Most Surprising Ways to Heal from Illness

Pet therapy is not for the birds, and humor isn't for comedy clubs only — 'Who likes hard, boring work?'

by Pat Barone | Updated 08 May 2017 at 9:05 AM

While a hospital stay is rarely an uplifting experience, creative approaches are helping patients defy the odds and get better more quickly. Dr. Cali Estes, an addiction therapist, founded the Music Addiction Camp in North Port, Florida, to help patients naturally stimulate their production of dopamine, the brain neurotransmitter that helps people feel happy.

“Imagine taking a happy pill,” Estes told LifeZette. “You feel sad and then, suddenly, you feel fantastic. You dance around the kitchen and sing into the silverware or drum on the counter. Your dopamine level is high. You are on top of the world. What if you could feel like that every day without a drug?”

“A happy client is a sober client.”

Estes says most addiction programs focus on hard work and are boring — which prompted her to ask the smart and obvious question: “Who likes hard, boring work?”

The three-day residential Music Addiction Camp, held in a colorful music studio, offers music lessons in drum, guitar, voice and bass. It also uses a drum circle, yoga lessons, and beach meditation.

“The key ingredient is happiness,” Estes told LifeZette. “If a client is happy, that person is not doing drugs. Imagine that! A happy client is a sober client.”

Recently The Wall Street Journal profiled the Harmonica Group at the University of Michigan, which was created to help patients suffering from lung diseases redevelop their breathing patterns. The harmonica may not seem related to healing, and there is no evidence it helps patients breathe more deeply. Yet many patients have avoided further treatment by practicing with the musical group every week. They’ve also bonded with their bandmates, which proved inspiring and supportive.

Harmonica groups exist around the country, often with upbeat names like The Harmonicats, located at UCHealth in Aurora, Colorado. The Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Foundation recently helped new classes debut in 25 COPD treatment centers around the country.

Physical therapist Sally Morgan, of Northampton, Massachusetts, is certified in various healing methods for and with animals. Her Corgis participate in her therapy with patients to inspire them.

Related: Emotional Support Pets: Healthy or Harmful?

“When my dogs participate in physical therapy sessions, people get better faster and have more fun doing it,” she told LifeZette. “Being able to walk with a dog motivates people to walk further. A person with a terminal illness is comforted immeasurably by a dog. There is research showing that petting a dog lowers your blood pressure.”

Testing the blood pressure connection, Morgan said she finds a 50-point drop in the systolic number in patients who pet a therapy dog for 10 minutes.

“Petting a dog also causes the person and the dog to release serotonin, a feel-good hormone, and oxytocin, a trust hormone,” she explained. “The more people pet an animal, the more is released. It creates a circular happiness generator between the individual and the dog.”

“They operated on my brain without even asking me.”

Healing can go two ways. Sometimes, patients prove to be healers to their caregivers. When comedian Dan Nainan of New York City fell at his gym and sustained a life-threatening brain injury, he was determined to use humor in his healing process.

“They operated on my brain, without even asking me,” he told LifeZette. “I said, ‘How could you do a thing like that? Why, why, why on earth didn’t you ask me first, before operating on my brain?’ They said, ‘Sir, you were unconscious and we did it to save your life.’ And I said, ‘Well, besides that.'”

Nainan entertained his caregivers and was determined to make the best of a three-week hospital stay. “Doctors, nurses and the staff have to deal with so much pain, loss, death,” he said. “They are truly saints. I could tell that I brighten their day by making them laugh.”

Related: Brain Cancer Hasn’t Killed My Sense of Humor

One downside was that none of his friends believed his texts about the fall, thinking he was setting them up for a joke.

He’s been recovering nicely from his injury. “My hair is growing back, but for a while it looked like I tried to give myself a mohawk and gave up. Every day is a bad hair day. I never thought I’d have to have a combover this early in life, but I’m one of the few people in the country with hair worse than Donald Trump.”

Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach, author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions. 

  1. patients
  2. happiness
  3. healing
  4. illness
  5. laughing
  6. recovery
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