(Written while in post as AD for Hearts & Minds)
When people ask what I do for a living, once we’ve established that it is not frightening children, they often comment on how difficult and sad it must be.
It’s hard for me to see this job as sad. My overwhelming feeling is that it is rewarding and exciting. I regularly see the transformation of a child lying down in bed with tubes coming out of their arms, pale, unengaged and anxious to a child sitting up in bed laughing and controlling the action. On dementia wards it is the same. People seemingly locked in their own worlds unfurl and begin dancing and singing with us. It is a huge privilege and often joyful.
Of course the reality is that we are often visiting very unwell people and there is potential for this to affect us personally. There are days when we come onto the ward for our handover to hear that someone we regularly visit has died and this is upsetting. But the clown doesn’t just help us to connect – it also keeps us emotionally safe. Once we are in our clown state, the present moment is all there is. And for a clown, the present moment is always full of potential for shared joy and playfulness.
Self-reflection and collaboration are built into our practice. We work in pairs so that we can check-in with one another – take a moment to refresh, breath, reconnect if needs be. Regular confidential supervision as a team gives us space to celebrate and grieve in a natural way. We know that burn-out is a possibility and we look for red flags: when we start to feel indispensable, ‘but it has to be me who goes to that unit’ and a sense of ownership, ‘I’m the only one who can connect with that person’ and then we do something about it. It isn’t always easy, but it is our responsibility to ensure that we are in a fit state to do the job that we are required to do.
Ultimately, we know that their struggle is not our struggle. Any difficulty we encounter is not ours to bear and for this reason we can invite people out of their circumstance to meet us in worlds of play and imagination.
I am a therapeutic clown and performer. Writing here is part of my wider practice and maybe some of my thoughts will trigger some thoughts of your own and I hope that helps.