Hospital Clowning

Hospital Clowning
By Jim ‘Rainbow” Hancock

Is being a hospital/caring clown for you? To answer this question you need to know yourself. If laughter and performances in front of large audiences is what you really want as a clown, then hospital clowning may not be for you. Compare a performance at a birthday party with healthy participating children. Then picture yourself walking into a hospital room. Here your audience changes from a large number of laughing children to an audience of maybe only one person who watches you enter the room from their hospital bed.

You also need to know what your strengths are and what areas of the hospital that you might he sensitive to. You might feel uncomfortable or even overwhelmed in the oncology unit or emergency room but feel comfortable in an outpatient care area where patients have less acute conditions. What this boils down to is the following question. Are you comfortable clowning with people who are in various stages of illness, from the mild to critically ill to those experiencing various levels of pain?
In addition to understanding yourself and the type of clowning you prefer, you also need know the hospital and how you as a clown, fit into it. You need to learn what the hospital process is all about. This will be partly done through the orientation class that is required. You also need to understand how people react when they have a loved one in the hospital or are in the hospital themselves for treatment. They are away from home and familiar surroundings and now call a hospital room their home away from home.

When visiting a patient, we need to remind ourselves that they aren’t “just patients”, but that they are first a person. We need to be caring and sensitive to the patient’s needs. Richard Snowberg reminds us that caring comes as our first priority. He said, “Being a caring clown means that one is caring and a clown. You are not a clown that cares, but rather a caring individual that is a clown.”

Discovering Your Role

There are five key roles for the hospital clown. These are friend, playmate, therapist, listener and entertainer. These roles can be combined or blended to meet the unique needs of each person and situation. With a wide diversity of hospital programs and individual clown skills, there is no national standard for hospital clowns.

The Clown as Friend

Shobbana Schwebke described the clown as friend in this way. She said, “Because we are not asking for anything or administering anything, we often step into that warm and fuzzy place of a trusted friend. How often after doing a goofy magic trick, an adult will just open up to me and a real bond is made.” Just as with any friend, your clown visit may be remembered long after you leave.
I would also like to share some of the words from a song entitled “Clowns are God’s Children Too”

“In this world of make-believe
Mime and magic, fantasy
A clown is a fiend you can hold in you heart
A friendship forever that will never part.
In attitude and action, the clown as a friend communicates these unspoken messages:
I like you.
I want to be your friend.
I’m here with you.”

The Playful Clown

The playful clown invites interaction. By doing this, the playful clown invites the “inner child” out to play. The playful clown can offer patients, family and staff a time to reconnect to the fun side of living, if only for a few moments. This can provide them mental and emotional relief and a welcomed escape.

Richard Snowberg summed the playful clown up by saying, “Your large cartoon-like character can take them out via fantasy. You can remove them from their pain for a time as you playfully involve then in your stories character and props. They likely haven’t been experiencing any fun. You can fill that need.

In attitude and action, the playful clown communicates these unspoken messages:

I delight in you.
I enjoy you.
I have fun with you.

The Therapeutic Clown

The role of the therapeutic clown is to give a supportive arm and voice to encourage strength and action in others. The clown can serve in a therapeutic role to support the medical team in a specific effort.

The following example illustrates the therapeutic role of a clown. In a treatment room a doctor invites a clown to assist him while he evaluates a young girl for a possible concussion. To complete his evaluation, the doctor needs the little girl to look up so he can examine the lower part of her eyes with a light. She refuses to look up. The clown blows bubbles up to the ceiling. The girl follows the bubbles with her eyes and the doctor finishes his exam.

In attitude and action, the therapeutic clown communicates these unspoken messages:

I support you.
I encourage you.
I want to help empower you.

The Listening/Pastoral Clown

The role of the listening clown is to literally “give an ear” to receive another person’s story. The willingness to let another person unburden the heaviness of their heart can be the first step for release.

In attitude and action, the listening/pastoral clown is communicates these unspoken messages:

I hear you.
I value you.
I respect you.

The Entertaining Clown

With voice, mime or music, the entertaining clown uses all of their senses and skills in storytelling, magic, puppets or other specialty to help focus the patient’s attention away from their illness and situation. The smiles evoked by an entertaining clown can lift the entire emotional mood in a room. Phyllis Diller quipped, “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”

In attitude and action, the entertaining clown communicates theses unspoken messages:

I’m here to give to you.
Escape with me.
May I entertain you?

In conclusion, whatever your role as a hospital clown, never underestimate your impact on a patient, family or staff member.

Hospital Clowns Need to Be Sensitive

While each hospital will have its own guidelines, clowns who visit hospitals need to be sensitive to:

  • Hospital rules and constraints
  • Health and hygiene concerns
  • Needs of patients, family, visitors and all
  • Yourself and what you are comfortable with

We will now look at these areas of sensitivity in more detail.

Be sensitive in how you approach people.

This topic has already been touched upon in past articles and during our hospital/caring clowning
educational class a few months ago, You need to remember to announce your arrival and to ask permission before entering a patient’s room. Remember to make your presence known in a soft manner by approaching them slowly and talking slowly. Invite their interaction but don’t intrude. Do not startle or surprise the patient, or other visitors already in their room. Be sensitive to the adjustment time needed by others.

Once you are invited in, look around their room or make a comment about something in their room such as flowers they have received. This can sometimes be used as an icebreaker for conversation. Most importantly by doing this, you give the patient some time to evaluate you.

Help the patient understand your work.

Be sure to introduce yourself and let the patient know why you are visiting them. Also, be sure and ask the patient if it is a good time to visit.

Be sensitive to patient privacy.

If you have ever been a patient in a hospital, I’m sure that you can remember your loss of privacy. With this in mind, please remember to respect closed doors and curtains.

Be sensitive lo each room’s situation and the needs of each person.

Assess the situation. Each room and patient may require a different approach.

As a hospital clown, you can share a story, puppets, pocket magic, a joke or a smile. Maybe all the patient wants to do is talk with you. Also learn to be a good listener. It’s also a plus to leave a memory token such as a photo, sticker, coloring page or a prescription for hugs that you can leave with the patient.

Remember to expect the unexpected. Be flexible and be prepared.

In conclusion, in this month’s article, Richard Snowberg stated, “In a caring clown situation, you have an audience of from one to four persons. You attempt to meet their needs with an escape from boredom or pain compassion, a listening ear or whatever this one person needs. These are strategies that you never consider when doing a company picnic”.


3 responses to “Hospital Clowning

  1. I am a senior over at the University of Alabama. I was going for a degree in Child Life to become a Child Life Specialist, but cant seem to pull of the whole “professional” look. I am too much a free spirit and too fun loving to be stuck wearing nice clothes all the time and whatnot. What I really want to do, which is what I do at the many places I volunteer, is to get down on the floor with the kids. I want to encourage their play and help them see how much potential they have. I want to make them laugh like they have never laughed. I want them to forget their situatiion, if only for the time that I am there. All my life, I have wanted to bring out the “inner Child” in everyone I meet. I have always been a little eccentric and stuck out in the crowd. I get along with and connect with chidlren moreso than i do poeple my age. I carry bubbles and stickers and a headful of jokes with me everywhere I go.
    I dont really know what I am getting at here, I suppose I really ment to reply by asking what I could do to become a therapuetic clown. I want to see if this is the job for me.

  2. Hello I´m looking information about the programs, I will love be part of this. I´m from southamerica, so I wonder whitch are my options. Apreciatte it!

  3. hi i just be came a caring clown in nj and am looking for somw ideas t do in the hospital thanks hope to hear from you soon

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