Leaving a trail of humour

At St John of God Geelong and Frankston Rehabilitation Hospitals, laughter has become infectious.

21 Nov 2023

A person dressed in a bright orange shirt wearing a red nose, high socks and holding a ukulele.

An uplifting collaboration with The Humour Foundation has resulted in the delivery of its laughter care program, including special training for caregivers on how to playfully connect with patients. 

The pilot project, supported by St John of God Health Care’s arts and health funding, brings performing artists, known as laughter care specialists, to hospitals to engage patients with sensitivity, empathy, and playfulness while recognising and validating the unique experience of each individual.  

The Humour Foundation first began in 1997 with the Clown Doctors™ program at Sydney Children’s Hospital and now operates in 21 hospitals across Australia.

Praised by the Governor-General of Australia David Hurley, the Laughter Care™ program began in 2011 as a response to the need for laughter therapy and human connection in the aged care sector.  

St John of God Health Care Acting Group Coordinator, Arts and Health Paul Davis said the Laughter Care™ program was designed to give control of the interaction to the patient while including caregivers, families, carers and friends.  

“It’s fantastic that we can now spread the joy of this program to people of all ages on various hospital wards,” Paul said.

St John of God Geelong Hospital Allied Health Manager Toby Vague said it’s been a pleasure to welcome laughter care specialists to the hospital.

“Pumpkin (formal name – Pumpkin Pingpong) has spent time with a large amount of our patients leaving a trail of humour, ukulele and impromptu songs with questionable lyrics,” Toby said.

“He has been called upon to spend time with some of our isolated or confused elderly patients, children awaiting surgery or just any patient needing a smile.

“As our caregivers become more aware of Pumpkin’s availability, the requests for his unique interactions with varied patients has continued to grow.”

The laughter care specialists are also running interactive workshops which teach caregivers the skills and techniques they need to bring more play and empathy to their engagements with patients.

The Humour Foundation National Programs Manager Karey Payne said connection was the foundation of all playfulness and that play was needed in all stages of life.

“The workshops focus on what we call, the journey to laughter, which includes an understanding of sensitivity, empathy, rapport, creativity, play and laughter,” Karey said.

St John of God Frankston Rehabilitation Hospital Director of Clinical Services Karen Ward said laughter care specialist, Rosie, lightens the mood and brings a fun energy to the hospital. 

“We have received very positive feedback from patients and caregivers, especially about the way Rosie encourages social interaction between patients in our gym and the hydrotherapy pool. She brings such a positive and uplifting attitude,” Karen said.