The BLOG: Lifestyle


Therapy is goal oriented. Artistic, Behavioral, Cognitive; Acupuncture, Biofeed-back or Chiropractic, the A,B,C’s of every practice is simply to feel better. Even with retail therapy, to say “one size fits all” is a bit of a stretch, that’s one of the reasons a fluid definition of the term is a recognized part of our lexicon. Therapy’s polymorphisms are accepted as bonfide aids on the continuum of our present-day zeitgeist.

On Christmas Day, 1998 the late Robin Williams starred in Patch Adams, a semi-biographical film about the unconventional medical practices of Hunter “Patch” Adams. The real life alum of George Washington University and Virginia Commonwealth Medical School is an author, comedian, physician and social activist who founded the Gesundheit! Institute in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. The Institute was designed in 1971 as a free community hospital with the intention of delivering comprehensive traditional and alternative care to patients from birth to death.

The scope of Gesundheit! has morphed over its forty-five year history however the commitment to integrate the soul of compassion into society remains the philosophical core of Dr. Adams’ global initiative. Patch, and his scholarly team of doctors and nurses are big believers in the power of wearing a red nose, crazy clothes and sight gags. For them the reality of illness also includes the wellness of a healthy sense of humor.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, may not have embraced Dr. Adams’ perspective that laughter is the best medicine, or the work of two local “therapists” however their humanitarian services absolutely deliver positive therapeutic results. Unlike Patch Adams, neither Louise Speck or Dana Sullivan is a trained physician. Neither has earned an advanced degree in psychology. However, both women have earned a reputation around the Commonwealth for improving the common-health of people with whom they interact professionally. In very different ways, they succeed in relieving stress and helping people feel better offering emotional hugs, without drugs.

In her book, Tickles and Tears, Louise Speck reflects on the use of humor in very serious situations. She says when a funny thought leads to a deep breath and stress reduction, Clinical Clowning is an amazingly effective therapeutic tool. She’s found spontaneous laughter occasionally leads to heart-breaking tears, turning hurt inside out. Recognizing humor as a universal language ‘Spec’ has used it to make the unacceptable, acceptable, brightening encounters with the elderly, people with dementia and those suffering with traumatic brain injury.

Working as a clown in hospitals, nursing homes, and other care institutions Spec relies upon her background in counseling psychology, education and special needs assistance to direct her interactions. Speaking to researchers at MIT her seemingly unquantifiable work has been reviewed by scientists evaluating the benefits of including clowning with care. Embracing human imperfections with humor, clowning-around is helping to re-frame how to care for patients while treating their illness or accepting there are no treatments, only acceptance.

Deploying the charm’s of one of Boston’s most handsome bon vivant’s Dana Sullivan is the handler/mom of Sir Harvard Dangerfield, a twelve year old Samoyed and certified therapy dog. She’s also a newly graduated pediatric nurse practitioner from the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professionals as well as a 2006 graduate of the Connecticut School of Music.


Courtesy of Flickr

Dana grew up in Wayland watching her mom work as a pet-therapist. The family pet, Harvard, grew-up in the lime-light of being an AKC champion show-dog. Not merely a handsome face, he with Dana began his certification training to be a therapy dog as a six month old pup.

Despite her hectic schedule and Harvard’s advancing years the dog-namic, dynamic duo continue to volunteer Sir Dangerfield’s fluffy cuddle services around the city sitting with little children in the Boston Public library and making therapeutic visits to hospitals, nursing homes and schools. Quietly, effectively they increase calm, lessen anxieties, and build self-esteem one cuddle, one pet,one smile at a time.

Although retired from competition, Dana confirms Harvard is still recognized as “The Most Famous Dog in Boston.” Maintaining his paw-print on all social media-sites Sir Dangerfield vicariously offers therapeutic interaction to tens of thousands of his world-wide followers which includes his Instagram account of 26.9 followers as well as a Facebook page and Twitter profile.

Typical objectives of these complimentary emotional social supports include opportunities for non-verbal bonding and an improved psychological state though time and touch. Studies have sited a reduction of blood pressure, and perceived diminution of pain due to a temporary increase in endorphins. The merits of these alternate therapies is broad, the aim to live in the moment can offer transformative relief, if only for a while.

In the aftermath of a long election cycle, in advance of Thanksgiving rituals and Christmas chaos in order to simply feel better, perhaps it’s wise to seek therapy. If November 8th has left your family with scars or turkey and trimmings induce free floating anxiety, Dr. Adams, Louise Speck and Sir Harvard Dangerfield suggest a few laughs and some cuddle-time may be just what the therapist should order to get through to the New Year with a little comfort and joy.