Clown Doctors in NYC

The article that I am choosing to reflect on is the Clown Doctors: Shaman Healers of Western Medicine.  This article described the purpose of the Clown Care Unit (CCU) who are professional clowns based in New York that go from pediatric divisions from hospital to hospital.  They perfectly fulfill their purpose of entertaining, alleviating discomfort or pain temporarily, and uplifting the spirits of the patients as well as the parents.  Dressed up and loaded with many gags and gifts, the CCU go around the hospital and brighten the children from the burn units to the terminally ill.  Surveys even showed how the CCU made it a lighter atmosphere and happier place for the doctors, nurses, and other staff members as well. The link between clowns and Shamans is a popular one.  Both are entertainers; clown performances originating from shamanistic performances, and act as the middle man between serious and comical, real and unnatural.  The clowns, as well as Shamans, unlike the Western approach of specific therapy, focusing on disease only,  are more of general therapists, more importantly illustrate symbolic healing.  The advantages of the CCU were apparent – it seemed as though all parties in the situation were happy after the CCU’s presence for the day.  It is wise that the Western practitioners are attempting to be more open minded regarding alternative practices that address the patient as more than just their physical disease or illness. Instead, the patient is seen to them as a person; one who is experiencing this illness physically, socially, and psychologically.

The “clowns” are professional clowns who were hired as a worker for the Clown Care Unit that was created by Michael Christensen, the cofounder and creative director of the Big Apple Circus, in 1986.  It is made sure that the clowns learn the rules for their “performances” and entertainment: they are empowering the children by making silly, stupid mistakes and allowing for the child patients being the ones to tell them what to do, or how to do the magic trick right.  They are wonderful at interacting with the patients, parents of patients, and even doctors and nurses in that pediatric unit by being so light-hearted and fun to be around.  Even if it is temporary, the clowns alleviate some stress or are able to distract them for a moment from their difficult situation or medical state.

The clowns operate in a bio-medical environment in the hospitals with practitioners and nurses, and are symbolically healing the patients with toys and trinkets.  The physicians approach is focused on the child’s disease and symptoms, and the clown is focused on their mental status and emotionally uplifting them.  It is important to recognize the importance of both type of healing. Each complement each other and it would be a great advantage for the combination of these two practices to manifest throughout hospitals for pediatric care to improve patient/parent satisfaction, compliance, and in hopes, outcome of the patient.

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  1. Zack Riem says:

    I agree the clown doctors are a great addition to the hospitals. Hospitals by some are looked at as a frighting place where people go to die. Adding the clowns may alleviate some of the fear and discomfort some have of seeking professional medical help. There is a lack of medical focus on mental health and mental well-being, the ability to be comfortable and in a happy mental state increase the chance of successful treatment.
    As a normal physician may focus on healing/treating physical or mental problems, clown doctors work on the mental status of the patient, a critical aspect in healing. Positive attitude and focus increases a patients health status, sometimes resulting in smaller amount of, or shorter duration of hospital stays. The addition of the clowns and the interaction the ill can have increases mood and mental status. Their practices may not be invasive but they are well received for those who are not feeling well. For children the silly games and actions of the clowns may be what they need to get well. Overall I feel as if the addition of clown doctors and their ability to help patients is not only overwhelming beneficial for the hospitals but as well the people who need or seek medical care.

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