Clown therapy: trick or treat

Photo by Flickr user drp. Click for sourceIf you’re wondering how effective your average clown is, wonder no more. I’ve found a randomised controlled trial that tested the effectiveness of clowns in treating children’s anxiety before an operation, in comparison to midazolam, an anti-anxiety drug.

It turned out, clowns worked the best, but wow, doesn’t the study summary read weirdly.

Clowns for the prevention of preoperative anxiety in children: a randomized controlled trial.

Paediatr Anaesth. 2009 Mar;19(3):262-6.

Golan G, Tighe P, Dobija N, Perel A, Keidan I.

OBJECTIVE: To determine if specially trained professional clowns allayed preoperative anxiety and resulted in a smooth anesthetic induction compared to the use of midazolam or no intervention.

METHODS: This was a randomized, controlled, and blinded study conducted with children 3-8 years of age undergoing general anesthesia and elective outpatient surgery. Patients were assigned to one of three groups: Group 1 did not receive midazolam or clown presence; group 2 received 0.5 mg x kg(-1) oral midazolam 30 min before surgery up to a maximum of 15 mg; and group 3 had two specially trained clowns present upon arrival to the preoperative holding area and throughout operating room (OR) entrance and mask application for inhalation induction of anesthesia. The children were videotaped for later grading.

RESULTS: The clown group had a statistically significant lower modified-Yale Preoperative Anxiety Scale score in the preoperative holding area compared to the control and midazolam group. The clowns’ effect on anxiety reduction continued when the children entered the OR but was equal at this point to the midazolam group. Upon application of the anesthesia mask no significant differences were detected between the groups.

CONCLUSIONS: This study found that the use of preoperative medically trained clowns for children undergoing surgery can significantly alleviate preoperative anxiety. However, clowns do not have any effect once the anesthesia mask is introduced.

The use of ‘clown doctors’ is actually pretty common in Children’s hospitals and, as far as I know, the practice was invented by the American physician Patch Adams.

As for adverse reactions, despite the popular belief in ‘clown phobia’, variously called ballatrophobia, coulrophobia or my favourite – bozophobia, I could only find one case report of this particular anxiety disorder. Interestingly, it was discovered by a clown doctor who got a powerful negative reaction from an adult patient.

However, there is a video of a woman undergoing psychological treatment for clown phobia on that font of medical knowledge, YouTube.

Link to PubMed entry for clown trial.

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