Mould it, twist it, squeeze it, stack it, smack it, wet it, stretch it; even if you aren't quite the artistic connoisseur you'd always thought you'd be, anyone can play with clay. As an artist, I have never felt comfortable using clay at all. It felt like everything I tried to make at school or university never looked how I'd anticipated-there have been moments I have felt more like throwing it to the other side of the room than sculpting it into a piece of Fine Art. However, all is relative- as soul-destroying as clay can be, this malleable art material can be used as therapy.
Even if all you feel like doing is rolling it into little balls, slicing it into 'Pringles' or smacking it with a rolling pin (ahem).. Clay can be very therapeutic. Donald Winnicott's theory around using clay in therapy to represent the 'transitional object' cites how the sensual and sometimes sexual experience (circa Patrick Swayze in 'Ghost') of playing with clay can be. Clay often enables people to connect with their childhood; exploring this strange, soothing material with their fingers or using other tools to manipulate it, gives people a sense of control, sometimes absent at various difficult points in a person's life.
Using clay as the 'transitional object' encourages assertive manipulation and directorship of the activity at play; reminiscent of detaching from the 'mother figure' in early childhood (4-6 months). Many children will seek comfort from a soft teddy or blanket (the 'transitional object'), some find they do not need to. At certain challenging events in life these feelings of attachment resurface, the need for soothing maternal warmth can creep in when life is beyond control; playing with clay can act as short, fast point in the right direction, or a regular crutch in order to regain some control.
Clay is play! Clay is therapy! Clay is control! Play is clay!