The Shape of Healing: The Power of Pottery in Mental Health Treatment

Randy Blume wasn’t always a potter.

In fact, her first attempt at pottery in college ended with such frustration that she dropped the class and went on to complete her fine arts degree without a second thought to the molding of clay.

It wasn’t until a decade later that she returned to the practice, signing up for a pottery class through the adult education program at a local university.

It was a time of stress for me. And suddenly I found that not only was I able to finally master the wheel, but that I fell in love with it. Focusing on a piece of clay blocked out everything else in my life. I realized that when you focus just on the clay, you’re distracted from your problems, especially if you’re in distress. Best of all, clay is magical. There is no right or wrong. Whatever you produce helps increase a feeling of self worth.

Today, she devotes her practice to not only furthering her own process of self-discovery and well-being, but guiding pottery students in mental and physical distress on their own healing journeys at the potter’s wheel.

Artistic creation is a fundamentally and profoundly human endeavor that has allowed people to find expression and communication since beginning of human history. Although artistic processes have been elemental in the lives of countless individual creators and the collective experiences of societies as a whole, in recent decades the medical community has recognized the transformative potential of art. Mental health treatment programs are increasingly integrating art therapy in their curriculums to allow clients to experience the healing effects of artistic creation. Pottery is a uniquely powerful artistic avenue that can serve as a deeply beneficial therapeutic modality for people suffering from mental health disorders. By combining physical practice built around the primal experience of touch with emotional, creative engagement, pottery can allow you to awaken your spirit and active your natural resilience.

Self-Expression and Self-Discovery


In an intensive therapeutic environment, you are continuously invited to give verbal expression to your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and experiences. However, words are not the right medium for all forms of expression—there are thoughts we have that are too painful, complex, or overwhelming for words to hold. Pottery provides a new, rich language to give voice to your inner self through sculptural form, allowing you to experiment with physical media to discover new avenues of communication with both others and yourself. As an article investigating the therapeutic benefits of clay work in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association points out, “clay-work makes possible an entire non-verbal language or communication for the creator, through which his or her mental realm, emotional life, and primary object relations can be expressed.”[2. http://www.hebpsy.net/files/mrxujbchrsv8makszzw1.pdf] By giving you the opportunity to explore and engage yourself in novel ways, you gain access to parts of your psyche that may previously have gone unrecognized, offering you newfound avenues for self-discovery and catharsis.

Stress Relief and Relaxation


The tactile experience of pottery can be meditative in nature and invite a deep sense of relaxation and well-being. Your heart rate and blood pressure lower, your breathing regulates, and your stress level naturally sinks as your mind and body become enveloped in the world of creativity. The repetitive motions of molding, spinning, and shaping can soothe the psyche, allowing you to leave your everyday thoughts and worries behind and immerse yourself in the artistic process. As pottery instructor Abbie Kasoff-Gray says, “Everything else subsides around you. You truly forget about everything except the clay.”[2. http://sjmagazine.net/sj-art/healing-clay] The clay demands your attention and naturally disrupts intrusive thoughts that interfere with your ability to live in and enjoy the moment. By allowing you to step outside of yourself and devote your energies to the production of something new, pottery can provide a much-needed emotional reprieve and new perspectives.

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Mastery and Self-Confidence


Pottery can allow you to discover previously unrealized strengths as you gain mastery over the creative process, developing both technical skill and expressive abilities. The sense of mastery you gain as you develop your personal artistic style can be a source of invigoration, enhancing your confidence and sense of purpose at an emotionally vulnerable time in your life. Each person brings their individual perspective to the creative process and hones their unique talents in the sculpting of a piece. In pottery, there is no competition, no right way or wrong way, but infinite possibilities for creating pieces that speak to you.

Pottery Class at Bridges to Recovery


At Bridges to Recovery, we offer a dedicated pottery class to allow our clients to experience the extraordinary healing power of clay work. Within a supportive space and guided by experienced facilitators, you are introduced to this remarkable creative process and given the opportunity safely investigate and give expression to your inner self through artistic production. Here, you have the opportunity to talk, laugh, share, and explore in a non-threatening and non-judgmental environment as you move toward greater psychological tranquility and emotional wellness. When used within the context of a thoughtfully designed, comprehensive mental health treatment program, pottery can be an invaluable part of healing and expand the potential for extraordinary personal growth.

Bridges to Recovery offers innovative, effective mental health treatment for people suffering from a range of mental health disorders and co-occurring substance abuse. Contact us to learn more about how we can help you or your loved one on the path to healing.