Sand tray therapy is a form of expressive therapy that is also known as sandplay and the world technique. It was developed by Margaret Lowenfeld, Goesta Harding, De Domenico, Charlotte Buehler, Bolgar, Fisher, Ruth Bowyer, and Dora Kalff. This non-verbal method of therapy is often used with children, but can be applied to adults, teens, couples, families, and groups as well. Sand tray therapy allows a client to construct their own microcosm using miniature toys and colored sand. The newly created microcosm then acts as a reflection of the client’s own life and allows them the opportunity to resolve conflicts, remove obstacles, and to connect to their inner being and recognize the beauty of their own soul as they begin to accept themselves.
One of the most common techniques used in sand tray therapy is the world technique. This approach involves the use of miniatures. Clients are encouraged to use miniature toys, figurines and objects in the sand in way they choose. They can add water to the sand, and place the miniatures in the sand tray in any order. The design of the sand tray is guided by their imagination and their subconscious. The result is a microcosm of their inner world. The world within the sand tray is expressed through symbolism and metaphor, and may not even make immediate sense to the client. But aided by the therapist, a client, even a child, can begin to recognize the relationship between the creation in the sand and their own inner world.
The humanistic approach is another common strategy applied in sand tray therapy. Clinicians who use this technique rely solely on the client to find solutions to their problems, using the sand as a tool for healing. Through creative expression, a client is able to manifest in sand things they would otherwise not be able to vocalize or address in traditional therapy. The therapist treats the client as whole and healed, knowing that the process of sand tray therapy allows the client to find the answers that are already within them.
Many children are unable to vocalize their emotional state as a result of trauma or extreme neglect or abuse. Incorporating the element of a familiar medium, the sand, allows a child to instantly achieve a sense of comfort and security. With little instruction from the therapist, the child is free to play and develop his or her own expression of situations. Oftentimes the children will experience a sense of independent play and will begin making assumptions and behavior changes without cues from the therapist. This method therapy serves as a valuable and powerful outlet for children and an incredibly insightful method of gaining access to their traumatic experiences.
Sand tray therapy is very useful in the treatment of children who have been sexually abused. These children will often remain silent for fear of harm or even death. They are often threatened and are in highly anxious states when they come to therapy. This relaxed and interactive setting of sand tray therapy provides them the initial arena of safety that they need to move toward healing.
Adults who have been traumatized, or who cannot express their emotional state verbally or through other cognitive means of therapy, respond well to sand tray therapy. The environment presents an atmosphere free from threats, violence, and retribution and the clients are capable of acting out any scenarios that present themselves. The therapist works with the client to alter the positions of the miniature objects as representations of the true people and events. By beginning to facilitate change on a fictitious level, a client gains the courage and ability to recognize that these same changes can be made in their own life.
Although sand tray therapy may look like child’s play, it is a highly therapeutic and multidimensional form of therapy that can provide immense emotional release and realization for a client. Sand tray therapists, also called facilitators or witnesses, act as guides for the client or builder during the sand tray experience. The witness is taught how to help a builder fully engage in the world they create in the sand. Through training, the witness learns how to integrate additional expressive strategies into the therapy, such as music, narratives, yoga and meditation. The builder always remains the focus of the process, and the witness is there to encourage, support and guide the builder as they pull elements of their inner world into the sand. This creative technique provides a method of communication and discovery that may prove beneficial to many clients that do not respond to other, more traditional forms of therapy.
Last updated: 05-14-2013
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