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Analysis of The Movie “Patch Adams” Essay

The analysis of the movie Patch Adams: Is humor the best medicine?

Patch Adams is a movie that is based on a true story. It is about a man who has experienced many things in his lifetime, from being institutionalized in a psychiatric ward of a hospital to being a well-respected doctor that heals and calms many people with humor. This movie portrays many aspects of health communication that we have discussed in this class, and it also accurately represents one of the debates currently taking place in the health communication field. In this paper I will review past terms and models such as: physician-centered communication, collaborative communication, and the biopsychosocial model. These terms will be used to help demonstrate that the information found in the movie Patch Adams is relevant to the field of health communication. Then I will attempt to answer the underlying question of the movie Patch Adams, “Is humor the best medicine?”

Since the beginning of time man has held many different theories on health and what causes illness. Some more farfetched than others, but also some that are more believable. For example, the biopsychosocial model still influences many. This model approaches health as an overall encompassing phenomenon. This means that health is affected by more than just physical ailments. Overall health is a product of both physical and emotional

Well being. According to Athena du Pre in her book, Communicating about Health: Current Issues and Perspectives: “The biopsychosocial perspective takes into account patients’ physical conditions (biology), their thoughts and beliefs (psychology), and their social expectations”. She went on to state, “The biopsychosocial approach is supported by evidence that people’s thoughts and emotions have an influence on their overall health”.

Considering this, now take a look at the movie Patch Adams. Hunter Adams, or better known as “Patch”, never found his notch in life, especially after his father died when he was nine. In his later life, he bounced around from job to job but nothing seemed to feel right. Then, after he attempted to commit suicide he found himself in a psychiatric ward living amongst some very special people. It was there where he first found his true calling in life. In that psychiatric ward “Patch” Adams learned that he was completely compelled by helping people. He loved helping people through the healing process, and he also learned that with his playful personality, he was very good at it.

He believed that connecting to a patient’s thoughts and emotions were equally as important as knowing what was physically wrong with them. This vision and his initiative lifted him out of the psychiatric ward and, believe it or not, all the way through medical school. Throughout this transformation into a doctor, “Patch” was pressured to dismiss his views and conform to how others thought a medical student/professional is supposed to act. Till the end, Patch devoted himself to helping patients however he could. He found that the best way for him to communicate with patients was with the use of humor. He would simply make then laugh, and automatically they would feel better.

Now remembering the biopsychosocial model, try to compare it with Patch’s view of health care. As you probably realized, Patch’s vision falls almost directly in line with this models beliefs. Patch and the biopsychosocial model belief that health is affected by a combination of all aspects of life.

In today’s society, there are a large number of medical facilities virtually in every city. Since the first day these doors have opened, the majority of them have most likely been physician-centered environments. In a physician-centered environment the caregiver controls almost every aspect of the interaction. As soon as a patient walks into a physician-centered environment they begin to wait. The doctor controls almost all aspects of the entire visit. Waiting for the doctor like this almost implies that the doctor’s time is more important than the patient’s. “Researchers suggest that doctors have traditionally been more assertive than patients-talking more, asking more questions, and choosing what topics will be discussed. Sometimes physicians go so far as to make patients feel belittled and helpless. Patients, in turn, are relatively passive and accommodating, at least while they are with their doctors”(du Pre 53).

While examining the interpersonal interactions between doctors and patients it is clear that doctors completely control the talk time. Doctors ask a lot of “yes” or “no” answered questions, not allowing the patient to express very much emotional information. This is one of the ways that doctors, in this type of environment, try to stay emotionally detached from patients. An example of this can also be found in the movie when all the experienced doctors only refer to patients as their certain illnesses. These doctors feel that names, emotions, hobbies, etc. are just distractions that get in the way of their professional duties.

In recent times, in the field of health communication, a shift in beliefs has become apparent. Many feel that the physician-centered approach is no longer the best way to manage the interaction between patients and doctors. A new collaborative approach has been adopted by many. This collaborative approach is more of a partnership between the patient and doctor. More communicating by the patient, and more listening by the doctor. When the doctor and patient speak to one another, they speak to each other as peers sharing ideas, comments, and suggestions. This allows patients to open up to their doctors and reveal inner thoughts and feelings that could possibly be negatively affecting their health.

A good example of this type of interaction is transactional communication, in which both communicators are mutually influencing each other. It can be thought of as a transaction of information or an exchange. It is here, in this type of environment, that communication skills play a very important role. A doctor that lacks communicative skills might have problems interacting with some of the patients. Interacting builds trust between the doctor and patient, which allows the patient to feel more relaxed.

Building trust is very important since doctors in some cases must prescribe life saving remedies. If the patient doesn’t trust his or her doctor, they might not trust the doctor’s diagnosis and this could ultimately lead to the patient not following the doctors instructions properly. “Researchers suggest that patients who feel they have been belittled or who have been unable to share important information are less likely than others to follow treatment advice. At the same time, doctors who discourage patients from talking may miss important information”(du Pre 52). So as one can see, communication skills play a very important role in effective health communication. Many physicians use different tactics to get patients to open up to them. Of these tactics, one has been studied almost since the beginning of medicine itself. “Patch” Adams used this same tactic to influence his patients. The communication tactic is humor.

In the movie Patch Adams, “Patch”, whether he knew it or not, was a believer of the collaborative approach to health care. Laughter and humor were used by “Patch” to help the patients feel better and relax. The patients trusted Patch and opened up to him, this allowed him to make more accurate diagnoses. Thus, improving the patient’s situation, attitude, and overall outlook on life all through the use of humor. “The reality is that many therapists regard humor to be a valuable, productive vehicle that has helped their clients progress effectively in dealing with personal, social, and emotional problems. When rapport and trust have been established, humor may be expected to produce beneficial results, if used prudently”(Granick 1). Should humor be considered a medicine? Many feel that it should.

Humor and laughter are becoming increasingly valued assets in the health care environment. They both can be used as effective tools to cope with stress, therefore promoting physical health. Not only does humor promote physical health, but the use of humor also can be a critical skill for physicians in medical settings. Humor can promote positive relationships and allow patients to relax, feel motivated, relieve stress, and work toward the goal of a healthy life. Humor can provide a way to deal with tension and to view situations more optimistically. The ability to have humor gives us perspective when dealing with our problems.

Humor and laughter provide a physical release from tension and stress. It is well known that stress has a negative effect on overall health. The connection between stress and high blood pressure, muscle tension, and many other ailments has been known for years. We know have proof that laughter creates the opposite effects. It seems to be the perfect medicine for stress. So from this, one could say that humor has a therapeutic effect on the human body, mind, and soul. Norman Cousins was one of the first to call attention to the medical community to the potential therapeutic effects of humor. He described his use of humor during the treatments he had for a particular ailment. He always believed that negative emotions would have a negative effect on his health, so he then began to hold that the opposite was also true: that positive emotions would have a positive effect. He believed that the experience of laughter could open him to feeling joy, hope, and confidence again.

Cousins maybe the best known for such research, but he was definitely not the first. As early as the 1300’s, a professor of surgery by the name of Henri de Mondeville wrote, “Let the surgeon take care to regulate the whole regimen of the patient’s life for joy and happiness, allowing his relatives and special friends to cheer him, and by having someone tell him jokes”(Walsh 147). The difference is that we now have studies that prove this to be true. Another pioneer in this field is the famous Sigmund Freud. Freud believed that laughter played a very important role in mental health. “Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud was among the first to attempt a systematic exploration of the nature of humor and laughter and how they may operate in the human personality. In his 1905 book, Wit and its Relation to the Unconscious, he observed that jokes and comical expressions enable individuals to defend against anxieties, fears, anger, and other disturbing emotions”(Granick 2). It amazes me that these guys were on the right track that many years ago, but they were. After evaluating all this information it has become clear to me, and hopefully you, that humor has a definite impact on health. I personally feel that there is a direct positive relationship between the amount of laughter and overall health of an individual.

In conclusion, I feel that the movie Patch Adams is a great reflection of current issues in the health communication field. This movie contains many relevant topics and theories that I analyzed and compared to models and other issues that we have discussed in class. I hope my description and analysis of this movie gives you an insight to how our medical environment could change in the near future. Too many physicians separate themselves from their patients emotionally. This tends to restrict the ability of the physician to communicate effectively with their patients. Now with the information I gave you, you make your own decision: Is humor the best medicine? I think we will agree that it might not be the best, but I believe that humor certainly can be classified as a medicine.


Anderson, P. A., Gill, P. S., Greenfield, S. M., & Loudon, R. F. (1999). Educating medical students for work in culturally diverse societies. Journal of American Medical Association, 282. 875-880.

du Pre’, A. (2000). Communicating about health: Issues and perspectives. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company.

Granick, S. (1995). The therapeutic value of laughter. USA Today Magazine,124, 1-6.

Walsh, J. (1928). Laughter and health. NY: Appleton.

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