This therapeutic intervention requires a trusting environment and a willingness to open heart and mind to the "unspoken", "unknown" feeling place that guards secrets, angers, hurts and fears and experiences we can't yet speak of.
The essentials of sand tray therapy are a specially proportioned sand tray, a source of water, shelves of miniatures of multitude variety: people, animals, buildings, bridges, vehicles, furniture, food, plants, rocks, shells-the list goes on-and on. An experienced therapist provides the freedom and the protection that encourages you to access your inner, often unrealised, selves in a safe and non-judgemental space. The therapist as a witness is an essential part of the method, but this therapist is in the mode of "appreciating", not "judging", what the sand player does. It is necessary that the therapist follows the play and stays in tune with it, without being intrusive.
The process of touching the sand, adding water, making the scenes, changing the scenes, seems to elicit the twin urges of healing and transformation which are goals of therapy. This does not mean that the therapist remains distant or unresponsive and you may agree with your therapist to do a guided sand tray around a specific person, feeling or event. When relaxed and open you can allow yourself to work through many phases of healing and growth, cope with and understand your struggle for wholeness and self awareness.
Sand tray is usually done adjunctively to talk therapy which carries the interpretive aspects of the psychotherapeutic work. Review and more discussion of the trays themselves can happen for years after the process is completed. The heart of sand tray therapy lies in allowing our inner self to guide our choices and then listen to the messages we are giving ourselves about creating, overcoming and completing a phase of growth and healing. The three-dimensional nature of sand tray with the added components of movement and narrative invites exploration of many layers of meaning simultaneously. Sand tray therapy bypasses inhibitions about one's creative abilities by providing an appealing array of ready-made symbols.
Through imaginative play with the chosen figures, a solution to a conflict or dilemma often emerges and a sense of resolution or healing can occur. This can happen entirely on a symbolic level.
While both the individual and the therapist may understand its deeper application or meaning, the safety of staying with the metaphor allows the client to process material which may be too painful to talk about directly, and still gain a sense of closure or reconciliation. Sand tray exploration can be deeply healing for children, adolescents, and adults, and can help the adult client access the imaginative, playful inner self.
Back to Types of Therapy