The image of a clown entertaining a sick child in hospital that appears on the stamp has become the symbol of clown care in Israel and around the world. Clowning embraces silliness, joy and disarray, in clear contrast to the supreme seriousness of the medical profession. How can this paradox be explained?
In the 1970’s Dr. Patch Adams, considered to be the founder of clown care, was determined to change doctors’ patronizing attitude toward their patients and to get them to see those patients as people, not just as cases. Patch Adams claimed that combined treatment of both the body and the spirit is the best way to defeat disease. He utilized a lot of humor, games and clowning in order to improve patients’ spirits. The highly successful 1998 film Patch Adams, starring Robin Williams, portrayed his work.
A number of years after Patch Adams began his mission, real clowns from the Big Apple Circus began visiting children’s wards in New York hospitals. Adams’ message spread quickly and today medical clowns operate in most countries around the world, working in conjunction with medical teams. Clown care came to Israel in 2000, with Shlomi Algosi considered to be the first Israeli medical clown.
The Dream Doctors organization, which is supported by the Magi Foundation, works to institutionalize and professionalize clown care in Israel, through academic training and by establishing clowning in hospitals. Most of the Dream Doctors clowns are trained actors.
Simchat Halev (Inner Happiness) is a non-profit organization that trains and operates medical clowns throughout Israel on a voluntary basis. In recent years, medical clowns have also begun working in adult wards, whose patients benefit just as much as the children.
Community clowning, carried out by trained medical clowns, is a comparable approach that operates within the community, in day centers, special education institutions, retirement homes, etc. These clowns also serve as therapists, achieving personal balance through the role of inner clown.
When looking at the paradox between medicine and clowning, there is really no one other than a clown, who him/herself is a paradoxical character – child/adult, happy/sad – that can bridge the gap by going into a hospital, which is mostly a sad and serious environment, and making it a happier place.