Healing the healer

The doctor known for using laughter and happiness to help patients heal, Patch Adams, will conduct a workshop Friday for caregivers.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Many treatment programs focus on the patient-the best techniques and latest technology to help heal someone who is ill and in pain. This Friday, the doctor known for using laughter in the healing process, Dr. Patch Adams, will conduct a workshop focusing on the caregiver.

Adams-physician, street clown and social activist-whose movie of the same name (starring Robin Williams) promoted the idea that, even in illness and pain, happiness can be transcendent. He will be the keynote speaker at a community workshop being offered by Milestones Ranch Malibu, located at the old Calamigos Ranch, on Friday.

The daylong seminar is one of several guest speakers’ series to be offered by Milestones Ranch and is open to the public. Adams will address, among many subjects, the joy of helping others while living a life of calculated bliss.

Josie Ramirez-Herndon, outreach director for Milestones Ranch Malibu, said that Friday’s workshop is the first of what is a planned series of educational “community awareness” events focusing on healthy life style choices.


“The first workshop is for everybody, really,” Ramirez-Herndon said. “But particularly, caregivers, whose work is challenging and sometimes draining, so they can reconnect with the idea of living a life of joy.”

Adams is the founder of the Gesundheit! (Good Health!) Institute, started in 1970. His idea was to create a model health care system, in the form of a 40-bed rural hospital serving an impoverished community, aimed at changing society.

“We enter our 33rd year without having broken ground on the hospital,” Adams states on the Web site for the institute, which has treated thousands of patients, even without a home to call its own. “The loudest cry of patients was for compassion and attention, which was a call for time.”

Adams maintains that the practice of medicine is “bi-directional” and that intimacy is as important for the caregiver as it is the patient. As such, his approach to treatment is heavy on the personal touch and light on the business end. Adams has been known to show up to take a patient’s history wearing full clown regalia.

The institute’s unusual methods for a holistic approach to healing include literally laughing someone into feeling better. Adams’ experience as a street clown confirmed for him that humor, combined with therapy, brings an elevated sense of trust to the relationship between caregivers (whether physicians, nurses or home aides) and patients.

Denise Klein, executive director of Milestones Ranch Malibu, said: “Whether you are in the health care field as a doctor or a nurse or simply caregiver to a sick child or an elderly parent, Patch has something to teach you.”

Milestones Ranch Malibu is a residential treatment center on the Calamigos Ranch in the mountains above Malibu. It is unusual in that it is designed as a “dual-treatment” center, addressing chemical dependency and co-occurring disorders such as bipolar and borderline personality disorders. With only 12 beds, Milestones focuses intensely on building strong patient/caregiver relationships and Klein felt that Adams’ philosophy was exactly what was needed at Milestones.

“One of our clinicians, Dr. Seth Kadish, attended a workshop Patch was giving and was bowled over,” Klein said. “He suggested we immediately adopt some of Patch’s different intervention strategies.”

They used his approach on a patient who arrived at Milestones in an acute catatonic, depressed state.

“This patient couldn’t get out of bed when she arrived,” Klein said. “We tried some of Patch’s techniques with appropriate, loving touch and constant, loving energy. Two months later, she was out and involved in her community again.”

Friday’s workshop will begin as an experiential process, Klein said, with exercises to develop empathy for a patient in need.

“In this day and age, with our bureaucratized medical environment, doctors often can’t take the time to connect this way with their patients. Our philosophy is that our job is made easier by using fun and humor.”

The second half of the workshop will address what is often the result of the selfless commitment caregivers provide: burnout.

“Doctors, nurses, social workers, but especially Moms, suffer burnout after awhile,” Klein said. “Our goal is to restore not just life, but quality and zest for life.”

Future workshops will feature subjects such as “The Laws of Attraction,” a theory that has been strongly promoted by the international life-style guru, Dr. Wayne Dyer.

Workshop participation is by reservation only, at a cost of $195 for the day, which includes lunch, at the Malibu Conference Center at Calamigos Ranch. More information on the workshop with Dr. Patch Adams can be obtained by calling Josie Ramirez-Herndon at 877.769.4780 or by e-mail at Josie@outreachservices.info

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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