients laugh, but they are not comedians, Takayanagi said.
'The licensed therapists never need performance or tools or any special monologues,' she said, adding they have a good understanding of their individual patients' feelings.
The therapists should never laugh at their patients or their illnesses. And they should never hurt their patients' feelings. Instead, they need to help patients relax and relieve their stress so they can better suppress their illnesses.
The therapists often deal with people who are dying and before achieving their licenses, they studied the brain, psychology and other medical subjects, as well as how people deal with death, Takayanagi said.
'They are almost like missionaries,' she said. 'They are very determined to carry out their mission to infect everyone with laughter.'
Applicants were screened through essays to express their determination and 49 of the first 150 were selected. They then attended a two-day training workshop and reported back on how they practiced what they learned, Takayanagi said.
Although licensing requires some serious medical expertise, not all therapists specialise in medicine. Some are businessmen, homemakers, retirees and teachers who have family members or friends or are themselves battling illness.
They all believe in the importance of laughter and how it can make people healthier, Takayanagi said.
The first license issued is a third-level one for three years. Takayanagi said they plan to renew those after assessing the therapists' practices. In addition, they are considering upgrading the license to second and first levels.