If you’ve ever pushed your hands into a piece of wet clay, you’ll likely have a sense of the therapeutic properties of the material. The physicality of clay, and its vast potential for creativity, have attracted artists, artisans, and amateurs for centuries. Those practitioners have long lauded the restorative and meditative benefits of creating ceramics—and today, it’s a proven 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). A potter himself, Nan had observed that his patients enjoyed working with clay, and recognized that “art therapy literature has documented very little on the therapeutic effects of pottery work, especially with more rigorous scientific methods of research.”
In 2016, he conducted the study alongside Rainbow T. H. Ho, a fellow professor at the University of Hong Kong. Their findings, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders
in April 2017, suggest that creating objects out of clay can help adults with MDD to improve mood, decision-making, and motivation.
The World Health Organization projects that by 2030, depression will affect 350 million people and become the “leading cause of disability-adjusted illness in the world.” Yet individuals suffering from depression currently have little option but to take antidepressants (which can cause negative side effects). Nan and Ho proposed CAT as a viable alternative treatment.
They hypothesized that CAT could alleviate elements of depression in adult outpatients with MDD and predicted 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,” Nan says.
The method is designed to actively engage depressed individuals both physically and mentally through a variety of exercises with clay, ranging from simple to progressively more complex projects. Through the process, the theory goes, adults can discover new ways to understand and express their thoughts and emotions.