Clown Doctors: Shaman Healers of Western Medicine – Aaron Schmidt




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The clown doctors are a group of professional clowns that work in pediatric wards in many New York City hospitals.  They are not real doctors, but they work towards the same goal of treating their patients.  They do this by treating the human dimensions and illness, rather than actual diseases.  In America, their social status is not as high as normal physicians.  They don’t operate in many hospitals, and there isn’t much evidence that they actually help patients get better.  They heal pediatric patients by cheering up children in hospitals with various gags and jokes.  They wear funny costumes and carry doctor’s bags filled with tricks, puppets, musical instruments, balls, and other things.  Waiting pediatric patients will be surprised by clowns playing instruments, blowing bubbles, performing magic tricks, and playing with medical equipment.  They try to cheer up and distract children and their parents while children are receiving medical care that can be frightening or painful.  They also cheer up children with various life-threating diseases, burns, and cancer.  The article mentions that these clowns can be compared to healing shamans in non-western cultures.  These shamans use costumes, masks, and gags in order to heal their patients.  They believe that the illness and human feelings involved in sickness must be treated.  They mediate between order and chaos, real and supernatural, use profanity, and invert cultural rules in order to get an emotional response, which can be called Psychological healing.  Native Americans often use clowns and shamans to treat the human dimension, or illness, rather than the disease like western physicians do.  China and India often use shamans along with Physicians.  Many Americans also visit alternative medicine providers as well as normal Physicians, creating what is called complementary or additive medicine.  Normal medicine is scientific and treats the disease, while alternative medicine deals with the human dimensions and treats the illness.  A disease and illness can be tackled more effectively when normal and alternative medicine is added together.  The article points out that there is not much evidence that clowns and shamans can heal patients, but evidence has been gathered that adding both scientific and alternative healing can help children deal with procedures better and allow them to recover from illnesses faster.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Aaron Schmidt says:

    Sorry, the top part was not in the post when I posted it to the wall, I’m not sure why the top part is messed up like that. It must have been an error from copying from MS word.

    -Aaron Schmidt

  2. Matt Waldrop says:

    Hey Aaron –

    I enjoyed this post about clown doctors and how they operate in the U.S. healthcare system. As a child, I underwent a few procedures of my own, and I believe I would have appreciated these clowns, because the atmosphere was always so negative when I went to the hospital. These clown doctors are clearly different from biomedical doctors due to the fact that they are trying to accomplish a different goal, to make the children happy. This is different because biomedical doctors are trying to cure these children to make them not sick anymore. These clowns do not care about the disease that is currently ailing the child, all they are focused on is diverting attention away from being sick. These doctors may not be credible, and their methods may not produce quantifiable results, but like I stated earlier, I appreciate them trying to change the sad, depressing atmosphere of the hospital. Specifically for those kids who have life-threatening diseases, cancer, or burns, as they have the bleakest outlook and could use their spirits lifted the most. To other biomedical doctors, these clown doctors may not seem legitimate, but to the children who are sick, they may seem more legitimate than the actual biomedical doctors.

  3. Chase Taylor says:

    This post was a very insightful look into the clown doctors of western medicine, nice work! These clown doctors seem to be drastically different then the biomedical doctors, yet it is interesting how in some cases they actually do work in some hospitals with real doctors present. This fact leads me to believe that physicians must think the clown doctors have a positive effect. They go against the grain of almost everything modern American healthcare has come to symbolize and are crucial in the incorporation of a folk element into the professional element of patient treatment. I think it is very interesting how their actual medical effectiveness while perhaps not clearly demonstrated may have more of an effect then we realize. While I personally believe that biomedical is the most effect approach perhaps the concept of mind over matter warrants more consideration. I think that in this case credibility may be found not in the actual credentials of the clown doctor but in the mind of the beholder. In my life when I’ve gone into a sickness with a poor attitude that sickness has lasted much longer then when I’ve approached the same sickness with a positive attitude. Because of the differences in which people handle emotions and interactions actual data on the clown effectiveness would be hard to find, yet we should not discount the possible positive effects.

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