Clowning around can help to cut stress
Acting the clown can help people who have suffered a stroke or who have dementia, a leading academic has said.
Although such people may no longer be able to speak well, clown therapy can help them express themselves and reduce stress. Doctors, nurses and caregivers could also learn from therapeutic clowning by being more attuned to non-verbal communication, Dr Lenisa Brandao told the Sunday Independent.
Dr Brandao is an Atlantic Fellow in the Global Brain Health Institute at Trinity College, Dublin, a speech and language therapist, and an associate professor at a university in Brazil.
She will hold a sold-out 'Clown Around' workshop at Trinity College tomorrow as part of Trinity Week. She will be engaged in a number of workshops in Ireland during the coming months. She learned much on how to be a clown from professional clowns. Dr Brandao said stroke is the major cause of aphasia, a communication disorder provoked by damage to language areas in the brain.
People, whose ability to speak is impaired, can feel vulnerable when trying to express themselves, she said.
"Clowning can be a way of encouraging those people to make a shift in their emotional view of all the changes in their lives as clowning is a lot about viewing failure as success.
"A clown is open and does not try to hide vulnerability. Clowning is a way of being vulnerable in a non-judgmental context and to even laugh and look at things differently," she said. "What is usually seen as failure you begin to see as interesting, different and authentic and that this can be viewed with empathy."
She said clowning involves the whole body and engages the emotions without speech.
"Clowning gives you freedom to use more ways of expressing yourself, you get to express emotions through gestural movements of your body - which can be very helpful for people whose verbal skills are impaired, through dementia or a stroke."
Dr Brandao works with people in Brazil who suffered lesions in the left side of their brains - the area related to language.
"Often those people would have felt stigmatised and embarrassed making errors when communicating through speech. They had not been using all the ways of communicating non-verbally which prevented them from opening up. Clowning performances can help give a voice for those people. It helps their self-esteem and self-acceptance.
"People need to accept the differences and diversity in communication. The whole of society should be more aware and accepting of the diverse ways of communicating," she added.
Studies have also found that people with dementia who are visited by clowns can react well and experience a reduction in stress levels.