Clowning is the Cure
By Naveen Vijayan | Published: 18th May 2014 06:00 AM |
What do you do when a child refuses to take his or her medicine? How do you help a mother survive the news of her child’s death? Invite a clown. This is the simple solution offered by Canadian couple Fif and Hamish, who call themselves clown therapists. Settled in Auroville for over a year now, they were recently invited by Ekam Foundation, Chennai, to demonstrate their therapy at the Institute of Child and Health.
Fif, who is of Indian origin, had met Hamish when they were theatre artistes in Canada. Both were educated to be medical trainers. Their job included playing patients for the student-doctors and giving feedback about how well they were diagnosed, as part of the medical training course. Therapeutic clowning came second on their agenda.
Unlike the usual clowns who paint their face white and wear extra large boat-like shoes, Fif’s and Hamish’s costumes are Indianised and prove just eccentric enough to set them apart from the crowd at the hospitals they visit. While Fif wears a colorful kurti, pajama, orange artificial flowers on her hair and a dupatta that lets her play peek-a-boo with her patients, Hamish’s attire highlight is a burgundy hat.
The motive is not to make people laugh but to engage with them heart to heart. More than seeing clown as a laughter-inducing gimmick, for the couple, it is a symbol of compassion. “Unlike laughter therapy which is more for a respiratory and physical well-being, therapeutic clowning is about bringing out a connection with the patient. We also work very closely with medical professionals for the patient’s overall care. There is laughter, playfulness, imagination, and all this coupled with therapeutic modalities,” says Fif.
While it isn’t always necessary to know the complete medical history of the patient, in cases which involve issues with mental health or for people who are suicidal, having a prior knowledge is imperative so as to act accordingly. And then there are cases such as that of a mother who had just lost her child in a tragic accident. “The mother grabbed my hands tightly. I put my hands around her and we sat like that for hours. She was singing prayers. I would catch a few words and keep singing that word. I would go wherever she goes,” says Fif. In such times, laughter is not the priority, it’s the emotional support.
The therapy is relevant for all ages, from neonates to senior persons, from those affected by dementia to those with special needs. While many think that clowns could easily connect with children, Fif and Hamish have a different opinion. “It is an erroneous assumption. It is more challenging to deal with young children since it is a whole new thing for them. They are usually reluctant and we need to discover methods to engage them,” says Fif. Sometimes it would be playing peek-a-boo with the child, making a puppet speak, trying to use an oversized toothbrush, or even just singing the child’s name repeatedly. “For people in their 30s and 40s, it is easier. They absolutely love it. It gives them the permission to smile like a child forgetting the baggage of stress,” she says.
The couple recounts having to engage a man in his 30s who had been hit by a truck, at the General Hospital in Pondicherry. His foot had to be amputated and jaw shut tight. Yet another case in which a man had to get four stitches on his head and hand. “In such cases we use the distraction strategy by probably producing a puppet!” she says. They coax people to have their regular dose of exercise and convince kids to take medication and food. “But all with the patient’s permission. If patient is not in a position to engage, we just step out, go somewhere else,” says Hamish.
The couple started the Komali Medi Clown Academy to promote the importance of laughter, in Auroville. They practised clown therapy in a small clinic in Auroville and their home, until last year, when they were spotted by Dr Sailakshmi from Ekam Foundation. Now they have six students wanting to be trained as clown therapists and are being invited to take workshops in a city college.
Laughter is no joke
‘Contrary to beliefs, it is more challenging to deal with children since it is a whole new thing for them.’
‘The therapy requires patient’s permission or consent. If they are not in a position to engage, we step out.’
Decoding the therapy
■ The motive is not to make people laugh but to engage with them heart to heart.
■ Unlike laughter therapy which is more for a respiratory and physical well-being, therapeutic clowning is about bringing out a connection with the patient.
■ The therapy is relevant for all ages, from neonates to senior persons, from those affected by dementia to those with special needs.
■ The couple has started the Komali Medi Clown Academy to promote the importance of laughter, in Auroville.