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by: , in conjunction with RAISIN,

The children's wards of major hospitals are home to some very important specialists: pediatricians, nurses, neonatologists and others. But in their ranks are some people whose jobs have only a little to do with medical schools - and a lot more to do with a pie in the face.

French researchers say the use of clowns to help brighten the spirits of hospitalized kids, making treatment for such awful things as cancer far easier to deal with. In a study for the British medical journal The Lancet, researchers at Institut Gustave Roussy in Villejuif say clowns turn a grim environment into sources of fascination - for example, turning the dripping of an IV unit into the beat of a calypso song.

The researchers say the clowns and their young patients form a bond that is private - not even accessible to the doctors treating the youngsters. This allows the kids to express their feelings about what they're undergoing - sometimes in a confidential journal.

The clowns themselves are not complete novices. The researchers say they have been trained to understand each child's medical history, social history and emotional history. "Indeed, the clowns become a fully integrated part of the medical team and may be present during medical examinations and on the journey to the operating room," write the researchers.

And it's not only the children who the clowns help. The researchers say parents and other caregivers are reassured by the clowns' interaction with the children that the kids still are capable of fantasy and play despite the suffering they experience. This, the researchers say, relieves a bit of the stress that parents undergo as they watch helplessly.

"Clowns can help children to understand their feelings and thoughts and express them, to preserve and protect the freedom of their imagination and the liberty of their psychic play, and help them confront their cancer without excessive mental suffering or enduring damage," the researchers conclude.

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