What the research says

The psychology of clowning is now offered as an expressive wellness program in hospitals (Miller Van Blerkom, 1995; Pendzik & Raviv, 2011; Dionigi, Sangiorgi, & Flangini, 2013; Adams, n.d.), addiction recovery centers (Gordon, Shenar, & Pendzik, 2018), correctional facilities (Carp, 1998), mental health facilities (Roy, 2009), and schools (J. Turner, class communication, 2014; Proctor, 2013).  As a school of thought, it is based on the healing power of play for adults and children, humour, and dramatic reality.

Play is typically seen in mainstream western culture as exclusively in the realm of childhood (Rieber, Smith, & Noah, 1998).  However, in more traditional earth based cultures, learning, socializing, and play tend to be more linked (Miller, 1996) and often continue smoothly into a playful adulthood (Pelligrini, Dupuis, & Smith, 2007).  Ashley Montagu (1989) calls this neoteny, or the “retention into adult life of those human traits associated with childhood” (p.1).  These include curiosity, “imaginativeness; playfulness; open-mindedness; willingness to experiment; flexibility; humor; energy; receptiveness to new ideas; honesty; eagerness to learn; and perhaps the most pervasive and the most valuable of all, the need to love” (p. 2).

Humour cultivates flexibility, resilience, and courage (Schuztman, 2006; Ardley, 1967; Moran & Massam, 1997).  Humour is also a way to access deep and painful emotions while honouring interconnection and community harmony (Fagan, 2009; Hayden Taylor, 2006).

In Dramatic reality, or a real but not real space, things that “can’t” happen in real life occur in a doubled version, with the insight and affective expansion (O’Neill, 1995; Morgan & Saxton, 1987) in the dialogue and playful experimentation between the two (Bolton, 1979; Butler, 2015).


Adams, P. (n.d.). Humour and love: The origination of clown therapy. Postgraduate Medical Journal.  Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1742451/pdf/v078p00447.pdf.

Ardley, G. (1967). The role of play in the philosophy of Plato. Philosophy, 42(161), 226-244

Bolton, G. (1979). Towards a theory of drama in education.  London, England: Longmans.

Butler, J. (2015). Playing with reflection in drama therapy education. In E. Vettraino & W. Linds, (Eds.), Playing in a house of mirrors: Applied theatre as reflective practice (pp. 109-122)Rotterdam, the Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Carp, C. E. (1998). Clown therapy: The creation of a clown character as a treatment intervention.  The Arts in Psychotherapy, 25(4), 245-255.

Dionigi, A., D. Sangiorgi, & R. Flangini.  (2013).  Clown intervention to reduce preoperative anxiety in children and parents: Controlled trial.  Journal of Health Psychology, 18(1).

Fagan, K. (2009). Weesageechak meets the Weetigo: Storytelling, humour, and trauma in the fiction of Richard Van Camp, Tomson Highway, and Eden Robinson. SCL, 34(1). Retrieved from https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/scl/article/view/12387/13262.

Gordon, J., Shenar, Y., & Pendzik, S. (2018). Clown therapy: A drama therapy approach to addiction and beyond. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 57(A1-A2), 88-94.

Miller, J.R.  (1996).  Shingwauk’s vision: A History of native residential schools.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Miller Van Blerkom, L.  (1995).  Clown doctors: Shaman healers of Western medicine.  Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 9(4), 462-475.

Montagu, A. (1989). Growing young. New York, NY: Bergin and Garvey Publishers.

Moran, C., & Massam, M. (1997). An evaluation of humour in emergency work. The Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 3. Retrieved from http://trauma.massey.ac.nz/issues/1997-3/moran1.html

Morgan, N., & Saxton, J. (1987). Teaching drama: A mind of many wonders.  Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

O’Neill, C. (1995). Drama worlds: A framework for process drama. Portsmouth, NH: ELT.

Pelligrini, A.D., Dupuis, D., & Smith, P.K.  (2007).  Play in evolution and development in Developmental Review, 27, 261-276.

Pendzik, S. & Raviv, A.  (2011).  Therapeutic clowning and drama therapy: A family resemblance.  The Arts in Psychotherapy, 38(4), 267-275.

Proctor, S. (2013). The archetypal role of the clown as a catalyst for individual and societal transformation. (Unpublished master’s thesis).  Concordia University, Montréal, QC.

Rieber, L.P., Smith, L. & Noah, D.  (1998).  The value of serious play in Educational Technology, 38(6), 29-37.

Roy, J.  (2009).  Clowning within Drama Therapy.  Group sessions: A Case study of a unique recovery journey in a psychiatric hospital.  (Unpublished Masters thesis).  Montreal: Concordia University.

Schutzman, M. (2006). Joker runs wild. In J. Cohen-Cruz, & M. Schutzman (Eds.), A Boal companion: Dialogues on theatre and cultural politics (pp. 133-145). New York: Routledge.

Taylor, D.H. (Ed.) (2006). Me funny. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas and MacIntyre.