Smiling in the hospital: interview with Rodrigo Morganti and Debora Caloni pf the Doctor Smile onlus

In the occasion of the AIOSS Congress, held in Montesilvano (Italy) the last 11-14/10/2018, the Healthcare Area of ISTUD Foundation and the Dottor Sorriso onlus (that in English means “Doctor Smile foundation”) held a symposium on the smiling therapy, for professionals involved in the care of stoma. At the moment, the onlus has 60 professionals and volunteers, acting in 18 Italian hospitals and 4 rehabilitation centers that covered 12 Italian districts. This month we have the pleasure to publish in the present journal the interview with Rodrigo Morganti, one of the first smile doctor in Italy, and Debora Caloni, an expert in smile therapy.

1. Good morning doctor Morganti and thanks for your readness to this interview. As a first question, I would like to ask you, could you please tell us the origins of the Doctor Sorriso Foundation activities?

<<Although the Clown role, from its origins, was always active and paid attention to suffers, the origins of the Clown therapy were on 1986 when Michael Cristensen from the United States founded the first continuative programme weekly at hospitals. In Italy, it was diffuse from 1995 and the Dottor Sorriso onlus, the foundation we collaborate with, was the first founded in our country, in 1996.>>

2.  How your passion for the smiling therapy was born in you?

<<I could say it was just a case… if you believe in faith. At the time, when I began, a Swiss foundation called me because it wanted to diffuse the Clown-therapy in Italy – at the time such activities didn’t exist in our country – so I could be proud to be the first to introduce this activity in Italy. At the first time, I had only wanted to congratulate them, but they gave me the possibility to follow their Clown in Switzerland; there, during the last visit with them, such a magic sensation made me understand I would never stop with this activity, and so it was!>> Rodrigo Morganti said, and Debora Caloni added <<Also for me, the first experience with the smile therapy was “accidental”. About ten years ago, I was deeply desiring to become a volunteer with children. Someone suggested me a voluntaristic association that organizes a course of clown therapy near Milan. My pathway, that is still in progress, begun in this way…>>.

3. We usually think the Clown-therapy as something dedicated to the youngest patients (as children). What do you think about?

Rodrigo Morganti answered <<Firstly, the Clown-therapy was born for paediatry, believing that Clown would have distracted children from their suffering… Fortunately, that idea was abandoned soon, since it is not a real distraction but something more wide-spectrum. Indeed, it is not only for children but also for their parents, for all of those accept us during the visit, including professionals at the hospital. Asking with hospitals we could understand the issues of major interest, of need, of major criticism, loading us to actively work also accompanying the patient to the surgical room, before the anesthesia, next to the parents waiting for their suffering relative, trying to be there when the patient will wake up after the intervention; other programmes support the intensive therapy rooms and neonatal therapy rooms, we follow the new mums, and also at hospital wards for adults or at geriatric departments, where we are greatly appreciated… Not the last, we also work with the disabled.>>

4. What is the level of diffusion of this kind of activity in Italy than in other countries worldwide?

<<Maybe Italy the country with the highest number of Clown therapy associations, but I think it is not completely positive since many of these associations, especially those composed exclusively by volunteers, are of debatable quality. Many people believe we are there to make sufferers laugh, just dressing a wig, a red noise and do stupid things… while I think we shouldn’t make patients laugh in every case, but we should potentiate their healthy part through stronger positive emotions. The aim could be obtained only with professional education.>> Rodrigo Morganti said.

5. What are the major difficulties in this activity, and what are the major factors of satisfaction in introducing the smile therapy into the clinical practice of the hospitals? 

Rodrigo Morganti answered <<I could say that the major difficulties are more often at the beginning of a collaboration with the hospital, and it happens for several reasons. For several hospitals, which are not so much informed about what the smile therapy is, the prejudice and the fear of introducing chaos into the different departments are still present, and it was particularly true at the time of the first introduction of this activity in Italy! Furthermore, several departments that had asked for this service to associations of debatable quality, in the past, were then dismissed. However, whether a negative imprinting was established in those contexts, as consequence of the low quality of past experiences, the introduction of the smile therapy might become more difficult, so we have to overcome such prejudice.>> and further added <<Thanks to this activity, the satisfaction arises from different factors: the first factors arise from patients and their relatives themselves, but also from professionals, especially in those case of an integrative environment into the department. At that moment, you can feel you are really giving the best of you for the team. Another factor of great satisfaction is when physicians and nurses asked you to participate in future educational projects at the department, not because they want to know how becoming a Clown, but in order to deeply learn the main tools to improve empathy, and better understand what we really do. Fortunately, hospitals asking for the service of Dottor Sorriso are increasing more and more nowadays, but also Dottor Sorriso is interested in increasing such kind of collaborations.>>

6. Could you please briefly describe to readers the collaboration with the Healthcare Area of ISTUD Foundation?

Debora Caloni answered <<Months ago, a friend called me to propose us a collaboration with ISTUD Foundation, through teaching at a course to the National Congress of AIOSS to stoma specialists (physicians and nurses). With the enthusiastic acceptance of Dottor Sorriso Foundation and of Doc Morganti, I expressed the desire to go on behilf of the Dottor Sorriso onlus. So all starts in this way…>> and then added <<Nowadays, the desire to continue with the diffusion of the clown therapy, and in particular the collaboration with ISTUD Foundation, also for other project. The next November indeed, we are going to participate as experts in the last session of the Master in Applied Narrative Medicine of the Healthcare Area of ISTUD Foundation.>>.


Silvia Napolitano

Researcher at Healthcare Area of ISTUD Foundation. Master degree in Industrial Biotechnology at University of Milano-Bicocca, Post-graduate ‘Scienziati in Azienda’ at ISTUD Foundation. Expert in Medical Writing, especially in areas as the qualitative research and Narrative Medicine. She contributes to research and educational projects with the aim of improving the quality of life and quality of care of patients with chronicle or genetic diseases.

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