The therapeutic aspects of clay at the 9th ISCAEE conference in Seoul

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Eleen Polson had the opportunity to present some ideas on the therapeutic aspects of clay to the participants of the 9th ISCAEE conference in Korea, in June 2019 and found that the topic resonated deeply with the audience. She gladly shares the lecture here:


“Our humanity is in crisis when 32% of our teenagers are feeling hopeless and unequipped for the future and 1 out of 5 tries to commit suicide – even though we are living in a technological advanced society, and grow older with more worldly possessions than any previous generation before us. Our children needs basic life skills to cope and to find creative solutions. Although there is no definitive list of life skills, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF listed 10 skills as the most essential and relevant across cultures:

decision making

problem solving

creative thinking

critical thinking

effective communication

interpersonal relationships



coping with emotions, and

Coping with stress.

Seven of these skills, are met by participating in creative activities – like working with clay.

According to Eduard de Bone “creativity spans every aspect of life, from devising a new toothpaste cap to Beethoven’s writing his Fifth Symphony.”

The challenge is how to teach creativity. However, some studies shows that all people have inate creativity that they are born with. We were born creative but we forgot that, and need to be reminded.  We need to relearn our engagement with free flow creativity. In one study cited by Kobus Neetling, 98% of children of 3 years old are involved in superior creative activities, while only 10% of 15 year olds are creative.  And adults?  Only 2% participated in any creative activities. My work is to get adults in touch with their innate creative ability and I use expressive arts for this purpose.

Expressive arts is a collective term for all creative expressions including drama, creative writing, singing, music making, sculpting, visual art and craft. Expressive arts therapy is using all the arts for growth and healing. Natalie Rogers, Carl Rogers’ daughter and world famous expressive arts therapist developed an integrative method using one mode to unleash creativity in another. It is called the Creative Connection process and uses different art forms one after the other to unlocks the power of the intuitive mind. It initiates the participant to go into a flow state, overcoming creative blocks. The process moves people from their expected left brain functioning into right brain creativity where anything is possible. The whole brain and the whole body is involved, with awareness.

The medium you express with is the co-creator in the process. Every medium brings its own soul to the work. Watercolour, is different to singing, is different to movement. When we work with clay, it connects us to our rootedness, to the earth, to our certainties, to our beliefs, to our struggles as humans on earth. Playing with clay brings us back to our most primitive self, our earliest memories of tactile connection: feeling the softness of our mother’s skin, smelling the damp earth, creating with fingers. One participant at my workshop, an elderly professor, was moved to tears when his mother’s face appeared to him in the clay.

Clay is multidimensional: it can be seen from different angels and all sides. Whatever we make reflect something of us, it shows the richness of possibilities. On the one hand the process of working with clay is beneficial: it is relaxing. On the other hand it gives an end-product that is rich in meaning and symbolism.

My love of this work came through a personal experience of using clay in recovering from trauma. I have two sons, now age 13 and 18. When the youngest was 2 years old, he fell into our swimming pool and almost drowned. He was not breathing when I dived him out of the water. Through grace he was revived and to this day has no symptoms left over, but the shock of that experience was caught in my body. I went to therapy and trauma-debriefing; I went to my spiritual place of silence and life went on. I became involved with art therapy and two years later I did an amazing training with Dr Natalie Rogers, in Ireland. It was a 5-day process working with different art media. During this time I made a spontaneous piece looking like a figure with outstretched arms. While processing it, I was told that it looked like a floating figure. I suddenly accessed the visceral shock that was felt in my body on discovering my drowning son. A deep release of the stored up shock followed through a beautiful creative process. The clay helped me to bypass my thinking brain into the deepest tissue senses of my being, clay helped me to create healing and freedom.

I came back to South Africa inspired and motivated to spread this healing process to others – and it was my privilege the past 10 years to witness numerous sessions of deep healing and restoration through the use of clay and other mediums through creative connections.

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