Israeli study finds medical clowning no joke

When a therapeutic clown accompanied children treated in sex-abuse and gastro clinics, the procedure was easier for patient, parent and medical staff.

By Abigail Klein Leichman, Israel21c

Results of a soon-to-be-published study were presented at a recent conference at Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Tiberias, where it was carried out by staff Dream Doctors medical clowns with medical personnel in two outpatient clinics: the Tene Center for the Treatment of Sexual Assault Victims and the Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition Unit.

Shoshi Ofir, a Dream Doctor for more than 14 years, tells ISRAEL21c that previous studies proved the effectiveness of medical clowning on general anxiety levels in these two clinics. The present study was the first to look at anxiety caused by the specific situation of an invasive exam.

Subjects, aged seven to 14, were divided evenly between the two clinics. Half the children in each group were accompanied by a Dream Doctor for the duration of their two- to three-hour visit in order draw comparisons. All the children in the study had at least one parent present.

The quantitative study, designed by Dr. Nessia Lang from Tene and Dr. Avi On from Gastro in cooperation with staff Dream Doctors, was unusual in that it evaluated not only questionnaires but also children’s drawings, to which scores were assigned.

Ofir explains that the emotional and physical effects of anxiety caused by invasive medical exams can make the procedure longer, more difficult, and sometimes more painful.

She enters the room casually in the persona of “Dr. Hearta” and begins building a bond with the child. “I don’t talk about the illness or the abuse unless they start talking to me about it. I try to really empower them by giving them compliments and asking them to help me in some way so that they always feel they know more than I do.”

She recalls one teenage girl who was not making eye contact or communicating until Dr. Hearta announced she was going to a dance audition the next day and demonstrated her routine, “which of course was really terrible.”

The girl relaxed and commented diplomatically that the clown’s routine was “perfect, but maybe you should go to the audition next year instead.” And then she offered to teach Ofir some dance steps.

“We want people in other clinics and hospitals to know that if they introduce clowns to their teams, invasive exams will be easier for the children, their parents and the medical staff,” Ofir says.