If you’ve ever pushed your hands into a piece of wet clay, you’ll probably have a sense of the therapeutic properties of the material. In the past couple of years, increasing attention has been given to the restorative and meditative benefits of creating ceramics, turning it into a method for art therapy.
Hong Kong-based art psychotherapist Joshua K.M. Nan recently devised a study to measure the effects of clay art therapy (CAT) on adults with major depressive disorder (MDD). He conducted a study alongside Rainbow T. H. Ho, a fellow professor at the University of Hong Kong, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders this past April, which suggests that creating objects out of clay can help adults with MDD to improve mood, decision-making, and motivation. They believe that CAT may be able to alleviate elements of depression in adults with MDD and predict that through engaging with clay, participants would be able to improve their general health, holistic body-mind-spirit (BMS) well-being, and cognitive ability to articulate feelings.
Pottery as therapy is designed to actively engage those suffering with depression both physically and mentally through a mix of exercises with clay, ranging from simple to more complex projects. The process has many calming effects: it synergies the mind and body, which requires great focus, while giving you an opportunity to free your creativity. These are ideal conditions to attain the state of “flow,” which is by many psychologists considered one of the most pleasurable states of mind. Pottery requires concentration on what you’re working on, which lets you escape all the everyday worries of life and just be in the moment. In the midst of our technology-addicted culture, pottery connects us to the earth when the world might as well be coming undone. Since you can’t rush your pottery, as pieces can crack and fall of, the activity gives you the opposite of instant gratification. It takes days, even weeks, to make, fire and glaze a pot or sculpture. It is a plodding process, but that is part of the allure. You have to be in tune with the clay and react to what state it’s in to work with it. This then becomes very meditative, turning off a higher level of thinking and forcing you to let go and give in to the unpredictability of it.
Ultimately, the goal is to discover new ways to understand and communicate your thoughts and emotions, by giving you a creative outlet to express yourself. And who knows, you could be so proud of your work that you end up using it as decoration in your apartment, or as a gift for a friend.
This might remind you of all the yoga teachers who have urged you to try new poses and not worry about falling or losing balance. Standing over a stove can help clear your mind, too, but it would be foolish to mistake sautéing onions for standing meditation. Cooking is a functional activity that depends on predictability; one misstep and your dinner goes up in smoke. Clay is liberating in that nobody can see you trip up, and nobody is hungry for what you end up doing with it.