They once brought joy, but in a complicated world, some people have grown to fear clowns and need therapy. What can you do about it? By Shyla Sreedharan
Coulrophobia, the irrational fear of clowns is signified by a persistent worry of coming across a clown, and getting intensely disturbed upon any related encounter with clowns. This type of phobia is more common in children, but adults are not entirely safe. It starts normally in children about the age of two, when stranger anxiety is developmentally typical. At that age, children’s minds are still developing and they are not always able to separate fantasy from reality.
Causes of Coulrophobia
Research on the causes of Coulrophobia is scant but according to Trinity University Specialist, Joseph Durvin, there are two probable explanations for this phenomenon. One of the explanations that he proposes is that a child may develop coulrophobia after experiencing a terrifying encounter with a menacing or creepy clown at a young age. His other theory is that mass media stimulates these fears due to the manner in which clowns are depicted in the media.
The Symptoms of Coulrophobia
Common symptoms that can occur with people (both children and adults):
- Extreme and irrational fear of clowns and encountering one
- Fleeing away from a clown immediately even when it doesn’t pose any danger
- Spontaneous and instant responses such as crying and screaming
- Avoiding amusement parks, circuses, parades and carnivals to avoid clowns only.
- Even the sight of clown accessories such as a clown hats, wigs, scary clown masks, costumes, triggers fear.
- Panic attacks upon such fearful experience
- Feeling angry at being placed in an environment with clowns
- Physical symptoms such as trembling, rapid breathing, accelerated heart rate, sweating and clammy hands, nausea or vomiting, dizziness or fainting, abdominal uneasiness and feeling hot.
Sending Off The Clowns
Coulrophobia can be treated using various therapies.
Graded Exposure Therapy with Relaxation Methods
The therapist prepares a setting with a toy clown or just accessories of a clown, targeting mildly feared stimuli first, followed by more strongly feared stimuli such as an actual clown in costume. Through regular and gradual exposures, the person is guided to resist this fear and build tolerance. The therapist also teaches various relaxation techniques such as mind visualization exercises, meditation and muscle releasing exercises to use simultaneously during exposures.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Exposure-based cognitive–behavioral therapy is currently the treatment of choice for specific phobias such as Coulrophobia. Using cognitive restructuring strategies with graduated exposure to the feared object, the therapist helps the client to correct anxiety-evoking irrational thoughts and replace them with more realistic interpretations and predictions.
If pervasive anxiety is experienced a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety drugs. You may be prescribed sedatives to take on an as-needed basis such as an unexpected encounter with a clown, which could trigger a massive panic attack.
Shyla Sreedharan is the founder and senior counselor at Therapy Rocks
She has helped many find their way in love, life, and well-being, adopting an approach that is integrative and employing a variety of therapeutic modalities including Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Transactional Analysis and other Person-Centred approaches to conceptualise problems and customise interventions.