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Using Clay in Art Therapy to Express and Work Through Feelings of Anger

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

Anger is an important emotion for us to identify, express and understand as we work towards improving our ability to self-regulate and validate our emotional needs. There are a variety of art-making processes that can help with anger managment and the externalization of anger in a healthy way. The emotion of anger can be experienced by many individuals on a physical level through muscle tightening, teeth clenching, cheek reddening/getting flushed, hands clenching, and physical urges to hit, punch or inflict pain on another person or object. Often we have a need to expel this energy from our bodies and to do so requires an appropriate outlet in which this energy can be directed and transferred.

Working with clay in art therapy can be an effective solution to expressing anger in a healthy way. Clay is a versatile art medium that can be used to express a variety of emotions. Anger exists on a spectrum ranging from minor irritation to extreme rage and often it can be difficult to manage the intensity of our anger- that is preventing ourselves from escalating or bringing ourselves down to a manageable level after becoming dysregulated.

Many of us also deal with the feeling of anger in different ways. Some of us may express anger outwardly with our words and actions, while others may choose to contain this emotion inwards. If we are struggling with containing our anger, it may be difficult to manage impulsive urges and immediate reactions to triggering situations. It may also be challenging to talk about or express our thoughts about a recent situation, as this might intensify our anger in the moment. Claywork can be especially helpful in grounding ourselves in the moment as we are processing difficult information. The goal is not necessarily to make anything specific with the clay, but to channel our focus and energy into manipulating the clay with our hands or clay tools as a way to release our anger and frustration in a healthy way.

Ways that we can use clay to process and express our anger:

  • Kneading a large amount of clay, by pressing and folding the clay on a large surface. Make sure to press down as hard as you can when folding the clay, using the muscles of the body when exerting this energy.

  • Focus on rolling the clay into a sphere or ball in your hand (controlled and constructing energy) and then using your palm to press down on the ball when placed on the surface or table (destructive and releasing energy). Repeat this process of constructing and deconstructing in a repetitive and meditative way to increase relaxation.

  • Place a large amount of clay on a surface, it does not need to be shaped in any particular way, and poke, cut and carve the clay with a variety of clay tools. You may want to practice being slow and intentional with your movements as well as random and spontaneous and notice how these different ways of interacting with the clay with the clay tools feels in your body.

  • Create a symbolic object that represents what your anger looks like or feels like

  • Create an object or symbol signifying what is at the root or core of your anger

Anger can be processed in a variety of ways and through a variety of artmaking processes, including clay work. You may want to use clay as a grounding tool as you discuss a difficult interaction or experience, as a mode of representing your anger symbolically or as a tool to physically express the energy behind the feeling of anger needing release from your body. Working with a licensed art therapist can be an effective way to creatively explore your relationship with anger and aid in regulating your emotional state to improve healthy functioning.


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