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Living in Community

March 19th, 2017

After being preoccupied for months with the second ClownTown Healing Fest, I promised Elaine, my tolerant wife, a vacation to her destination of choice, which was someplace with warm water, sandy beaches, and not too far away. We settled on Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, a two-hour flight from Phoenix to Baja California Sur.

Unlike our usual style, which is to book a couple of nights on arrival, and then move around to the places we want to see; this time I booked a beachside condo for four nights to give ourselves more time to acclimate before we hit the road. The condo was lovely, a heated pool for my morning laps, steps away from the beach, and whatever we wanted to see was at most, a day-trip away, so we decided to stay put.

 It required some adjustments, as much as I like to preach about living and healing in community, I like to live in my own house, away from lots of people. There are hundreds of condos in this complex, inhabited by people from over the world, most here for a short time, but many of whom are retirees who live here all year long. There is a communal culture; people will reach out and engage you, but also respect your privacy; the lounge chairs are yours while you’re in them (don’t reserve them and not use them); be respectful and tolerant of differences.

 Elaine loved it, said she could live here, but I’m not so sure. We are selling our home, but my kids are in town and I’m not ready to move away. However, I did learn I could live in this kind of diverse community… and that swimming with poolside bar refreshments does promote an interactional warmth.

Truth Fairy Conversation Cure

March 6th, 2017

The second annual CTHF last weekend in Phoenix was another amazing demonstration of healing in community. Clowns mobilized the healing resources in the city, bringing together a diverse group of practitioners all of whom told their stories about how people can get well before they get sick. There were doctors, dentists, nurses, social workers, body workers, and therapists of every description; there were workshops with dancers, yogis, bodyworkers, clowns and drum circles; and expert panels addressing critical healthcare issues.

The Truth Clinic was staffed by “Truth Fairies”, these are healthcare professionals who, on the day before the Fest, participated in a day-long workshop on “clown healing” where they learned how to actively listen and engage with people in a short time. The Truth Fairies talked to people young and old for 15 minutes about any health-related questions they might have or issues they’re facing.

In my clown persona, a 6’6” flamingo ballerina in a tutu, I serve as the barker who brings people in. I ask when was the last time they talked to a healthcare professional for 15” about anything important to them?

In contemporary medicine, doctors don’t spend much time talking, it’s a quick visit with a discussion of symptoms, tests are ordered, a diagnosis is made and usually pills prescribed. This interventional model is encouraged by a pharmaceutical industry who, through direct to consumer advertising have promulgated the fallacy that every ailment and discomfort can be cured with a pill (brand name of course).

Turns out that talking with someone who is knowledgeable, actively listens, and empathic, is always helpful. From ancient shaman to modern surgeons, doctors have always known…to heal people you must talk to them.

The Truth Clinic is a paradigm-shifting demonstration of preventive healthcare delivery. No diagnoses, no pills, just a heartfelt connection with a knowledgeable, empathic listener speaking your truth and hearing another’s truth has a magical quality. The Truth Fairy Conversation Cure provides light on a path once hidden, and it opens doors where there were once walls.

PS If you have any interest in pursuing this subject further, join me in tomorrow’s SchlagChat,

Tuesday March 7th @ 6PM (Phoenix Time): at 6:00 PM

Join from PC, Mac, Linux, iOS or Android: https://zoom.us/j/139179666

Or iPhone one-tap (US Toll):  +14086380968,139179666# or +16465588656,139179666#

I’m Feeling Better

February 13th, 2017

I’m feeling better, and it’s not because Trump’s outrageous behavior doesn’t provoke me daily; I’m scared by how he thinks, behaves, and the people he surrounds himself with. I’m feeling better because of the galvanizing energy that’s happening around me. Americans from every walk of life mobilizing, talking to each other, sharing concerns and finding common goals… on the streets, in town halls, school board meetings, courts, and marketplace.

In Phoenix, Arizona, three days after Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven majority Muslim nations from entering the U.S., Mikala Teramoto a high school student, created a Facebook event she called Rally in Solidarity With the Muslim Community. Mikala said she wanted to bring attention to the fact that there is a Muslim community in town, people who are being impacted by this decrees, and we need to pay attention to them. Her effort brought several hundred-people to a Phoenix mosque to show support for, learn about, and connect with the Muslim community.

People are rising and coming together and taking action about what’s important to them, and what kind of a legacy they want to leave behind. What makes America great is the belief in and practice of Democracy founded on the principles of freedom, equality, and with liberty and justice for all.

We are being heard, the HIPPOPOTUS and his cronies are alarmed, they have introduced measures in at least 10 states, to intimidate free speech by criminalizing public gatherings and demonstrations. We must continue to speak and remind our elected officials that it is not only their duty to listen, but to act in finding common ground.

And it all started with women; I want to say thank you to the women of America who, on the following Trump’s inauguration, marched by the hundreds of thousands in Washington D.C . hundreds of thousands more and all over America and the world. They rose up to say they would not be defined by his misogynistic, exploitative, demeaning portrayal of them… It is always the women who remind us that our survival as a species is through them.

As a post-script let me tell you that if you want to feel better come join us in downtown Phoenix for the second ClownTown Healing Fest (clowntownhealingfest.com) and you’ll see a community that comes together in joyful celebration to heal the body mind and spirit.

I say this for All My Relations, Mi Takuye Oyasin.

Come Together America

January 30th, 2017

I have been trying not to get caught up in the “Trump Derangement Syndrome”, a disorder characterized by railing against every word The Donald utters or action he takes, and it’s been hard. I keep wanting to believe that somehow through the magnitude of the office of POTUS he will become less captivated by his own grandiosity… but it isn’t happening.

After his inaugural address, I was left feeling dark and dismal with his portrayal of an America in decay, it’s politician’s self-serving and out of touch with the people. No longer he said, because from this day forward (and for the first time in our history), the people will become the rulers of their own country, and he would be their voice. How did this privileged kid who studied in private schools, avoided the draft, and is morally bankrupt, become the voice of the people?

The Donald said, he would heal the divisions in this Nation because he knew we were one people united by our love for this country. We are all patriots he said, Americans of every color and creed, we all bleed the same color to protect America. From now on its America first, our interests will determine our policy. We will protect ourselves, we will be safer, it will lead to prosperity, we will win like never before, and America will become great again.

Listening to him, I felt the chill of the bygone days of McCarthyism and the Nazi’s. He disdains the press and if you disagree with what he defines as America’s best interests you know you’ll be labeled un-American. The Donald’s preaching of Isolationism and protectionism has seen a rise in hate groups of every description; he is not bringing us together and our resentment and anger is eating away at our souls as Americans, and leaving us spiritually bereft.

How are we going to bridge the gaps that divide us? How can we come together as a people with common values and goals? By coming together in community, diverse groups talking to each other about our shared interests. It is not deranged to be frightened by a President who is a pathologic narcissist; march in protest, speaking out loudly, write to your legislators that’s what good citizens do. It doesn’t matter if you wear Bermuda shorts or a turban, if you work in fields or high-rise buildings, this nation is built on lots of people from lots of different places coming together to actualize a vision of what can happen in a democracy where freedom of speech, the pursuit of justice and equality are the law of the land.

Let’s continue to tell this story of who we are and what we stand for to the generations still to come, otherwise the fear and hatemongers will redefine what it is to be an American.

Healing Through Laughter

January 16th, 2017

Days before the Presidential inauguration I spoke at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, AZ. on the subject Healing Through Laughter. There are not a lot of people in this country working in healthcare who are laughing now.

This President, was elected on the promise that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and Congress is already moving in that direction. Unfortunately, beyond talk of repeal there has been little talk about alternatives. Repeal of the ACA will have a catastrophic impact on healthcare! It will result in millions of uninsured, it will overwhelm our emergency medical system, and it perpetuates the economic drain that such interventional medicine costs.

The future of medicine is in the cultural shift from this dysfunctional interventional model to a preventive one. We must inspire patients to want to lead healthier lives and show them how. To do that I told the audience they had to laugh more, laughter was the vehicle that opens the heart to healing.

I told them this story in the language of science… how laughter lights up the brain’s pleasure centers, releases a flood of neurohormonal messengers that lift our mood and mellow us out. And in the story of my experience as a clown doctor who uses laughter to help us see beyond our suffering.

I invited them to come to the Clown Healing Workshop that would be taking place in Phoenix next month where they would learn how to quickly connect with people at a heartfelt level, maximize their healing power, lighten up and remind ourselves why we all do this work.

If you are a healthcare professional who wants to share that experience that too, come join us February 24, 2017 at the Clown Healing Workshop. Find out more at clowntownhealingfest.com (and you’ll also get 5 CME’s or CNE’s).

Lighten up Relatives! Laugh more and it’ll ease your pain. I say this for All My Relations, Mi Takuye Oyasin

Fearless in the New Year

January 2nd, 2017

I am intimidated by computers; still afraid of pushing the wrong key and erasing everything (or it will go up in smoke). I’m still unable to locate documents, find downloads or mail, and every time I get used to a program the updates throw me for a loop.

I am also acutely aware that if I don’t stay current, I will never be able to speak to anyone under the age of 30. It’s hard for old storytellers to get comfortable telling their stories around the new digital fireplace. If you can’t say what you want in a Tweet, sound bite, or brief YouTube video you lose your audience. But the important stories, those that talk about life’s meaning and purpose, or how to make sense of the trials…they don’t lend themselves to such brief, impersonal exchanges.

I think it’s possible to tell those old stories around this new digital fireplace, and I want to give it a shot. I’d like to invite participants to enter a ceremonial space, around the sacred fire, and create a safe atmosphere in which people can speak freely, listen respectfully to each other’s stories, maybe get some new insight.

So, in this New Year I’m going to face my fear and launch SchlagChats, an intimate conversation based on the traditional Native American Talking Circle. I’ll do a ceremonial introduction, then tell a story (maybe a recent SchlagByte or current event) that will serve as the basis for a meaningful dialogue. Everyone gets a chance to speak for a limited time if they want, and then passes the privilege on to someone else. This is not a debate, just a platform to share your truth and listen somebody else’s.  This inaugural launch will happen Tueday Jan. 10, 2017 at 7 PM Phoenix Arizona time in the USA.  Space is limited so go to

SchlagChat Inaugural 

Tue, Jan 10, 2017 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM MST

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone. 

https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/937914845 

You can also dial in using your phone. 

United States: +1 (408) 650-3123

Access Code: 937-914-845 

First GoToMeeting? Try a test session: http://help.citrix.com/getready

Download the free app and join me Tuesday, Jan. 10, @ 6PM (Phoenix AZ time) and help me face my fear. We’ll see whether it’s possible to come together, listen and learn from each other.

I say Happy New Year to you all Relatives, make your dreams come true.

I say this for All My Relations…Mi Takuye Oyasin

Clown therapy is community psychiatry in disguise

December 14th, 2016
Ever had a patient who not only got better but used the insights she gained from talking with you to help others in distress? I have just such a patient in the Peruvian Amazon.I’ve previously written about an annual clown trip to Peru that I make with my friend Patch Adams, MD, and 100 other humanitarian clowns from all over the world. We have been going there for a decade to spread cheer, and revitalize the impoverished community of Belén, which is situated in the Amazon floodplain in the city of Iquitos. We conduct workshops, perform street theater, create community art installations, visit hospitals, and work with local grass-roots organizations. For the last 5 years, we also have been conducting mental health clinics in the streets.

To provide a brief overview … we go to a neighborhood, set up our space, and walk the streets with a bull horn. We announce our presence – “we are mental health professionals, and we’re meeting over at” … and we talk with anybody, young and old, who wants to discuss health problems, family issues, or other concerns.

We sit in a public place and speak to individuals/couples/families for 20 minutes, while around us, support clowns entertain the kids. We neither make diagnoses nor give drugs; we come with a clown nose and an open heart, and we listen actively without judgment and focus on solutions. We help people identify their strengths and resilience, and give them practical advice. This is community psychiatry disguised as “clown therapy,” which is just another phrase for solution-oriented therapy/ positive psychology/reality therapy/resilience-based therapy, logotherapy, existential psychotherapy, or kitchen table wisdom. These street clinics have had a profound impact on patients and clinicians.

Three years ago, I met a middle-aged woman who was suicidally depressed, and together we negotiated a successful intervention. In summary, she emerged from a church that happened to be across the street from where we were setting up our clinic. A clown saw her weeping and approached her, and after talking with her assured her that there was somebody here right now – a mental health professional – who would talk with her.

Maria sat down and told an unbelievably painful story that was happening within her family. On that day, after 8 months of prayer and receiving no sign from God, she had decided to kill herself. After listening to her, I actually believed she could do it.

There are no treatment centers or emergency shelters for the poor in Belén, so at our closure, I made her promise that she would not try to kill herself until I could see her again at our next clinic 2 days away, and close by. I gave her an amulet that was blessed and told her it was a reminder of her promise, and that my smiling face would be with her until she saw me again. She returned with her daughters to the next clinic, and together, they found a way to take a step forward.

Last year, I made my first home visit, and met with Maria, her daughters, and new grandson in their “new” home where they were happily sustaining themselves . When I left, the love and appreciation was so overwhelming that I told them as long as I returned I would come visit every year.

I just got back from this year’s annual visit, and was again greeted with passionate tears of joy. We sat and talked, and Maria told me her story. It seems that people in the community were now coming to her as a resource when they were deeply depressed. People know that she had walked a similar path and moved beyond it.

Dr. Carl A. Hammerschlag receives assistance in announcing that the clowns are back in Belen, Peru, for their annual mental health clinics.

Dr. Carl A. Hammerschlag receives assistance in announcing that the clowns are back in Belen, Peru, for their annual mental health clinics.

She is a warm, good listener, and tells them a story about walking out of church and deciding she wanted to kill herself, and meeting with a tall gringo, a clown/doctor who miraculously saved her life. She gives them simple, practical advice, tells them how important it is to stay connected to their children, speak your truth with them openly; to pray for miracles and recognize them when they occur. She tells them to reach out for help, and people will reach out to them. She is a credible, inspiring friend who gives hope.

For those who remember when community psychiatry was actually a subspecialty, this is my vision of community mental health: People talking to credible witnesses/healers/resources in their community, whom they respect, who will listen without judgment, and maybe even say something that inspires a light in the darkness. It’s at least as effective as psychotropic drugs, and all its benefits come without side effects.

Once a year we come together, listen to each other’s stories, and continue our healing work together. Maria tells me her friends want to meet me. “They want to steal you away,” she says, “but I tell them I am not afraid.”

Maria, a lay therapist of sorts, is the community mental health consultant. Once a year, she consults with her gringo, the clown/doctor, to compare notes. We laugh and love, hug and cry, and give each other hope. No matter how divisive and polarizing the times, it is possible to come together in community and promote healing.

Dr. Hammerschlag is chief of community mental health of the Gesundheit! Institute and a faculty member at the University of Arizona, Phoenix. He is the author of several books on healing and spirituality, including “Kindling Spirit: Healing from Within” (New York: Turtle Island Press, 2010) and “The Dancing Healers: A Doctor’s Journey of Healing With Native Americans” (San Francisco: Harper, 1988). Dr. Hammerschlag’s website is healingdoc.com.

Light in Trump Tunnel

December 13th, 2016

The most rancorous Presidential campaign in history has left us a nation seriously divided. In these weeks since the election, we have seen more hate crimes and harassment than ever before. The Clown Town Healing Fest wanted to address these painful divisions, and do what we do best “heal in community”. We sponsored a gathering in downtown Phoenix and invited a distinguished panel of representatives from beleaguered communities (Latino, environmental, civil rights, healthcare, LGBTQ, education, the arts), to speak about their concerns and then opened it to talk about how we can mobilize our strengths, and more effectively face our fears.

In my brief remarks I said, so far we have responded in our biologically programmed way of “fight or flight”.  People are either: circling their wagons, preparing for an assault, and arming themselves against the coming Armageddon (a reaction that will only escalate the likelihood of violence and then invite greater repression) or: they want to run away…anyplace, (also futile because it relinquishes our responsibility as citizens to stand up and define our common goals as Americans).

We have got to come together as a collection of diverse communities, who make relationships and create a larger community; one that still articulates the dreams of our founding fathers of a Nation conceived and dedicated to the pursuit of liberty, justice, freedom, and equality, for all.

We don’t have to come together in massive displays of revolution, but it does require that each of us step up when we see racism, harassment, violence and injustice.  Every one of us speaking for the other so that we cannot be silenced.

A couple of weeks ago in central Phoenix, a Middle Eastern bakery/restaurant, owned by refugees who are American citizens, had its front window smashed for the second time in as many weeks.  A neighbor and regular customer, who knows and values these people was outraged and put together a neighborhood call for contributions to repair the window, which then expanded on-line, and then a local glazier offered to donate the glass and labor. Not in great acts of rebellion, but through these kinds of acts in every community in this Country will we light the way to healing….the light at the end of this dark tunnel is not an illusion, the tunnel is.

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The Healing Dance

November 22nd, 2016

It’s not been an easy couple of weeks for those of us suffering from post-election blues. My way of dealing with the stress was to declare a moratorium on all media except for reading the Sunday New York Times. If have performed this 3-4 hour weekly ritual since my teens, and it always nurtures me. If I can read the paper outside while listening to live music, that’s close to Nirvana for me. Even in the most discouraging times, this literate compilation of news and arts lightens my mood, and sometimes I’m even sometimes moved to dance.

Last Sunday, Wickenburg, Arizona celebrated its annual Bluegrass Festival. It’s a wonderful gathering of traditional American folk music replete with fiddle and guitar contests. My wife and I set up our folding chairs in the shade of the rodeo grounds stands, stretched out and read The Times; until the foot tapping music became impossible to ignore and Elaine and I got up and danced. We have been dancing together for almost 60 years, and although we didn’t scorch the dance floor like we used to. My balance is a little shakier and my feet sometimes stumble, it really doesn’t matter because as long as you can still hear the music and dance, you can heal your soul.

I learned that a long time ago from an old Pueblo Indian medicine man, when I worked at the Santa Fe Indian Hospital in 1965.  Santiago, had been admitted in acute congestive heart failure, and after introducing myself as his doctor, he asked me where I learned how to heal. I thought he meant where did I get my training so I recited this litany of academic achievement. When I was finished he asked me if I knew how to dance. I didn’t quite get the connection and asked him incredulously “do I know how to dance?”. He said yes, you have to be able to dance if you want to be able to heal.  I had no idea what he was talking about but humoring him I shook my head and told him I knew how to dance. Santiago, motioned to me, and I proceeded to do a little two-step at the bedside. I asked him if he danced, and he got out of bed to show me his steps. When I asked him if he would teach me how to dance that way, and he said “  I can teach you my steps, but you have to be able to hear your own music”. That was the beginning of an education about health and healing that I never learned in medical school

In these stressful and divisive times do not despair, let’s dance with others who hear the music; and tell the story of what makes America great… the pursuit of a just society.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all Relatives…dance to the music and let us heal.

P.S.    Remember the CTHF ( clowntownhealingfest.com )

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Make America Sane Again, Come to the CTHF

November 7th, 2016

Tomorrow is election day, finally…finally an end to the daily vitriol. Whatever the outcome, the bad news is that it’s going to leave us a divided nation; lots of bad feelings are left over from this ugly, divisive campaign; and I fear that we will continue to separate ourselves from each other, unable to define some common good for this Nation.

But in the midst of last week’s gloom, something happened that reminded me that hope for this Country is not lost. We still have the capacity to come together and heal in community. The Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years. It may be the most thrilling final Series game I’ve ever seen. From the moment the game ended people poured into the streets, Chicagoan’s of every color, creed, and socioeconomic group, gathered around Wrigley Field. Whole families came to to revel in the excitement, and inscribe the names of their die-hard Cub’s fan parents and grandparents on the Stadium walls. Their relatives may not have lived to see this day, but they were surely there in spirit to feel the bliss.

It is in joyful community celebrations that we heal the wounds of our separations and become sane again. We are going to do just that in Phoenix , Arizona on February 24 – 26, 2017, when we launch the second ClownTown Healing Fest.

Last year’s inaugural success demonstrated the cultural shift toward preventive health. We mobilized a broad spectrum of healthcare resources to teach, demonstrate, and participate with people to inspire them to get well before they get sick.

This year we are expanding our inner-city partnerships to bring this message to an even larger audience. There will be exhibits, demonstrations, activities, speakers, panels, music, and clowns. Take a look at what’s happening this year at (clowntownhealingfest.com.). Help us share this healing vision, tell your friends. If you’re a healthcare professional interested in learning how to intensely connect with people in a short period of time come to the Clown Healing Workshop; look at the creative program that includes Dr. Patch Adams, the world’s most recognized humanitarian clown, along with an internationally acclaimed faculty, and learn the magic of becoming a Truth Fairy.

The election will be over tomorrow, let’s find a way to come together to define some common good, and make America great again.

drh3

Dr. Carl A. Hammerschlag, M.D., CPAE is a psychiatrist, author, and professional keynote speaker. He is an authority in the science of psychoneuroimmunology mind, body, spirit medicine and speaks about health and wellness, healing, leadership and authenticity . He has delivered motivational keynote speeches to corporate and business clients around the world.