Clown Doctors: Shaman Healers of Western Medicine


The reading I chose to reflect on was “Clown Doctors: Shaman Healers of Western Medicine.” In this article, we are told about The Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit that travels to hospitals in the New York City area in order to entertain and comfort children and families. Although the clowns operate in a system composed of professionals practicing Western medicine, the author compares the Clown Care Unit, or CCU, to traditional, non- Western healers that focus on alternative styles of improving health. Non- western healing focuses on the “human dimension” and personal experience of an individual’s illness, while Western medicine focuses on biology and treatment of symptoms.


The main group that the CCU is compared to in this reading is the shaman. Although they may appear very different at first, there are many similarities between the two groups. Some of these being the use of performing arts to heal the ill, the wearing of costumes, the use music and singing, and in some ways the use of “magic tricks.” The main job of the CCU is to go around to different pediatric units in hospitals, dressed in full costume, and to make people laugh. Whether it was patients, parents, or hospital staff, the CCU does what they can to entertain and make the hospital a not so bad place. The reading tells us that the clowns “lift the spirits of the hospital staff,” which overall improves caregiving. Children are also less afraid, and parents are often relieved to see their children happier. This overall creates a “more positive interation between parents, staff, and patients.”


In the discussion section, we are told that the “CCU clowns don’t claim to cure anything.” The author, however, believes that “in collaboration with health care providers, they play a beneficial role in Western medicine.” The type of healing taking place, I believe, may be psychological, and can play a huge role in the overall attitude the patient has towards their illness. I believe that this is a very important step in the healing process.



Van Blerkom, Linda Miller. “Clown Doctors: Shaman Healers of Western Medicine.” Medical Anthropology Quarterly 9.4 (1995): 462-75. Jstor. Web. 18 July 2012. <>.





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