How pottery can help ease PTSD symptoms
Art therapy has been steadily gaining traction as an effective method to reduce and ease the symptoms of mental health issues. In particular, people with PTSD and C-PTSD could find that pottery is especially helpful in the healing process.
PTSD symptoms can be overwhelming. Whether people experience anxiety, flashbacks, anger, hypervigilance, or fear, at times these feelings and emotions can seem all-encompassing. During the creation of art or pottery, people are forced to focus fully on the task in hand, that is, molding, shaping and spinning the clay. There is little room for intrusive feelings associated with PTSD to flood the mind at this time. People experience a welcome reprieve from symptoms, as they get lost in the clay.
Crucially, for those struggling to concentrate in their daily lives, pottery gives something for people to focus on. It gives them a sense of enjoyment, and can reignite interest or passion in an activity.
Pottery as a form of PTSD therapy isn’t about creating sculptural masterpieces, but the process does allow for individual self-expression. Using clay as a creative means for self-expression can be hugely beneficial for those who find it hard to express themselves or their emotions using the spoken word. When PTSD sufferers feel they can express themselves through clay, this can give a sense of worth and self-confidence, helping to combat many of the negative feelings that are associated with this condition.
Working with clay can also lead users on a journey of self-discovery; they can unravel new talents, strengths and ways of thinking, that can give them the skills and resilience to cope with their PTSD symptoms.
Lower stress levels
It’s long been thought that art therapy can help make people feel relaxed, thus lowering stress levels, but a recent study has confirmed these benefits. The research concluded that art activities, including using clay, can lower the stress hormone cortisol, after just 45 minutes. This is especially interesting, as PTSD sufferers often have ‘deranged’ cortisol levels, so pottery could prove incredibly useful in this instance. Indeed, when you’re refining your clay creations at the wheel, and getting lost in the process, feelings of tension, anger, panic and anxiety simply melt away.
A sense of connection
PTSD can leave sufferers feeling numb, empty and disconnected with life. The beauty of using pottery as a way to alleviate PTSD symptoms is that you work with a substance – clay – that is from the earth. Tactile manipulation of this earthy substance makes users feel more connected with life. Clay can root, calm and stabilise the emotions of the user. As well as encouraging users to feel more in the moment, pottery sessions can help reduce that feeling of disassociation with everything around them.
PTSD sufferer Craig Mealing found inspiration from the BBC’s Great Pottery Throwdown and tried his hand at pottery, ‘I find it relaxing and it helps to reduce my anxiety – all food for helping with the symptoms of PTSD’ and plans to do a City and Guilds course in ceramics to further his love for pottery.
One PTSD UK supporter with C-PTSD said pottery therapy ‘saved my life’. ‘Four years ago a psychologist I saw recommended I take up pottery again … I haven’t looked back! I now have a fully functional pottery studio where I do pottery for therapy. I can honestly tell you, it HAS transformed my life. I feel the therapeutic benefits of working with clay each day’.
“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 realised 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.”
More than just a fun hobby to fill a few empty hours at an evening class, pottery is proving to be a rising star in easing PTSD symptoms. It’s important to note however, that while choosing your PTSD recovery path you need to address both the symptoms and the underlying condition.
NICE guidance updated in 2018 recommends the use of trauma focused psychological treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults, specifically the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.
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Treatments for PTSD
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.