How does SandtrayTherapy work?
Sandtray therapy is a triadic therapeutic relationship consisting of Counsellor, Client and Sandtray, The sand tray itself becomes an integral part of the therapeutic process; it is a particular size in which the client can see the whole tray in one glance.
The tray itself tends to be coloured blue the base represents water, the sides air and the sand within the tray represents the earth. Clients are encouraged to play with the sand exactly as they wish. Some dig into its depths. Others build up to the heights. Some create geographies of mountains, valleys and rivers. Others create worlds with objects and figures. Some create dramatic play that tells a story. Some work with dry sand and others add water. Some talk as they build and others remain silent. There is no right or wrong way.
The Counsellor is the facilitator, they “hold” the space, they keep it safe, enabling the client to explore whatever comes up for them in an entirely safe and empathic environment. The Counsellor can become as involved as the clients wishes. They may “steer” the client to explore certain aspects of the tray which may in term deepen the clients understanding and thus therapeutic process or they may remain silent throughout the whole process. Quite possibly it may not be until quite some time after the session has finished that understanding and possible healing may take place.
At the start of the session the client is invited to ground themselves within the sand, this may take the form of placing their hands within the sand and moving the sand around, they may close their eyes, concentrate on their breathing and slowly ground themselves in the moment.
The client is then invited to “build their world” or whatever they wish to build, within the sand by moulding it and placing whichever miniatures they are drawn to into the sand. They may use miniatures to represent people in their lives, events in the past, present dilemmas, whatever comes to the surface at the time and then gradually a picture starts to emerge.
Why does Sandtray Therapy work?
It appears to work by allowing conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche to interact. The client enters a kind of dream like state, similar to when small children are engrossed in play. Things come forward from the unconscious level into the sand and thereby raising awareness and thus can be worked on either in an unconscious level still within the sand or bringing it into the here and now for discussion. There are those who have described sandtray as comparable to a “waking dream”.
Meaningful images, dilemmas, fears, hopes and dreams can be accessed through the sandtray. The meaning of the play emerges as the client experiences it and shares it with the therapist. The outcome is often a feeling of rightness and truth for the client. “This is how it is. This is just what it is like for me.”
Why Use Sandtray Therapy?
Sandtray translates personal experience into a concrete, three-dimensional form. As a picture can say more than a thousand words, a figure or scene can express feelings, emotions and conflicts that previously had no verbal language. Hence, the sand-worlds that are created offer a rich and highly personalized vocabulary for pre-verbal or non-verbal experience.
Without having to depend on words, clients can increase their capacity for expression through the tray. Self-awareness and communication are enhanced by this process. Once some aspect of the self has been made tangible in the sandtray, the ability to experience it, share it with another, experiment with it, play with it, change it, revise it, and learn from it, is all possible.
We can welcome and work creatively with whatever shows up in the tray. Internal struggles and tensions can be played out. Familiar “stuck” patterns may loosen and the beginnings of new, more satisfying ways of being may emerge. I have had experience of working with clients who have overcome immense hurdles by working through their experiences within the sandtray.