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8th annual Recovery Conference

Stress-reducing laughter is focus of Recovery Conference

“Lighten up – jest for the health of it!”

This pun-ful advice was the parting message from keynote speaker Dr. Paul McGhee to nearly 400 people as he capped off an afternoon of belly laughs and hysterical antics during the 8th annual SERV Recovery NJ Conference on April 17 at the Pines Manor in Edison.

SERV consumers and their families, staff and outside healthcare professionals learned that a good old belly laugh can reduce stress, provide muscle relaxation, and ease psychological tensions.

Using two chairs balanced on his shoulders as a metaphor, he demonstrated how some people often carry around heavy “stuff,” such as anxiety, depression, frustration and anger. He suggested that people have a choice to put those negatives down. When he unexpectedly had to struggle to put down the chairs, guests roared with laughter as staff members jumped up to help him remove them.

Recovering nicely, he said, “You see, unexpected things are going to happen in your life, such as this, that you didn’t know you were going to have to deal with. Use each other as partners and resources … it took three people to help me!”

He also encouraged consumers to adopt a lighter attitude and to see the funny side of everyday situations. Doing so will give them the resilience they need to cope on the tough days, he said.

Dr. McGhee, founder of The Laughter Remedy, delivers his free- spirited program on humor and health/stress management to corporations, hospitals and other organizations as a full-time professional speaker. Dr. McGhee, who has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology, spent 22 years conducting basic research on humor and laughter while teaching at the university level. He has published more than 50 scientific articles and 13 books on humor, including his newly released book, “Humor: The Lighter Path to Resilience and Health.”

The Recovery NJ Conference is an annual recovery-oriented and educational event planned by both SERV staff and residents. The Conference strives to give people with mental illness or developmental disabilities and their family members the opportunity to network, gain encouragement, and learn the tools needed to recover and find complete wellness.

The Pines Manor is a new venue for this ever-growing event. According to 2010 statistics, there were a total of 385 in attendance: 242 consumers, 99 staff members and 44 guests, which included consumers’ family members and outside healthcare professionals.

Guests were treated to a sumptuous buffet of breakfast foods and a luncheon beautifully presented by The Pines Manor staff. They also received five tickets to drop into selected baskets for the Tricky Tray drawing to win fabulous prizes.

Some of the comments received from the overall evaluation forms included: “The conference is very helpful for my overall well-being. I enjoy it very much for the knowledge that I obtain from it as well as being with my fellow consumers.”

“This is my first time going to the conference. I am deeply impressed with the volunteers and workshop presenters.” The topics of the 10 morning workshops presented this year were based on surveys collected from consumer attendees of previous conferences. The workshops were led by SERV staff and special guests. Topics included “Nutrition/Cooking,” “Money Matters,” “Living a Healthier Life,” “Vocational/Educational/Work” and “Hobbies.”

SERV consumers also participated in a “Centerpiece Contest” prior to the Conference. The centerpiece focused on the eight dimensions of Wellness and Recovery: Physical, mental, emotional and intellectual wellbeing, along with educational, vocational, financial and spiritual needs. Among those submitted, one was selected as the winner from each county by the SERV Centers and SERV Achievement Centers directors. Each county was then responsible for replicating their winning centerpiece four to eight times so that each of the dining hall tables at the Conference had a consumer-created decoration.

At the end of the conference, special Recovery Awards were presented to staff and consumers.