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The Healing Power of Sandtray

Updated: Jan 9, 2021

sandtray, sandplay, play therapy

Introduction to Sandtray Therapy: Let's get the word out!

Sandtray therapy is like a rare gem that only a selected few have experienced. Those who know the wonders of sandtray work are fortunate. I incorporate sandtray therapy into my clinical practice for clients, couples and families of all ages and present sandtray therapy workshops all over the country. Sandtray therapists are abundantly aware of it's amazing power to heal and can't wait to share the latest research or newest miniatures to be added to their sandtray collection. I am also a strong sandtray advocate and want to yell through the rooftops that "SANDTRAY IS FANTASTIC AND LIFE CHANGING." This form of treatment should be recognized and introduced to as many people as possible. Our work is about healing and sandtray's healing capacity is limitless.

You really need to experience the creation of your own tray to fully understand it's healing power on the psyche. Dr. Stuart Brown states "Play is like throwing a dinner party and serving pictures of food. Guests can understand and care about how the food looks and hear a description of how it tastes, but until they actually put the food in their mouths can they really appreciate what the meal is about.” I think this is a great way of explaining the power of play therapy and sandtray therapy.

main line play therapy sandtray

What makes sandtray therapy so powerful?

Sandtray therapy is a full sensory experience. It is a time where you can shut off your thinking brain and just create. We have our conscious and unconscious mind that are often in conflict. Sandtray therapy can integrate these two minds and help find resolutions to these internal conflicts. Children communicate through play and the toys are their words, so sandtray is an appropriate modality for children to express what is troubling them. By just touching the sand, raking or pouring the sand through a funnel, your nervous system is quieted and the body relaxes. A sandtray without miniatures can take us back to preverbal times.

When there is trauma, the left brain shuts down, so we need to heal the trauma by accessing the right brain. Rational thinking, words and logic are hindered. Trauma is nonverbal, so it needs to come out non-verbally. According to Van der Kolk “Only after processing the trauma using nonverbal therapy can the fragmented memory be transformed into verbal narrative. Then and only then can the person tell the story of what happened.” The below illustration is a wonderful depiction of right brain/left brain thinking.

left brain/right brain

As you can see in the picture above, the left brain shows people sitting in cubicles. It is logical, rational and sequential. The right brain is filled with images, creativity, and playfulness. We need to access the right brain for the healing to occur. Some other creative arts therapies that access the right brain are play therapy, art therapy, EMDR, dance therapy and music therapy. Although I have integrated some of these other modalities, nothing has been more powerful than sandtray therapy. Stories are created and the healing begins. When stories are told in pretend, it offers a safe psychological distance from problems. I often tell parents that it is better for your child to be beating up Sponge Bob in the sandtray than to be beating up a peer on the playground. Sandtray is great for working with teens, as they have difficulty verbalizing their feelings and sandtray can create safety for the client to express themselves freely. Couples sandtrays create a safety within the relationship and couples feel empowered to let the miniatures be their voice. The sandtray can represent all the different parts of self and the client's world. When these miniatures have a voice and begin to interact, a powerful dialogue occurs. Sandtrays help clients gain control and mastery over internal and external conflicts. By meeting a client where they are, they can come up with their own solutions. We need to trust the sandtray process and know that the client will take us where they need to go. Dora Kalff, the founder of Sandplay Therapy, stated that the therapist creates a "safe and protected space," Our role is not to interpret but to guide our clients with our presence, non-judgment and our unconditional regard. We are witness to their trays and help them navigate through their healing journey.

sandtray shelves

Who can benefit from sandtray work?

Everyone should have an opportunity to create their own sandtray to truly experience the power of the sand. I have incorporated sandtray into my personal life and professional life. When I'm feeling stressed, I take time out of my day to light a candle and sit quietly to create my own sandtray. My family created a beautiful memorial sandtray when our dog passed away and we each said a favorite memory about him. Sandtrays can be used for any client and it is great to incorporate in family work, couples work, and with communities. So many clients get stuck in therapy and feel like they have hit a wall therapeutically. Sandtray work creates pathways to these road blocks and gets the creative juices flowing and unresolved hurts are uncovered. Whether you are a seasoned sandtray therapist, a clinician who knows nothing about sandtray, a parent, or any healing professional, I strongly encourage you to learn more about sandtray therapy.

For more information on sandtray therapy and resources, check out my Facebook page & my upcoming trainings. Check out the Association for Play Therapy for more resources on play and sandtray therapy and to find a therapist near you.

sandtray training

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