From the perspective of Behavioral Psychologists, understanding the cause of most problems is moot. That is not to say that they deny that things happen in life that do, in fact, cause problems for us. Rather, it is a statement of their focus and one which I believe we can all benefit from understanding that says that the cure is not found in struggling with answering the “why” question, but in altering the “what” we do.
Philosophies notwithstanding, this is, in fact, the particular belief and attribute that delineates those who describe themselves as “behaviorists” from those therapists whose orientations are more focused on the uncovering of the underlying causes of the problem(s.) The most common examples of that variety of psychotherapist would be one practicing from a psychoanalytic or neo-psychoanalytic point of view.
To be sure, even the most classically trained Freudian analyst understands that insight must lead to behavioral change if it is to really matter. To that person, however, the insight is a necessary (and often very time consuming, expensive and anguishing) prerequisite. To the behaviorist, all of that is considered, functionally, a non sequitor. All that really matters is the behavior.
Following that line of reasoning, the behavioral practitioner is not unlikely to start right in on the behaviors the client feels are maladaptive and interfering with their life.
Case in point: The role of laughter in the treatment of depression.
As has been pointed out by psychologically sensitive humorists (Norman Cousins) as well as by research-oriented clinicians (Dr. Lawrence Peter) and as Reader’s Digest pointed out in its well known column of the same name, “Laughter is the Best Medicine” ,laughter is jam packed full of healing power.
This phenomenon has been observed and valued at least as far back as the Bible, where King Solomon says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” (Proverbs 17:22.) This is not new, but seems to be something people can benefit from being reminded about.
In hundreds of songs and books, thousands of articles and in the good sense of most people, it is understood and demonstrated time and time again that laughter has certain healing properties. It feels good to laugh and laughing can help (albeit briefly, sometimes) a person who is feeling quite poorly feel just a bit better.
Comedy seems to activate the brain in a way that is similar to the way that physical exercise generates additional production of the endorphins that are known to improve mood and feelings of well being. Laughter actually exercises the ‘feel better’ portions of the human brain and can, in many instances, be an important part of self-care.
The caution is of a frequently misunderstanding of this idea. “If a friend is depressed, should I then try to joke him or her out of it?” The answer, most often, is “No.” When a person is depressed, trying to joke them out of it, I’m afraid- though well intentioned – actually communicates an inability or unwillingness to be with a person when they are feeling bad. This being the case, it does not tend to work most of the time.
However, a little laughter each day may be something like an apple… a little a day keeps the doctor (or therapist) away. Laughter is like a psychological supplement that can shore up a person’s resiliency and ability to tolerate bad times and strength to bounce back more quickly if and when the person is knocked down by some of life’s darker surprises.
When you laugh, the world may not laugh with you, but you are more likely to feel a little better.