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07 Mar 2016

Medical Clowning on Doctor’s orders at The Selwyn Foundation!

In a New-Zealand first, The Selwyn Foundation has entered into an agreement with the pioneering Clown Doctors NZ Charitable Trust to introduce an innovative programme of medical clowning across its residential aged care facilities in Auckland, Hamilton and Whangarei.

Commencing in early March, the programme will involve four hour visits by a Clown Doctors duo to each of Selwyn’s rest home and hospital care facilities on a rotational basis over an initial period of twelve months. The Selwyn Foundation is pioneering the work of this unique diversional therapy programme and is the first provider in New Zealand to engage Clown Doctor services in the residential aged care environment. 

The Clown Doctors New Zealand Charitable Trust provides a high quality, professional service in medical clowning. The Clown Doctors are not party clowns, but experienced professional actors, drama teachers, performing artists and musicians. Each practitioner has completed comprehensive medical clowning training in the performing arts, medicine and health science, psychology and gerontology, social science and cultural studies, with the training provided by the International Institute for Medical Clowning at Steinbeis University, Berlin.

Through one-to-one engagement with individuals in a healthcare setting, they use alternate modes of expression, entertaining performances and enhanced communication techniques such as movement, gesturing, gentle touch, mirroring, dance music and rhythm to reduce stress, anxiety and loneliness and enhance the quality of life of those who may need an emotional boost. Their dress is often reminiscent of a specific era in people’s past - they may, for instance, wear clothing from the 1940s - and the only thing that distinguishes them as a clown is their red nose!

The programme supports the Selwyn philosophy of providing spontaneity and, thus, reducing boredom. By interacting with residents in a humorous way, the goal is to offer enabling environments that enhance the residents’ enjoyment of life and self-image, whilst at the same time offering compassionate, respectful and person-centred empathy.

The agreement with The Selwyn Foundation builds on a successful pilot Clown Doctors programme that took place at Selwyn Village (Point Chevalier, Auckland) in 2015.  

The Foundation’s CEO, Garry Smith, says: ‘Feedback from our residents and staff alike indicated that residents very much responded to the Clown Doctors, opening up and talking about their life experiences and joining in the banter and general camaraderie.'

‘But the visits are not just an entertainment activity - there are considerable therapeutic benefits to be gained. International research has proven the positive effects that humour and laughter have on health and the immune system, and the Clown Doctors’ positivity and spontaneous approach definitely lift people’s spirits.’

Clown doctors in action
The Clown Doctors NZ Charitable Trust started in New Zealand in Christchurch in 2009 and expanded to Auckland in 2010 and Wellington in 2012. It's mission is to ‘bring joy and laughter’ to those in need, and it currently provides services within children’s wards and hospitals in these centres, as well as in older person’s health units in Christchurch’s Princess Margaret Hospital.

Clown Doctors’ founder and Executive Trustee, Professor Thomas Petschner, says: ‘Each Clown Doctor is trained to understand the complex physical and mental health needs of older people, and to help seniors cope with changes in their physical and mental abilities, dementia or depression.'

‘Working in conjunction with care staff, they endeavour to achieve a range of positive effects for residents. These include increasing overall wellbeing, reducing any feelings of loneliness, helplessness, boredom or stress, helping them through any difficult or emotional times and, generally, providing a fun environment for all.’

At the start of each visit, the Clown Doctors are fully briefed within the care facility and then, in character, visit individual residents in their rooms and in other communal areas, and may also involve visitors and staff in their programme. They conclude each visit by completing a written report for evaluation purposes, which includes staff feedback.  

Thomas Petschner, says: ‘Each visit unfolds differently, evolving from the circumstances of the moment and the needs, interests and abilities of each resident, and visits can be tailored to an individual’s specific needs at any given time.’

The Clown Doctors’ visitation programme at Selwyn is funded by the Foundation’s charitable arm as part of its ongoing programme of investment in innovation and superior care for its residents. It is one of a suite of new diversional therapy programmes being introduced at the Foundation’s care facilities, which also includes initiatives such as PARO robotic seal companion therapy and music and art expression therapy.