A couple of weeks ago, over a hundred clowns from all over the world gathered for our annual clown trip to Iquitos, Peru; among them were 20 health professionals. For the first time we provided mental health clinics in the streets, based on the Patch Adams M.D./Gesundheit! healthcare model, that features open access and loving care delivered by open-hearted providers, as the foundation for doing healing work.
These street clinics were the result of my work with Amazon Promise (AP), an extraordinary non-profit that provides primary healthcare to indigenous people of the Amazon. I was the first psychiatrist who was willing to see patients in an open room, shared with doctors, dentists, medical students, and a lab tech without privacy or any psychiatric drugs.
Rosa, the AP clinic coordinator, served as my translator. She has a remarkable way of translating my words into her own heartfelt story that clearly touched people (Schlagbyte Aug.18, 2010). In 20 minutes, patients could be impacted by the experience. We loved working together and believed that with more mental health professionals we could treat more people in the streets.
This year, Rosa set up four, half-day clinics in different communities. We printed flyers saying, if anyone was having problems at home, with spouses, children or parents, if they were abused, couldn’t sleep; there were professionals who could help them.
I met with the clinicians (psychologists, social workers, counselors, nurses, medical doctors. a chiropractor, and two body workers), before the first scheduled event, and shared my experiences over the last 3 years. I said they would be hearing stories that would make their hearts bleed (of abuse, abandonment, sexual trauma, and grinding poverty). It would make them wonder how anything in their training prepared them for this… But they would also see people who were remarkably resilient, and perhaps the most important thing they could do was to come with an open heart and simply listen to their story. For many patients, 20 minutes with someone who is truly listening to them, is more attention than many have ever gotten. If. in addition, they could help them identify their strengths, share some advice, inspire hope, it would all have an impact on their patients and themselves.
We would not dress in our usual clown flamboyance, but we would all wear our clown noses. After the visits we would give vitamins to everybody, and I brought along some amulets of the Virgin of Guadalupe that had been blessed by Huichol and Navajo shaman. I told the therapists that if they saw patients whom they thought might benefit from such a gift, as a reminder of their time together, to give it with a little blessing when they hung it on their neck.
We set up in a schoolyard, soccer field, loading dock, and the AP clinic. On our arrival we passed out the flyers, and also announced our presence over loudspeakers. Clinicians worked in pairs, sitting with patients in tight intimate circles surrounded by clowns playing with children; veterinarians sterilizing dogs and cats, and laboratory technicians taking blood samples from kids, and the community strolling by. Amidst the noise of this 3-Ring circus, the therapists saw 200 people. In those four days they listened to each other’s stories and everyone felt good about what happened.
Skeptics may wonder if anything really meaningful can be accomplished in 20 minutes, I say unequivocally, yes! The overwhelming social and economic problems will not go away, but 20 minutes connecting to someone with a listening ear, a loving heart, and a clown nose, can kindle the human spirit and renew hope. Whatever our suffering, it is those precious moments that we are reminded of our humanity.
PS: If you are doing healing work are interested in learning how to maximize your skills; I’m doing a workshop with Mona Polacca in Phoenix, October 19–21, 2012 here in Phoenix Arizona. Check it out at www.healingdoc.com