Skip to main content Accessibility help

Being in Touch: Healing Developmental and Attachment Trauma at the Clay Field

  • Cornelia Elbrecht (a1) and Liz Antcliff (a2)


Developmental trauma is a term that describes the impact of adverse childhood experiences that results in the loss of capacity to integrate sensory, emotional, cognitive and relational information into cohesive, trusting and safe lived experiences. Infants’ and children's brain, nervous systems and neural development are vulnerable to these traumas. Trauma is stored in the implicit memory and is manifest through body gestures, breath, body behaviours, sensory perceptions, emotions and thoughts. Play therapy, sand tray therapy and creative arts therapy are all offered as interventions for childhood trauma. Work at the Clay Field®, is a sensorimotor art therapy and differs from play, sand and visual arts therapy as it focuses on haptic perception, the use of the hands and touch as a tool of perception. Touch is one of the most fundamental human experiences and is the basis of secure attachment, linked to our earliest body memories. Work at the Clay Field® is grounded in theories of developmental psychology, object relations, sensorimotor therapy and haptic perception. Haptic object relations as skin sense, vestibular sense of balance and depth sense are presented as the underpinning principles of Work at the Clay Field®. Children from the age of 2 years old onwards are enabled through work at the Clay Field to satiate developmental needs, in particular those from the preverbal age of early infancy. They also can complete trauma-related fragmented or incomplete action cycles through safe touch and restore their developmental path.


Corresponding author

address for correspondence: Cornelia Elbrecht, MA. Art. Ed. Art Therapist, SEP & Liz Antcliff, B. Sc. Psych. Ma. Coun. SEP. Institute for Sensorimotor Art Therapy. E-mail:


Hide All
Adult Survivors of Child Abuse. (2012). Practice guidelines for treatment of complex trauma and trauma informed care and service delivery. In Kezelman, C. A. & Stavropoulous, P. A. (Eds.), Sydney: ASCA.
Crenshaw, D. A., & Lee, J. (2014). Turning back the clock: Life before attachment trauma. In Malchiodi, C. A., & Crenshaw, D. A. (Eds.), Creative arts and play therapy for attachment problems (pp. 246257). New York: The Guilfored Press.
Deuser, H. (Ed.). (2004). Bewegung wird gestalt[Movement becomes gestalt]. Bremen: W. und W. Doering Verglasgesellschaft.
Deuser, H. (2006). Die arbeit am tonfeld [Work at the clay field]. In Tschachler-Nagy, G., & Fleck, A. (Eds.), Die arbeit am tonfeld nach Heinz Deuser: Eine entwicklungsfoerdernde methode fuer kinder[Work at the clay field based on Heinz Deuser: A method for children, adolescents and adults to support development]. Keutschach: Tschachler-Nagy.
Deuser, H. (2007). Ich beruehre und werde beruehrt [I touch and am touched]. In Tschachler-Nagy, G. a. (Ed.), Im greifen sich begreifen: Die arbeit am tonfeld nach Heinz Deuser [Grasping through grasp: The work at the clay field based on Heinz Deuser]. Keutschach: Verlag Tonfeld-Anna Sutter.
Deuser, H. (2009). Der haptische sinn [The haptic sense]. Keutschach: Verlag Tonfeld-Anna Sutter.
Elbrecht, C. (2012). Trauma healing at the clay field: A sensorimotor approach to art therapy. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Elbrecht, C. (2015). Healing developmental trauma at the clay field. In Malchiodi, C. (Ed.), Creative Interventions for traumatised children. New York: Guilford Press.
Gaskill, R. L., & Perry, B. D. (2014). The neurobiological power of play: Using the neurosquencing model of therapeutics to guide play in the healing process. In Malchiodi, C. A., & Crenshaw, D. A. (Eds.), Creative arts and play therapy for attachment problems (pp. 178194). New York: The Guilford Press.
Gendlin, T. E. (1981). Focussing (4th ed.). Toronto: Bantam Books.
Gerhardt, S. (2004). Why love matters; how affection shapes a baby's brain. Hove. East Sussex/New York: Routledge.
Grunwald, M. (Ed.). (2008). Human haptic perception: Basics and application. Basel/Boston. MA/Berlin: Birkhauser.
Heller, L., & LaPierre, A. (2012). Healing developmentalTrauma. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
Henley, D. (2002). Clayworks in art therapy: Plying the sacred circle. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Hinz, L. (2009). The expressive therapies continuum. New York: Routledge.
Hölz, B. (2013). Untersuchung der psychotherapeutischen wirkung der haptisch orientierten therapiemethode arbeit am tonfeld bei kindern mit der diagnose AD (H) S. [Examination of the psychotherapeutic effect of a therapy method with an haptic orientation through work at the clay field with children with a diagnois of AD(H)D. Tuebingen: University Tuebingen.
Levine, P. A. (2010). In an unspoken Voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness. Bekerley California: North Atlantic Books.
Levine, P.A., & Kline, M. (2007). Trauma through a child's eyes. Berkeley CA: North Atlantic Books.
Malchiodi, C. A. (2015). Creative interventions with traumatised children (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.
Malchiodi, C. A. (2014). Creative arts therapy approaches to attachment issues. In Malchiodi, C. A., & Crenshaw, D. A. (Eds.), Creative arts and play therapy for Attachment problems (pp. 318). New York: The Guilford Press.
Mountcastle, V. B. (2005). The sensory hand. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Murphy, P. (2010). The hand book. Palo Alto, CA: Klutz.
Orbach, S. (2009). Bodies. London: Profile Books.
Paterson, M. (2007). The senses of touch: Haptic, affect and technologies. Oxford: Berg.
Perry, B. D. (2009). Examining child maltreatment through a neurodevelopmental lens: Clinical applications of the neurosequential model of therapeutics. Journal of Loss and Trauma, 14 (4), 240255.
Rothschild, B. (2000). The body remembers. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Schore, A. (2001). Early relational trauma: Effects on right brain development and the etiology of pathological dissociation. Attachment, the developing brain and psychotherapy: Minds in the making. London: University College.
Schore, A. (2003). Early relational trauma, disorganized attachment, and the development of a predisposition to violence. In Solomon, M. F., & Siegel, D. J. (Eds.), Healing Trauma: Attachment, mind, body and brain (pp. 107167). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Schore, A. (2012). The science of the art of psychotherapy. New York: Norton.
Seymour, J. W. (2014). Integrated play therapy with childhood traumatic grief. In Malchiodi, C. A., & Crenshaw, D. A. (Eds.), Creative art and play therapy for Attachment problems (pp. 259271). New York: The Guilford Press.
Sholt, M., & Gavron, T. (2006). Therapeutic qualities of clay-work in art therapy and psychotherapy: A review. Journal of American Art Therapy Association, 23 (6), 6672.
Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain mind and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Penguin Group.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2005). Developmental trauma disorder: Towards a rational diagnosis for children with complex trauma histories. Psychiatric Annals, 35 (5), 401408.
Van der Kolk, B. A. (2013, May). What neuroscience teaches us about the treatment of trauma. Retrieved from National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioural Medicine: Webinar Series.
Wilson, F. R. (1998). The hand. New York: Vintage.
Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Playing and reality. [Reprinted (2009) Oxford: Routledge].



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed