What is it?
Sandtray Therapy: A Practical Manual, written by Linda E. Homeyer and Daniel S. Sweeney, define Sandtray as, “An expressive and projective mode of psychotherapy involving unfolding and processing of intra-and interpersonal issues through the use of specific sandtray materials as a nonverbal medium of communication, led by the client(s) and facilitated by a trained therapist. It is a process that seeks to promote safety and control for the client so that emotionally charged issues can be addressed through the medium.”
What to Expect in a Sandtray Session
If you see a therapist who offers Sandtray, you will likely find in their office a rectangular tray made of wood or plastic. This tray will most likely be painted blue on the bottom and sides and filled with sand. You will also find a selection of what are called miniatures. The miniatures are basically small figures, objects, or toys, that represent real life people, things, and nature. In your therapist’s collection, you may find people with varying appearances or vocations, trees, bushes, and other natural items, food and beverages, buildings like schools or hospitals, cars, planes, and other modes for transportation, animals and creatures both real and fictional, and even some barriers like fences, gates, etc., among a number of other items, all tiny in size. In essence, anything that could be a part of your real life, can be found as a small representation that could fit in the sandtray.
Sandtray may be used in conjunction with talk therapy, for occasional work, when a change of pace is needed, or when a client prefers or needs a less verbal style. Although Sandtray can be utilized with all ages, as well as for individuals, couples, families, and groups, young children may respond particularly well due to the developmental stage they are in that is potentially not as verbal as their adult counterparts.
How Sandtray Therapy Works
The basic tenets of Sandtray:
- Minimally verbal or nonverbal
- Creative and visual
- Tactile, kinesthetic, and sensory
- Safe and potentially less threatening
- Metaphorical and symbolic
Here are some examples of how Sandtray can work. Even the initial choosing of a miniature to represent a client’s self, can open up a lot of information about a person. For example, if a client chooses a mouse to represent themselves, both the client and therapist may have some ideas about why they connect with this particular creature. The therapist should always allow the client to share why they chose such, rather than infer too much of their own interpretation, while allowing generalizations about mice to be recognized.
One session example might be the therapist asking the client to create their “current life” in the sandtray. The client has the freedom to interpret and create their own scene within the sandtray and use the miniatures they desire. They may set up a very chaotic scene, or perhaps various scenes separated by barriers, or perhaps even something peaceful.