Earlier this month I was invited to an exhibition at HMP Barlinnie where Theatre Nemo put on a display of the work it had been doing with prisoners. This work included taiko drumming (which there was a performance of), drawings, writing, guitar playing, and singing. I found this very interesting and the prisoners themselves appeared to have enjoyed producing the work immensely. Attending this event put a lot of ideas and questions in my head about the potential therapeutic role of creative activity for prisoners and for other groups of people. It’s unlikely I will ever get the chance to do any of my own research in this area but that didn’t stop me having a browse of the work that has already been done.
Discovering the journal ‘The Arts in Psychotherapy’ was a bit of a treat for me. It might not have the biggest impact factor out there but it was full of just the kind of research I was curious about. It was difficult to decide which article to pick for discussion so I may present a few over the coming weeks. An article by Jang and Choi (2012) investigated the use of clay to build ego-resilience in adolescents. The results suggested that the use of clay over 18 weekly sessions lasting 80 minutes each produced a statistically significant increase in ego-resilience. This increase was seen within the clay group over time and between the clay group and control group. Increasing ego-resilience allows individuals to deal better with change and threatening situations without experiencing emotional or behavioural problems. Ego-resilience is about effective adaptation and it is something a person can develop rather than an unchanging characteristic.
In Jang and Choi’s study the 18 week clay programme was split into three periods: the beginning stage (sessions 1 to 6); the middle stage (sessions 7 to 14); and the final stage (sessions 15 to 18). During these sessions there was self-exploration, building rapport with other members of the group, self-perception, emotional regulation, and promoting optimism as well as regular displays and discussion of the pottery that had been made. All of these experiences can help to build ego-resilience and this appears to be heightened when developed alongside the clay based activities.
The authors surmise:
“The continued and repeated experience of pottery-making throughout the sessions contributed to bringing about a positive change in the regulation and expression of emotions. In addition, the plasticity of clay made it easy for the participants to finish their clay work successfully. Curiosity, toward the process through which a clay piece was transformed into glassy pottery and molding techniques or kiln firing that were learned in each session were factors that contributed to the positive changes.” (page 249)
There is already a history of using clay in therapeutic ways (see Sholt & Gavron, 2006) so this study adds to that but uses a more experimental/quantitative approach. There are some criticisms that can be made of Jang and Choi’s methodology but I have put these aside for the purpose of this blog. My aim is to discuss different types of work and different themes rather than offer a lengthy and detailed critique on a single piece of research. This paper encouraged me to think about psychology as having a much more physical dimension and gave me a better understanding of the mechanism that may be at work with the Theatre Nemo participants.
Jang, H. & Choi, S. (2012). Increasing ego-resilience using clay with low SES (Social Economic Status) adolescents in group art therapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 39, 245-250.
Sholt, M. & Gavron, T. (2006). Therapeutic qualities of clay-work in Art Therapy and Psychotherapy: A review. Art Therapy, 26, 66-72.