I recently participated in a medical clown training offered by GCSW with Jeff Gordon, a medical clown practicing in Israel. I am a macro student and have not had many opportunities to participate in clinical trainings and workshops throughout my time at GCSW so this training was definitely different than anything I have taken part in previously. Prior to this training I really had no knowledge of ‘clowning’ as a form of therapy and therefore was a little apprehensive to participate. However, after completing the workshop I not only feel that it could be an effective channel in which to reach children and adults that are in pain or experiencing trauma but a therapeutic outlet for the clinician as well.
I believe that the most important lesson I learned from this training is that we are not going to have all of the answers and we are not going to be perfect clinicians but if we are able to meet our clients with authenticity and love we will be effective. By stepping into the clown role, the clinician is able to step into a mental state that is not concerned with our own pain, desire, joy or happiness but open to other’s pain, desire, joy and happiness.
By nurturing the ‘inner clown’, we are able to understand the roles we play in everyday life. As Jeff said in the workshop description, “through being in Clown role, we can start to take a more playful, spontaneous fun and humorous approach to both our personal and professional lives.” I think approaching life this way allows for more authenticity to break through the different roles we play in our lives, bringing us closer to our authentic selves.
Clown therapy is aligned with social work professional values such as person-in-environment and strengths-based perspective. When working with a client the clown is supposed to focus on the strengths of the client rather than seeing them as the sickness or traumatic experience. As the therapist, the clown must use the client’s strengths to help them see past the pain, medical condition or traumatic experience and guide them through the healing process. By focusing on the client’s strengths, the clinician will help the client begin to see themselves as a whole person not just the disease, sickness our traumatic experience. The clown is also capable of meeting the client exactly where they are in the moment. Without the rigid structure required of some therapeutic techniques the medical clown is able to walk into a room and just be present and available to the client in order to work from the client’s needs not the requirements dictated by a curriculum. This freedom allows the clinician to move with the client at their own pace while constantly working within the client’s environment.
These values were reflected through an example Jeff shared during the workshop about a young teenage girl that tried to commit suicide. Jeff was called in soon after she was admitted to the hospital to begin working with her. He explained that he very slowly peeked into her room and then, through facial and body movements alone, acted as if she was the most beautiful and precious thing he had ever seen on the planet. Jeff explained that clowns have the freedom to ‘discover’ each element as if for the very first time. She needed to feel loved and Jeff was able to do this as a clown in a very pure, meaningful and authentic way that he would not have been able to convey otherwise.
For more information on medical clowning in Israel see this website: http://www.dreamdoctors.org.il/eng/