It is International Play Therapy Week! As a practice who provides play therapy for many of our clients, I thought it would be helpful to illustrate one of the interventions we regularly use in our offices with child, teen, and even some adult clients.
In most of our offices, we have a sand tray. In play therapy, sand trays are used most often with a collection of small figures. These small figures range from animals, humans, buildings, landscape, and other day to day items, which are all used within the sand tray. Without geeking out and getting too far into Play Therapy Theory on you, I’ll just summarize that there are many ways a therapist who provides play therapy can utilize sand and miniature figures. In both Sandtray Therapy and Sand Play Therapy, therapists provide access to a sand tray and miniatures to allow the client to create scenes in the tray. Sometimes, depending on the client and the focus of the session, the scene completion is the intervention itself. Other times, the scene may turn into an evolving story which is played through while the Therapist observes or even participates if the client invites them to do so. Sometimes clients explain their sandtrays and other times they do not. Use of sandtrays in therapy can be a powerful intervention for people at various ages.
Child clients oftentimes replicate an experience they have, both internal experiences and real life external experiences, in the sand tray. For example, a child who is experiencing isolation or bullying at school may create a scene taking place in a classroom or on the playground where one animal is being attacked or shunned from the other animals. Another example may include a teen who has experienced a traumatic event creating a scene, where they bury something deep beneath the sand. Burying in sand can symbolize lots of things in a therapeutic context. It’s important that as the therapist I do not assign a certain meaning to a miniature used or a theme present (such as burying) unless the client provides one themself, but the fact that burying is taking place would be something a play therapist would note as important.
Recently, an adult woman was experiencing a family transition and created a scene in the picture above. She was invited to participate in Sand Tray therapy with an invitation similar to “create a scene in the sand with miniatures that call out to you or you feel connected to.” This client offered an explanation to her sand tray: “My family has a big transition ahead of us and it feels a bit scary because we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we have a lot of people and resources in our life who can support us on this journey.” She explained that the people huddled together were her, her partner and their children and that the figures behind them on the path were important people and resources in her life that she would continue to find strength from during this upcoming change. She even went on to explain which figures stood for which family members and resources in her life. Upon reflecting, she shared that doing this activity in the sand was calming for her and allowed her to think about the transition in a different way because she was able to identify what in her life would not be changing (all of the people and resources behind them who would continue to support her during this unclear time of her life).
If you’re curious about what sand tray therapy would be like for you or your child, give us a call to be scheduled with one of our team members. This powerful modality can be helpful for clients of all ages!