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Art Paper



Joshua Kin Man NAN

Living through socio-political turmoil: A clay art therapy project for school youth for strengthening emotion regulatory ability & resilience – A qualitative research



Suffering from the drastic socio-political unrest (e.g. debate over Extradition Law) and the coronavirus epidemic, Hong Kong has seen a soaring demand for psychological support especially for youngsters, with an estimated 9.1% of population probably having depression (HKUMed, 2019). The citywide lockdown measures including shutdown of schools owing to the ongoing epidemic has severely interrupted the provision of long-term, face-to-face counselling. Alternative and short-term therapeutic methods therefore become crucial for addressing the corresponding psychosocial crises.


Clay art therapy (CAT) has been evidenced in the effects of reducing psychological stress and strengthening resilience (Nan & Ho, 2017). This study adopted CAT as the intervention protocol in providing six 2-hour group sessions for local secondary 4-5 students guided by an art therapist. 21 students showing mild to moderate depressive symptoms (DASS-21; Mellor et al., 2015) were recruited on voluntary basis. The participants’ experiences and meanings imbedded in the CAT intervention process were qualitatively investigated with an art-based phenomenological approach (Marton, 1981).

Results: An independent researcher transcribed, coded the audiotapes of post-intervention focus group interviews; analysed and transformed the contents of the codes into themes. After data triangulation (e.g. checking the themes with the participants), the experiences of CAT were derived into three themes: (1) CAT provides a means to sooth emotions, achieve catharsis, and improve emotion regulation; (2) CAT improves perseverance and resilience in response to adversities and failures, and; (3) Ceramic products derived from clay embody new discoveries and meaning in life that give hope in hardship.

Conclusions: CAT enables the youth to unravel different emotional states. The ceramic products seem like a vehicle to carry them through socio-political instability. The study warrants a larger sample size to affirm and expand the treatment effect. A future research direction points toward a short-term, online-based CAT treatment under the pandemic.

Marton, F. (1981). Phenomenography—describing conceptions of the world around us. Instructional science, 10(2), 177-200.

Mellor, D., Vinet, E. V., Xu, X., Mamat, N. H. B., Richardson, B., & Román, F. (2015). Factorial invariance of the DASS-21 among adolescents in four countries. European Journal of Psychological Assessment.

Nan, J. K. M., & Ho, R. T. (2017). Effects of clay art therapy on adults outpatients with major depressive disorder: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Affective Disorders, 217, 237-245.

HKUMed. (2019). HKUMed reports real-time population data on depression and suicidal ideation: a ten-year prospective cohort. HKUMed. Retrieved from:



方法︰為研究陶藝藝術治療的效用和機制, 一位藝術治療師以小組型式帶領21位情緒困擾的中四至中五學生進行6節,各2小時的陶藝藝術治療小組。

結果︰透過事後焦點小組訪談和每節藝術工作紙的紀錄,發現陶藝藝術治療的效用有三大方面:(1)陶藝製作能舒緩、抒發情感和改善情緒調控; (2)能加強對逆境的抵禦能力,以及; (3)陶藝作品作可以作為了解自我和發掘人生意義的媒介。


Joshua Kin Man Nan

Dr. Joshua Kin Man NAN, is an experienced social worker and has years of art therapy experience in working with different populations, which include traumatized children, youth and individuals with mental health issues. He is an advocate of transferring the use of arts to other healthcare professionals and applying it in community-based rehabilitation and mental health outpatient services. His research focus includes investigation of the psychophysiological mechanism in Emotion Regulation, examining the embedded neurological processes in clay art therapy (CAT) and integrating CAT with the Expressive Therapies Continuum. In the other research aspects of CAT, he endeavours to enrich its theoretical underpinnings by instilling concepts of analytical psychology and elements of spirituality. He is also actively researching the therapeutic effects of different art media in improving holistic wellbeing. Besides, he has been involved in the research of life—death education and palliative care with the use of creative arts/expressive arts media.

Recent Publications

Nan, J.K.M., Hinz, D.L. & Lusebrink, V. (2021). Clay art therapy: Theoretical underpinnings, research, and treatment mechanisms. In The Neuroscience of Depression. Holland: Elsevier Pub. Co.

Nan, J.K.M. (2021). From Clay to Ceramic: An alchemical process of self-transformation. In The Power of Craft in Art Therapy. USA: Routledge Pub. Co.

Nan, J.K.M. & Wong, W.W.T. (accepted for publication; in progress of publication). Living through uncertain times: A clay art therapy project for school youth for the enhancement of emotion regulation – A qualitative research. Journal of Clinical and Developmental Psychology. Messina University of Italy.

Nan, J.K.M., Pang, K.S.Y., Lam, K.K.F., et al. (2020). An expressive-arts-based life-death education program for the elderly: A qualitative study. Death Studies, 44(3), 131-140. DOI: 10.1080/07481187.2018.1527413.

Nan, J.K.M. (2019). Art as alternative medicine: Use of art for mental wellness & empowerment. The Arts in Society Annual Conference. Lisbon, Portugal.

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