NHS in Bristol to prescribe comedians to help patients struggling with trauma

Bristol is set to become the first city to see comedians prescribed on the NHS in a bid to help patients struggling with trauma.

GPs in Bristol can send patients on a free course from this month, which uses stand-up comedy to help people overcome their demons.

The courses are pioneered by Angie Belcher, a comedian in residence at the University of Bristol, who has been working with medics to deliver the sessions.

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Angie says: “Comedy is a natural human trait, and we are already comedians.

“Every night you come home from work and tell your significant other/ dog/ dad what your day was like, but in the car home you’ll exaggerate details, make your retorts funnier and build a story that will entertain your friends and family. All we do with professional comedy education is give you the tools to take this to a more polished and informed level.”

Professional comics Charmian Hughes and Jack Campbell will help to deliver the sessions through Bristol Wellspring Settlement Social Prescribing Team, at its site in Lawrence Hill.

The six-week course, available from this month, is described as a “combination of psychology, comedy and storytelling.”

“Past traumas are perfect for comedy. Comedy doesn’t come from the happy, perfect moments of your life, but from our everyday struggles and major life events,” Angie continued.

“People who’ve been through big life experiences such as bereavement and ill health often can’t wait to tell me their story, mostly because there’s always something weirdly funny about the situation.

“You can acknowledge and honour the comedy of a situation, as much as the ritual and sadness of it. It’s a small bit of respite, so why wouldn’t you take it?”

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Angie, who has a Masters degree in psychology, says the course is for anyone who is ready to explore their anxiety and trauma through comedy.

“I’ve had all sorts of people want to join the course, people in recovery from mental health issues, people who’ve had birth trauma and people with PTSD,” she said.

“There’s plenty of one-to-one help in the room too, I’ll have three people assisting me, giving people a hand to write their comedy, some comedians, some from the world of counselling, so you get lots of support to write and bring out your comedic self.”

Angie explains: “I’m not implying that this should take the place of traditional clinical approaches, but similarly to art or drama therapy, this course is a complementary one which is there for people who normally wouldn’t be able to access my workshops.”

“When you are ready to explore some darker times from your history, you find that just talking about it in a funny way is quite lovely, and more importantly, it has a ripple effect on your audience, you help other people to cope with their sadness.

“When you bring your story alive for others, it makes other people feel less alone, having your experience mirrored back to you is hugely comforting. Comedy builds community.”

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