Healing with humor: Israeli medical clown spreads laughter in S. Africa

“Today we know that it is not possible to treat the body without taking care of the soul,” Amnon Raviv told 'The Jerusalem Post.'

Dr. Amnon Raviv is a medical clown who uses humor to heal sick patients (photo credit: HEZI PANET)
Dr. Amnon Raviv is a medical clown who uses humor to heal sick patients
(photo credit: HEZI PANET)
For medical clown Dr. Amnon Raviv, humor for patients with serious illnesses is a survival order – a weapon to fight disease.
Well known across the country for his 23 years of work in medical clowning – and for earning the first doctorate in the world for medical clowning – Raviv will be in South Africa throughout August to share his expertise and assist the newly established NGO Dr. Heartbeat with medical-clown training.
“Today we know that it is not possible to treat the body without taking care of the soul,” Raviv told The Jerusalem Post. “The medical clown treats the psyche, and the stronger it is, the better the chances of recovery.
“Many studies indicate that medical clowning reduces anxiety and pain in patients – children and adults – and thus allows for better coping with the disease and its consequences. We know that laughter causes the secretion of hormones called endorphins that strengthen the immune system. The special empathetic connection that the medical clown creates with the patients reinforces and strengthens them,” Raviv explained.
He added that “humor allows the patient to observe his or her situation from another, ‘smiling’ perspective. The carnival spirit, brought by the medical clown to the ward, connects the patients to their own forces, and enables them to celebrate life here and now and to mobilize forces in coping with the disease.”
For the past 15 years, Raviv has been a part of the Dream Doctors project, and works as a medical clown at the Tel Hashomer Hospital; The Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus, Petah Tikva; and Harzfeld Geriatric Medical Center in Gedera.
Adi Shachar, founder of Dr. Heartbeat, explained that the NPO, registered under the name of “HeartBeat Clowns,” intends to pioneer the professional skill of medical clowning in South Africa. “The professional skill will be targeted at unemployed youth and aligned with the credentials of the Youth Empowerment Service [YES] Campaign,” recently launched by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
“Dr. Amnon Raviv and I have engaged in a strategic business partnership to work together with corporate businesses, civil society and government to bring the skill of ‘medical clowning’ to South Africa as a profession and align it with the YES Campaign launched in March 2018,” Shachar said. “Our aim is to create job opportunities in medical clowning and in doing so, use these professional skills to work in various hospitals with the youth.
“Medical clowning has the capacity to enhance lives in South Africa. Not only does it offer additional flexible employment to professional and aspiring performing artists, but it does so whilst enabling them to give back in the most incredibly meaningful and powerful way,” she said.
South Africa “faces a lot of challenges, with an enormous amount of trauma, stress and anxiety in many places,” Shachar continued. “The hospital environment is not immune to this. Research has shown that the interaction with the medical clown has significant positive aspects, reduces stress and has increased serotonin levels in patients. The medical clown has the ability to put smiles on the faces of very sick people and help their families make sense of the trauma they are experiencing,” and this should be encouraged.
On his visit to South Africa, Raviv told the Post that medical clowning should be present in every department and in every hospital around the world.
“I feel privileged to present medical clowning to the academic and medical establishment in South Africa and lay the foundation for cooperation. [I feel privileged] to train new medical clowns to work throughout the country and bring joy and humor to thousands of patients, children and adults across the country – and perhaps bring the message of medical clowning to the entire African continent,” he said.
Asked what it means to be going to South Africa, Raviv said that “For me, the meaning of reaching South Africa and bringing the message of medical clowning – in lectures and training – is enormous. Medical clowning is not a luxury but a vital need, part of a holistic treatment for every patient. In poor countries that do not have the resources to turn to the health system, medical clowning is a necessity and can help,” he said. “Like many countries around the globe, so too in South Africa, medical clowning will empower patients, bring joy, reduce anxiety and help patients cope better with their condition.
“And I will know and appreciate the opportunity to be part of this important and historic move,” he concluded.
Raviv plans to hold lectures with audiences that will include doctors, students and those in the public sphere that can assist and train medical clowns who will work in hospitals. He will also launch his book Medical Clowning: The Healing Performance.
The main sponsor of Raviv's trip is the Israeli Embassy in South Africa.