Clay sculpting of mother and child figures encourages mentalization

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study explored processes of mentalization as they unfold during a sculpting task administered to mothers of two- to four-year olds. Twenty-four first-time mothers to children aged two to four (thirteen mothers to boys and eleven mothers to girls) sculpted themselves with their child in clay and then were interviewed while observing the sculptures. The task fostered parental mentalization (Fonagy, Steele, Moran, Steele, & Higgitt, 1991) in most of the participants, with the mothers gaining insight regarding their mental states as mothers. Four characteristics of the specific task - visual reflectiveness, wondering, transformation, and implicit memories - were identified as enabling, enhancing, and even triggering parental mentalization by means of a relatively short task. The study discusses the possible elements that fostered parental mentalization during the task and highlights its potential as a therapeutic tool in art therapy and psychotherapy interventions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-327
Number of pages9
JournalArts in Psychotherapy
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • Clay
  • Maternal representations
  • Parental mentalization
  • Sculpting process

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Professions (miscellaneous)
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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