Fear of Clowns
Mostly everyone who knows me knows I love performance of “funny” things, had a brief run as a stand-up comic, all of that. But once when I told one of the nurses who I had been working with that I wanted to learn more about “clowning” — meaning classic clowning, costume, makeup, like at the circus — it was plain from her facial reaction that I had struck terror into her. She stammered, “I hope you are not going to do any of that stuff here. I am really scared of clowns. I ran away from one when I was little and clowns still make me really uncomfortable.” Of course I told her I would not do anything that could scare her. I have to admit this affliction was unknown to me in the world of psychiatry. I guess it just isn’t anything anybody would come in and request treatment for, at least not yet. I suppose they would just avoid circuses.
They call it coulrophobia, and it is allegedly ranked among the top ten most common specific phobias by somebody, although I certainly could not find it in any such list. I have never seen a patient who came in with this one as the chief complaint, which means people probably see some kind of non-medication prescribing health professional if they see anyone at all. I mean you can find people on the street or among your friends who are uncomfortable around something — fear of spiders or fear of open spaces. Those are far more likely to be in the top ten.
I have done well with treating fears of spiders and of open spaces, applying the emotional freedom technique (EFT) to patients. Generally by the time someone shells out the bucks to see me their fear is so pathological that it interferes with their daily life. Some get physically sick and go to an emergency room with apparent heart attacks or asthma attacks.
Of course, an ER will usually give such a person seriously addictive anxiety medicine – benzodiazepines like Xanax or Klonopin – which will be perpetuated by general medical doctors until the patient is a real wreck. I don’t know why anyone would want a top ten list on phobias, but there is a reasonable list at About.Com. Material on coulophobia is more rare.
I am unaware of any traumatic event that could have brought this illness on in my nurse friend. I certainly have cured common phobias — usually just accidentally discovered in a patient who has seen me for help with something society might consider more “serious” — and it can be done, usually in one session, with EFT or some variant. I never use any medication to specifically treat a phobia, although most people who see me are already on something from some other doctor for some other reason.
I’m typically the doctor of last resort when nobody else has been able to provide answers or relief to a patient and coulophobia sounds like something I could handle.
It does sound as if there may or may not be a traumatic event. People often remember one during the EFT process. This has happened often enough that I think Freud and Janet (Genet) — pioneers of the study of psychiatric process — were right when they thought pretty much everything was trauma.
There are certainly references to coulophobia in popular culture. In a Simpson’s episode, “Lisa’s First Word,” Bart allegedly repeats during an attack of insomnia “Can’t Sleep; Clown will Eat Me.” The phrase has been allegedly popularized over the internet and has become an Alice Cooper Song.
I also found a YouTube video about being scared by clowns.
Some have suggested that the smiling, masked face generates a fear that is simply a manifestation of the fear of the unknown. Perhaps phobias have simply been diluted into the idea of “likes” and dislikes” because of some perceived shame that has been transmuted into a sense of privacy. Being a kind and gentle person, I spared my nurse from clowning around in the office, for which she was intensely grateful.