Clown Doctors in NYC

In 1986, Michael Christensen co-founded the Big Apple Circus for the Clown Care Unit, an organized group of clowns that specially serve seven different pediatric wards around New York City. These professionally-trained clowns spend two to three days a week visiting young hospital patients. They employ different comical techniques to liven the atmosphere around the dreary wards such as playing music, blowing bubbles, performing magic tricks, and especially playing with puppets – a crowd favorite. The clowns dress as pretend doctors and use their “instruments” to entertain the children and keep their minds off of more serious matters. This helps keep the children as well as the parents from becoming too stressed or scared. In this way, these clowns are very similar to the shamans of non-Western societies, using unusual and often comical practices to heal their patients. They dress unusually and often violate cultural and social conventions which only makes them more magical. Children are usually more receptive than most to the idea of magic because they have not yet formed the same ideals as the rest of our society. However, clowns in general do not have a very high social status, in fact, I would say they have a rather low social status. Clowns are seen as ridiculous and therefore they are not seen as professionals. But are they effective? I believe they are. Rather than improving the physical health of their patients, these clown doctors improve emotional health. They cheer up the children and their parents and they relieve the stress of the physicians attending them. They help alleviate any depressions the children have gotten into and they help decrease any fear the children have of their own doctors. These clown doctors provide a complementary “treatment,” or an alternative medicine, to those administered by the child’s physician. They are, in a sense, emotional health therapists.

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