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Permission to Laugh
by Noah Leavitt
|Photo courtesy of Jackie Jacobs Photography|
Trevor Smith '93 really wants to make you laugh. Giggles, chuckles, and guffaws; real physical laughs that involve your whole body.
Smith isn't a comedian-he doesn't even tell jokes-he's a laughter therapist.
"Basically I do programs and workshops and I focus upon using laughter and humor as a way to improve people's health; a series of laughter based activities and games. It's really a community-building program and that's how I look at it as a way to connect with people."
It's a unique career, and something Smith admits he didn't ever expect to do. He spent years doing Recreation Therapy for people with disabilities. And in 2005, while researching new therapies, he discovered something called the World Laughter Tour.
"I looked more into it, did some research, and talked to the guy who ran this organization; and I was very curious what it was all about, and he said to me, ‘It's a brand new therapy, it's very cutting edge and it might be something you'd be interested in. It could be good for your background in Recreation Therapy,'" Smith remembers.
Before he knew it, he was attending a two-day laughter workshop learning about a variety of different programs.
"Actually they're called Laugh Clubs, and I got involved with that and after two days I became a certified Laugh Leader. I took it from there, I joined programs, I created my own Laughter Club and after a while I was getting calls from organizations asking me if I could come and visit."
Smith has a wide range of clients, mostly based in Western Massachusetts. He works with senior citizens as well as many private businesses hoping to use therapy to build camaraderie and reduce stress. He doesn't tell jokes, fearful that some people could be offended by certain humor. Instead, the classes focus on physical activity, or improvisational techniques that can incite laughter. Merely watching videos of Smith in action are enough to make you smile. He's in constant motion-running, jumping, and getting everyone involved.
"It breaks down barriers; it gives people permission to laugh," Smith says while explaining why he thinks laughter therapy works. "It allows them to let their hair down and really build skills without being self-conscious. So it's really a great way to feel comfortable and be supportive and really feel good about themselves through laughter."
That idea about giving people "permission to laugh" is an important one, and is especially true when Smith works with groups in the wake of tragedies. He recalls one session just days after the Boston Marathon bombings.
"I remember doing it; and all these people telling me, how good it was to laugh after that terrible tragedy. So, it provided that opportunity to give people permission to laugh. You're going to go through traumatic events like that; but I want people to understand how important it is to laugh and uplift themselves, emotionally and physically."
Smith admits that can be hard, especially with the stressful lives that many of us lead. During his classes he works to teach participants to reduce stress and keep a positive mindset. Smith says that's one of the most rewarding parts of his job.
"Some people, when I start a workshop would be in a bad mood or feel depressed, and after the program is over, they're a totally different person. They're happier, more energetic, and they fully transformed themselves."
While transforming others, Smith has transformed himself, taking a journey he did not expect when he graduated from Curry two decades ago.
"I never thought I'd be doing this; but there's always parts of my Curry experience that I take with me, that's working hard and believing what you do. My background was education and I did a lot of work at the schools, but I also really learned to pursue what I really wanted to do, and that was a big part of my Curry experience."