sand tray therapy: definition, types, techniques, and efficacy
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.
Sand tray therapy, or sandplay therapy, is a therapeutic approach used for people who have experienced a traumatic event such as abuse or a catastrophic incident.Although this type of therapy is used most often with children, sandplay therapy also can be helpful for teens and adults.
When utilizing this therapy, psychotherapists use sand trays to assess, diagnose, or treat a variety of mental illnesses. Researchshows that sand tray therapy can help increase emotional expression while reducing the psychological distress that may come from discussing traumatic events or experiences.
Sand tray therapy was developed by Dora Kalff, who was inspired by working with Margaret Lowenfeld, a British child psychiatrist and developer of World Technique. Kalff's Jungian-based theory also was influenced by Buddhist contemplative practices.
Sand tray therapy is a combination of play therapy and art therapy. The therapist provides the client with a tray or box filled with sand as well as a variety of miniature toys to create a play world. Toys may include anything from farm animals and dinosaurs to people and cars. Trees, fences, gates, doors, and buildings are common as well.
Those who offer this type of therapy believe clients will create a world that represents their internal struggles or conflicts. After the sandplay is complete, the therapist and client typically discuss what was observedthe toys that were chosen, how they were arranged, and any symbolic or metaphorical meanings.
Research shows that sand tray therapy reduces symptoms of many mental health issues and increases resilience. Because sandplay therapy is unstructured, it allows clients to experience healing through the therapeutic process.
Some people view sand tray therapy as confusing and time-consuming or too dependent on the therapists clinical expertise, noting that the interpretations of sand pictures may be vague or ambiguous. In addition, adults who lack creativity may be resistant to this form of therapy.
It's not uncommon to wonder how using miniature toys in the sand is helping resolve any issues. But sandplay therapy can provide therapists an inside look into things that may be troubling their clients. It's especially useful for people who have trouble communicating about stressors.
When sandplay therapy is used as part of a treatment plan, the therapist may provide a sand tray and then look for common themes that indicate insecurities or aggressive behavior, as well as resilience and positive emotional expression.
Kwak, Hyeon Jeong, et al. The clinical effects of school sandplay group therapy on general children with a focus on Korea child & youth personality test.BMC Psychology. 2020;8(1):9. doi:10.1186/s40359-020-0378-9
Han Y, Lee Y, Suh JH. Effects of a sandplay therapy program at a childcare center on children with externalizing behavioral problems.The Arts in Psychotherapy. 2017;52:24-31. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2016.09.008
Jang M, Kim Y-H. The effect of group sandplay therapy on the social anxiety, loneliness and self-expression of migrant women in international marriages in South Korea.The Arts in Psychotherapy. 2012;39(1):38-41. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2011.11.008
Cao H, Shan W, Xu Y, Xu R. Eastern sandplay as a safe container for a combined intervention for a child with Asperger syndrome: A case study.The Arts in Psychotherapy. 2013;40(1):134-142. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2012.12.008
Ferreira R, Eloff I, Kukard C, Kriegler S. Using sandplay therapy to bridge a language barrier in emotionally supporting a young vulnerable child.The Arts in Psychotherapy. 2014;41(1):107-114. doi:10.1016/j.aip.2013.11.009
learn the art of sandtray therapy! sandtray therapy institute | sandtray therapy institute
Humanistic sandtray therapy emphasizes a deep and accepting therapeutic relationship and an approach tosandtray processingthat focuses on here-and-now experiencing. Humanistic therapists believe that clients are by nature experiencing and expressive beings that have developed a tendency to distrust and even fear emotion in the here and now (Rogers, 1961; Wilkins, 2010). Therapists can facilitate healing by accepting and acknowledging what clients truly experience emotionally and conveying verbally and nonverbally that clients inner experiencing is trustworthy and valuable (Armstrong, et al., 2016).
Like play therapy with young children,sandtray therapyprovides an experience that is active, nonverbal, indirect, and symbolic. However, many older clients are able to stay with emotions and feel vulnerable to an extent if they trust the therapist to a significant degree and their own inner experiencing to an extent (Armstrong, et al., 2016). One important goal of the processing phase of humanistic sandtray therapyis to facilitate a process that begins in thescene creation phaseof sandtray and continues in theprocessing phaseof sandtray. The scene creation phase, in which clients arrange theirminiaturesin the tray, is very important and is central to the sandtray therapy experience. In humanistic sandtray therapy, the processing phase helps clients to focus on the sandtray scene and their inner experiencing as they explore their scene. Throughout the processing phase of sandtray, clients look at their scene and experience the impact of it.
Insandtray therapy literature, much has been written about the importance of the tray itself, the miniatures and the safe and protected space of the sandtray. Many Jungians, who prefer to use the wordsandplay, may emphasize these aspects of sandtray. We believe that all of these are important but we focus more on the processing phase of sandtray on this web site because little has been written on this issue and sandtray therapy is far more therapeutic when therapists are skilled infacilitating a process of awarenessduring this phase of therapy.
sandplay therapy | psychology today
Sandplay therapy is a nonverbal, therapeutic intervention that makes use of a sandbox, toy figures, and sometimes water, to create scenes of miniature worlds that reflect a persons inner thoughts, struggles, and concerns. This form of play therapy is practiced along with talk therapy, using the sandbox and figures as communication tools.
Sandplay therapy is often used with those who have suffered some form of trauma, neglect, or abuse. Although sandplay is especially well suited for working with young children, who often cannot express their inner feelings in words, it is also a technique that is helpful for some teens and adults who are having trouble expressing themselves and who may have suffered some form of severe trauma.
Sandplay therapy takes place in box-like containers referred to as sand trays. The trays are filled with sand that clients use, along with miniature toys, to create a play world that reflects some aspect of real people and real experiences in their own lives. The client chooses from a large collection of toys and builds a small world in the tray that reflects what is going on in their lives. The therapist observes the choice and arrangement of toys without interruption, allowing the person to find answers within themselves. After sandplay is completed, the client and therapist analyze and discuss the clients toy choices, their arrangement pattern in the sand, and their symbolic or metaphoric meanings. Upon discussion, the client often chooses to make changes to the world they have created in sand. Sandplay therapy may consist of a single session or last as long as several years.
Sandplay therapy was developed in the late 1950s by psychologist Dora Kalff, who combined several techniques and philosophies to come up with her own therapeutic approach. Kalff learned what became known as the World Technique from pediatrician and child psychologist Margaret Lowenfeld, who developed the original sand-tray intervention. Kalff incorporated the use of sand trays into her own form of therapy, which was based on her Jungian training and Eastern philosophical beliefs. With the help of sand trays, clients, guided by the therapist, begins to understand the connection between the world they created in sand and their own inner world. By making changes in their make-believe world, clients are often empowered to make similar changes in their real world. Today, some therapists and counselors choose to modify Kalffs parameters for sandplay and incorporate a similar technique into their own therapeutic process.
No certification for sandplay therapy is required in the U.S., though certification programs do exist. Look for a licensed, experienced mental health professional, therapist, or counselor with advanced training in sandplay therapy. In addition to finding someone with the appropriate educational background, experience and sandplay setup, look for a therapist or counselor with whom you or your child feel comfortable working.
sand tray therapy directions "how to do it"
Note:If a client is showing interest in the sand, or the sand tray, then I ask if they would like to use the sand tray in sand tray therapy. I explain that it is similar to drawing a picture, but miniatures are used in place of pencils, pens, makers, or paint.
2. Ask your sand tray therapy client to build their sand tray therapy world in the sand tray. Tell the sand tray therapy client to let you know when they have finished and ready to talk about the world they have created.
The sand tray therapist will need to sit in silence next to the client while they are working on the sand tray. If the sand tray therapy client wants to talk while building the sand tray this is okay. Take your cue from the sand tray therapy client as to how they want to build the sand tray.
The sand tray therapy client will need to let you know when they are completed. Take notes of the miniatures that are added to the world, especially the first three to five miniatures. Once the sand tray therapy client has told you they are ready to talk about their completed sand tray ask if you can join them their sand tray therapy world.
You will need to see their world from the point of creation and they eyes of the creator. Ask the sand tray therapy client if there is anything they would like to add, take away, or change in the sand tray therapy world. Make a note of these changes.
Below are some suggestions for prompts from the sand tray therapist after the sand tray therapy world has been created and the sand tray therapist has been invited into the world by the sand tray therapy client (These are only suggestions. Go with your gut!):
Take the exact replica of the graduate counseling class at Mercer University. Dr. Stangline teaches you step by step the way she teaches her Sand Tray Therapy 101 class. While not an actual "online class" you can learn what graduate counseling students learn at your own pace with this unique eBook on Sand Tray Therapy.
Disclaimer: This website and its content is intended for trained licensed mental health professionals and school certified mental health professionals to use for their clients / students at their own discretion.
*If you ignore the disclaimer above are using these techniques on yourself and you feel any discomfort or upset it is highly suggested that you seek out a licensed mental health professional immediately.
"Beyond Art Therapy" is the concept from Dr. Stangline that combines all creative fields in therapy. It is not the traditional "art therapy" but goes beyond to include sand tray therapy, play therapy, mindfulness, meditation, color therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a vast majority of other therapies.
Dr. Stangline does not offer advice / suggestions to anyone who is not a professional mental health provider, or a student who is studying this field and has questions about mental health programs of study.
Get a year's worth of school counselor guidance lessons with "Creative Warm & Fuzzy Classroom Guidance Lessons eBook". Introduce your students to the "Warm & Fuzzy Way". Click the link below for more information:
what is sand tray therapy & its benefits | themindfool
We are rushing into the next decade with even more complications and anxieties than the previous one. As a result, we need to find peace and calm amidst the chaos. One of the best ways to do this is to connect with our inner, symbolic world in a more meaningful way. Sand Tray Therapy provides us an opportunity to do the same.
It was first popularized as a therapeutic technique by Margaret Lowenfeld, a British pediatrician. Psychotherapists initially used Sand Tray Therapy only to treat children. Later, it gained popularity as a powerful tool for counseling, teens, adults, families, couples, and groups alike.
Also known as Sand Play Therapy, it is a form of expressive therapy. It allows a person to create their own little universe with the help of colored sand and miniature figures. These scenes act as a reflection of a persons life. They offer them an opportunity to solve conflicts, gain higher self-esteem, and learn how to get past hurdles if any.
Ever since its inception, psychotherapists are using Tray Therapy for assessing, diagnosing, and treating mental illnesses. Therapists often use it for counseling people who have been abuse victims or have experienced trauma.
Margaret Lowenfeld first came across the idea while reading Floor Games. It is a book written by HG Wells in 1911. It describes the adventures of Wells and his sons playing on the floor. Wells describes the sandbox games as a means of personal development for children as well as parents.
Lowenfeld entered child psychotherapy in 1928. She established the Institute of Child Psychology in London in the early 1930s. Then, she introduced a sandbox in the childrens playroom and kept small toys and other trinkets near the box. She noticed that the children soon started referring to the sandbox as the world.
They were creating three-dimensional scenes in the sandbox using miniature figures and other items. Lowenfeld called this approach the World Technique. She stated that it acts as a tool for communication between the child and the therapist. Dora Kalff then learned the World Technique. She came to study under Lowenfeld. Eventually, she combined the technique with Eastern philosophy Carl Jungs individuation theory and Neumans system model. She called it Sand Play Therapy.
Sandplay therapists use a combination of play therapy, art therapy, verbal therapy and other types of techniques. A box filled with sand is provided to the patient, along with several miniature toys to create a world. The toys may include anything people, animals, vehicles, buildings, trees, etc.
As the patient creates the world, the therapist acts as an observer. Patients can use whichever figures they want. They can arrange them in whatever way they want. After the session is over, the therapist discusses what he or she observed.
The discussion includes which figures the patients chose, and how he/she arranges them. It is also discussed what their meaning might be. After the discussion, the patient can rearrange the toys based on the talk.
This technique allows the patient to seek clarity and answers to their struggles on their own. The sand acts as a tool for healing and is patients can use it as a creative expression. People who are unable to express themselves in traditional therapy or cannot vocalize their problems seem to benefit immensely from this technique.
CAUTION The microcosm created in the sand may not make immediate sense to the patient. Its the therapists job to aid them in this process and find the connection between the sand world and their inner world.
Often, children find it difficult to verbalize their emotional state. This is especially true if they have suffered trauma, abuse, or neglect. Sand Play Therapy is primarily nonverbal and allows the use of a familiar medium, that is, sand. Therefore, it can help children express themselves in a secure and comfortable manner.
Children generally display a tendency for independent play. They tend to use their own expressions for explaining certain situations. Sand Play Therapists make use of this aspect in therapy. They observe as the children display behavioral changes without any cues or directions.
This allows the therapist to gain access to traumatic memories in a way that does not retraumatize the children. The method also acts as a powerful outlet for children. They can express their feelings comfortably in this way.
After witnessing traumatic events, children can find it difficult to adapt to their environment. Sand Tray Therapy can help in this regard too. This study was conducted on 3 children who witnessed domestic violence in the Republic of Korea. It involved using a combination of music, imagery, and sand play to help the children improve emotional and behavioral adaptability.
Children who have suffered sexual abuse are often withdrawn and non-interactive. They remain silent for fear of harm or worse, death. Due to their traumatic history, they often feel threatened around adults. They also remain in a highly anxious state during therapy.
Children of ages 4-5 years received 30 minutes of therapy twice a week. After a total of 16 sessions, they showed a reduction in aggression. There was also a significant fall in the number of negative peer interactions. Thus, sand play therapy programs can be extremely helpful in childcare centers.
This study focuses on finding the benefits of Sand Tray therapy in supporting a child with language barriers. The 3-year old, Sotho-speaking child was infected with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and suffered from Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
The child underwent 18 sessions of Sand Play Therapy. It was seen that the approach is extremely helpful in bridging the language barrier. The childs emotional, social and interactive behavior improved exponentially during the sessions.
SUMMARY Sand Tray Therapy can help adults release negative emotions, and increasepositive self-expression. It can also help them make necessary changes to their lifestyle, and find solutions to their problems.
Undoubtedly, Sand Tray Therapy looks like childs play. But the simplicity of the technique should not be mistaken for ineffectiveness. It is a highly therapeutic method that has multidimensional benefits for adults as well.
People who do not show a good response to other therapy tools may find this approach effective. The hands-on method used in this technique provides emotional release from trauma and abuse. The simplistic environment allows the patient to feel safe from threats.
A study was conducted to understand the effects of Sand Tray Therapy on relieving social anxiety in migrant women in South Korea. There was a sudden increase in the number of multicultural marriages in the country. The negative effects of the social phenomenon were seen in women who immigrated here.
It was found that group sessions of Sand Play Therapy can help reduce negative emotions related to migrating to a foreign country. It was also observed that these women had reduced levels of anxiety. They also showed decreased negative self-expression and did not feel lonely anymore.
The Sandplay therapists work with the patient to understand the metaphorical meanings behind the positioning of the miniature figures. The patient then alters their location to represent real situations and people. As they make changes in the make-believe world, they may also find the courage to do the same in their life.
The sandbox and mini toys help the patient create a world that reflects their internal struggles, problems, and conflicts. Rearranging the toys allows them to find solutions to these problems on their own, with little to no help from the therapist.
TIP The therapy involves recreating real life situations in the sand box for months or years to see any significant changes. However, patients have also reported experiencing real change after just one session.
SUMMARY The therapy may be confusing and time-consuming. It relies heavily on the expertise of the therapist. Adults may find it difficult to be artistically expressive. There is not enough data to validate the technique.
Although any therapist can provide Sand Tray Therapy, it is better to find a certified expert. The US government does not provide any certifications for this method. However, there are other certification bodies. You can find the experts on the directory offered by Sandplay Therapists of America.
Namrata is a Doctor i.e. dentist turned writer and a clinical researcher. Eager to learn about anything and everything, she is what you would call a jack of all trades and master of none. With a zeal for reading novels, books, and anything she could get her hands on ever since she was little, she embarked into a writing career purely out of luck. After indulging in a freelancing career for nearly two years, she can now write on anything - from dentistry to decor, travel to technology, medicine to management - but the psychology remains her first love. Having dealt with mental health issues in the past, she hopes to raise awareness for the same and help people with her work in association with The MindFool team