Oh, thank you and look at you! You’re wearing my favorite tie! In a quiet room in Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre, Helen Donnelly and Phil Koole transform into their alter egos: Kat and Yope. A few minutes later, they start their work with the residents living on the unit. But make no mistake: this is not just fun and games. So top three misconceptions about our profession: that we are volunteers, that we are undertrained and that we are fluff. Helen is an award-winning professional therapeutic clown and her career has brought her from the stage of Cirque du Soleil to now spearheading the first North American certificate program for therapeutic clowning. This unique George Brown College Program is now being trialed at Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre. We use connectivity, light, joy through the art of clown in order to make a connection with those in care. And because we are professional physical theatre artists, we’re able to go into those worlds of the imagination and really connect to that quality of care piece. She says therapeutic clowns are trained arts in health practitioners, backed by research supporting the benefits to patients, including reduced isolation, pain and stress.
Period clothing familiar to the veterans is an intentional move. Katherine Baldwin, manager of recreation and creative arts therapies says, many residents are living with dementia, and the clowning helps reach them in a new way. A lot of what they tune into are picking up on those subtle moments of engagement, so I think it’s a way of reaching a population of people who are hard to reach. Each three hour shift on the unit means additional hours of background prep, working with staff and getting to know each resident’s medical history, interests and overall behavior. All interactions and reactions are then charted for the medical team. Students in the program initially shadow Helen and her colleague before clowning alongside them.
The final stage is partnering with a fellow student while being supervised, evaluated and debriefed afterwards. The program will be evaluated at the end of the school year in May. For now, Helen says every visit is a chance to connect with a veteran, no matter their physical or cognitive abilities. To get to this place is just a beautiful dream come true. With Sunnyview, I’m Monica Matys. .