Clown phobia is a relatively rare condition which has, over the last few years, become more common in Western society. It is classified as a specific phobia. In 2016, a number of clowns has been reported in the newspapers, particularly in the United States of America. These ‘creepy clowns’ were reported hanging around the edges of forests and following people down streets. This phenomenon has also continued here in the UK and has increased the general amount of fear both in children and in adults.
Clowns usually have exaggerated features. The nose is often over-sized and, typically, they wear a ‘red nose’. More often or not, the face is whitened and they wear some sort of exaggerated wig. In addition, clowns tend to wear bright, Harlequin-style clothes, over-sized trousers, huge shoes and gloves; and, sometimes, they wear a bow tie or a pleated ruff. They also wear sequins, braid, and many other trims to make the suit sparkle.
But what makes the clown so scary? Although clowns are generally employed to make children laugh, psychologists have pointed out that the white, painted face and exaggerated mouth confuses children and causes fear. Children often react to unknown, bizarre faces and this phobic reaction is sometimes maintained throughout life. In addition, clowns often act in an unusual, anti-social or menacing way—they deliberately mess up tricks, chuck water over the audience or throw custard pies—and this catches children off guard. There have also been a number of menacing clowns in the media—for instance, the Joker (Batman), Krusty the Clown (The Simpsons), Alice Cooper (the rock singer), and there was a particularly disturbing clown in Stephen King’s film ‘It’. Indeed, there are copious other examples in the media…
The treatment of clown phobia requires a combination of psychodynamic psychotherapy and behaviour therapy. The psychodynamic psychotherapy is important because it helps the client to find, and come to terms with, the source of the problem, while the behaviour, which normally includes some hypnotherapy, helps the individual to gain more confidence and reduce feelings of anxiety associated with clowns.
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London Psychotherapy, London Hypnotherapy UK and Enfield Therapy
UKCP Registered Psychotherapist
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Member of Council, Section of Hypnosis and Psychosomatic Medicine, RSM