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The Magic of Sand Tray Therapy for Children

April 18, 2016

IMG_0538Sand Tray Therapy, or Sandplay, is hands on psychological work. It is a powerful therapeutic technique that facilitates the minds natural capacity for healing. In a safe space, a client creates a physical manifestation of his or her world using sand, water, and miniature objects.

Typically this technique is utilized with children who may not be able to verbally express their thoughts or emotions.

A sand tray provides a pathway to express profound inner experience in therapy.  Figures are chosen from a collection which includes representations of many dimensions of life experience:  spirituality, relationships, living things, movement, shelter, and many other aspects of the human journey.

A picture is created in the sand. Client and therapist experience the creation together.  Client shares her story about the picture.  Therapist witnesses.  Later they more fully process meanings for the client.

This picture is a sand tray was done by a woman who struggled with over responsibility and accompanying shame. In her journey, she explored how she had taken care of her mother since she was a child and how her father cooperated in allowing her to do this. In the course of this exploration, she remembered a profoundly painful and shameful experience. When she was very young she discovered a group of frogs in her backyard.  Thinking they needed protection, she gathered them up, put them in a box, and provided what she thought was adequate food and shelter from the cold.  She put them in the family garage.  When she went out to check on them the next morning, every last one of them was dead.  She was overwhelmed with guilt, grief,and shame and never told a soul.  To her, the experience mirrored how she often felt in her family role – trying to care for her family, often failing, and keeping this hidden.

In the sand tray, the animals come together to remember this event.  They gather around the child. Spiritual beings are present. The child is not alone. Death lurks in the background.  Flowers are brought as in a funeral.  The past is beginning to be transformed as life shoots up from the center of the circle.

Language sometimes is limited in its ability to convey the depths of human experience. Use of the sand tray can expand the possibilities for expression.