What Is Coulrophobia (the Fear of Clowns)?

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When we think of a fear of clowns, we may usually think it's something that only children experience. It is not uncommon for a child to develop a fear of clowns, whether it's caused by an adverse interaction at a birthday party, the circus, or a community event. However, some adults also experience a phobia of clowns.

Coulrophobia is a fear of clowns. When a person has this condition, they are known to react when they see a photo of a clown, a video, or a clown in person. Due to the phobia or fear, they will try to avoid any interactions with clowns. This article will cover coulrophobia, its symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

What is Coulrophobia - Illustration by Joules Garcia

Verywell / Joules Garcia


For people who have coulrophobia, the natural reaction is to avoid clowns at all costs. For kids, it may be hiding, covering their eyes, or a physical reaction of fear. For adults, they could avoid or modestly turn their heads at the sight of a clown. Some other signs of this condition include the following:

  • Shaking
  • Increased heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Flush or pale skin
  • Extreme fear or reaction
  • Panic attacks


When you speak with a licensed medical healthcare professional, they will evaluate your symptoms and make a diagnosis. One of the tools that they use is the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM-5). Since coulrophobia is not considered a phobic disorder by The American Psychiatric Association, the following symptoms can qualify as a diagnosis of a phobia:

  • Avoidance of situations that has a clown
  • The phobia lasts longer than six months
  • Your quality of life is greatly impacted
  • Intense anxiety when seeing the image of or thinking of a clown


When a person is diagnosed with a phobia, there are a number of reasons why the irrational fear occurs. It could be from a past experience, trauma, or learned behavior. For instance, a frightening encounter with a clown at a young age may cause a person to grow up with a phobia of clowns.

However, learned experiences are not the only reason a person may develop a particular fear. Biology may also play a role, as some people may be more predisposed to anxious feelings or mental health disorders and more susceptible to developing a phobia.

When a person has coulrophobia, there are a variety of components to a clown that can cause the phobia or fear. This includes the makeup, facial expressions, and the distortion of the face. Because the person can’t see the entire face, this can create fear, distrust and cause reactions.


There are options to help overcome coulrophobia. Although there is not a specific treatment for the condition, it is important to work with a licensed mental health professional to help you work through the treatments. Some of the treatment options include the following:

  • Exposure therapy: This is a treatment that will allow the patient to expose themselves to situations that may trigger the symptoms of coulrophobia. This can include looking at photos of clowns, breathing and coping techniques before and after looking at a clown and creating the experience of being exposed to a clown, including in-person or through photos.
  • Cognitive behavior therapy: This treatment can help patients shift their feeling, fears, and perceptions of clowns. This type of treatment can be done independently or with other therapies.


Coulrophobia is a common fear, as many people are afraid of clowns. Some may experience more intense feelings of fear and anxiety in relation to this phobia, but a person can take steps to reduce their irrational fear. Exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are great options for those seeking to diminish their fear of clowns.

A Word From Verywell

Having any type of phobia is not abnormal. Many people live with a phobia for different reasons. If you have a phobia, talk with a healthcare provider about your fear. They can refer you to a licensed mental health professional who can help you reduce or eliminate symptoms with a treatment plan. Understand that healing is a journey, and it takes time, so be patient as you work through your fear.

1 Source
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Coulrophobia (fear of clowns).

By Yvelette Stines
Yvelette Stines, MS, MEd, is an author, writer, and communications specialist specializing in health and wellness.