Study: Why clowns need self-care
There are oodles of studies showing the effectiveness of clowning in healthcare or clinical settings.
These research studies even attracted me to learn the art of clowning; and then volunteer and work as a clown in health centers, a mental health facility and schools.
Almost all the studies to date look at the clown’s impact on others.
But a new Israeli-Italian study has flipped the research toward the clown, or rather, the person behind the clown.
And, specifically, to high sensitivity individuals who are drawn to caregiver/clowning work. High sensitivity (SPS) is a common trait among the Israeli clowns, according to the study, Highly sensitive persons, caregiving strategies and humour: the case of Italian and Israeli medical clowns.
So, one of the first results the study found is that this SPS trait, while improving levels of sensitivity to others, can be detrimental to the clown (and by proxy the patient).
Therapeutic “clowns are humor practitioners working in stressful environments. They are required to regulate their emotions and to possess social skills and prosocial motivation, which have been found to be protective factors. SPS clowns can be more prone to experience stress and symptoms of illness, intensify their emotional responsiveness, and cope with inefficient caregiving strategies when facing touching situations (patients in need),” reads the study.
A recent query in a Facebook group dedicated to clown theory asked whether clowns should use their personal feelings in their clowning. The comments swayed across a spectrum: some implying that the role of a clown is to use every emotion, others saying to each her own decision on whether to use personal pain or not. The conversation, however, focused on theater clowns and not clowns acting in a therapeutic style in a medical or educational setting.
This study shows that if the person behind the clown feels depleted or sad for some reason, continuing to put on the red nose for caregiving to others is, as one would expect, destructive.
“Medical clowning represents a challenging practice because of the psychological conditions the clowns face during their activity. While medical clowns should react properly under those conditions and use effective caregiving strategies,” reads the study, “medical clowns who are higher in SPS, in their efforts to manage their own stress and worries while easing a patient’s distress, may have more difficulty staying in character and experience more stress during their work and activate less effective caregiving strategies.”
So, what do the researchers suggest?
Caregiving strategies for the clown before initial training and during ongoing activity. It also suggests emotional and professional support, focused on how to regulate the clown’s emotions.
And, of course, more research into the field of clowning.