Sand tray therapy is a form of psychotherapy. People are invited to create three-dimensional pictures in sand trays using miniature objects or figures with a trained therapist present. It is an expressive, non-verbal, creative approach that can be used with people of all ages.

Sand tray pictures can represent many aspects such as people, ideas, situations, feelings, and facilitate self-expression and reflection. Sand pictures can also represent the client’s “inner world”. People can become more aware of their unconscious and of any current difficulties or struggles in their life.

Previously unknown thoughts and feelings may emerge and become visible through the imagery and symbolic approach that is applied, which can make sessions feel very deep and powerful.

We speak to our integrative counsellor Elaine who uses sand tray therapy with some of her clients.

What is sand tray therapy and how does it work?

Sand tray therapy is a non-verbal, expressive approach that can be used with children, teenagers and adults. It originated from Margaret Lowenfeld’s ‘World Technique’ where miniature objects and sand were used together as a form of communication. Sand tray generally uses different therapeutic approaches and techniques.

Materials used are a sand tray (often with a blue interior), water, and a collection of miniature objects which can include:

  • Human and fantasy figures
  • Animals
  • Vegetation
  • Buildings
  • Nature
  • Vehicles
  • Fences and signs
  • Spiritual objects
  • Landscape objects
  • Household items

What happens in a session?

If someone hasn’t used a sand tray before I will explain what it is and why I think it could be useful. Then, it is the persons choice whether they would like to try it or not.

To begin I usually encourage a person to put their hands in the sand and doodle. I invite them to build a picture in the sand tray using as many miniature objects as they want to. There is no right or wrong as they are reflecting their inner or outer world (or both).

When a person has finished making their sand tray picture we then explore the finished tray together. I will ask if they would like to make any changes which they may or may not want to do.

What do you discuss when exploring the sand tray?

The conversation and questions asked may vary depending on how the counsellor is working. General questions or observations might be:

  • If they have a title for their sand tray and what would they call it?
  • Do any of the miniatures represent them?
  • The names of other miniatures in the sand tray. Some may represent family members, friends or the client. Or the miniatures could be a reflection of the client’s inner world or represent different aspects of the client’s self
  • I pay attention to where the figures are positioned and what the figures may be looking at. Are some figures looking away from something that is happening? Does this reflect something that has or is happening in their outer world?
  • Any polarities that I notice in the sand tray – where there is safety and where there is danger

We might reflect at the end of the session or in future sessions about what came up in their sand tray picture.

Who would benefit from sand tray therapy and how does it help?

Sand tray therapy can be beneficial to people of any age, however, it can be particularly helpful for children with developmental difficulties, people with social or relational issues, people whose first language isn’t English and people who use verbalisation as a defence.

Sand tray therapy creates a safe environment and can allow people to express emotional issues that they find difficult to put into words. For example, it may be easier for a person who has experienced a traumatic event to communicate their trauma through objects rather than explain the trauma verbally.

People don’t just think in words, we also think in images. Parts of the unconscious are often projected onto the objects used in the sand tray, bringing the unconscious into conscious awareness.

These reflections give the opportunity to gain self-awareness, resolve conflicts and challenge any obstacles.

If you are interested in sand tray therapy email hello@breathe-uk.com

Breathe
1 Pen y Lan Road,
Roath, Cardiff, CF24 3PG
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hello@breathe-uk.com
Call 02920 440 191
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