The Benefits of Sand Tray Therapy

One innovative form of therapy provided by Forward Counseling is known as sand tray therapy. By presenting a client with a small tray of sand and a wide variety of figurines, a therapist can sit back and observe what the client chooses to create. Though perhaps initially presumed as juvenile, there are actually many benefits to this type of therapy. 

Firstly, it provides a way to communicate when verbalizing becomes too difficult. Often clients find themselves not yet ready to discuss what might be going on, and in that case, sand trays provide a medium through which to communicate to the therapist what words aren’t ready to say yet.

Contrary to how it may seem, sand tray therapy is not used only for children. It still proves to be a therapeutic process for adolescents and adults as well, enabling the therapist to work with the client to discover the symbolism and potential metaphors behind the position of the figurines in the sand. 

Another beneficial aspect to the therapy is the kinesthetic quality of the sand itself. Just by feeling the smooth texture and having the freedom to play around with it can be soothing for the client.

Eliminating words and focusing on the figurines allows a therapeutic distance between the client and his or her current problems. It creates a safe space for potentially reliving that trauma while also enforcing natural boundaries such as the perimeter of the sand tray. These boundaries are important because while the therapy allows the client to feel in control, it is also necessary to promote safety.

Finally, it is important to note that sand tray therapy is extremely client centered. The therapeutic element of it comes mostly from the process of creating the scene itself rather than hearing the therapist’s interpretation of it. What’s most important is the interpretation of the client. Sand tray therapy has been proven to help enable clients to speak more openly and confront their past traumas and ongoing problems. Not only does it teach encouraging coping skills, but it provides that necessary safe space to explore what’s really going on. By taking pictures of the initial scenes created in the sand, therapists can track the progress of the client by comparing the photos to the more recent sand trays. For example, initially a client might have buried a figure in the sand or separated certain figures. In later months, that same client might have all the figures back together. These are significant changes, representing much more than just a few inches of space in a sandbox. Sand tray therapy is beneficial for people of all ages as an effective alternative way of communication. If this sounds like something that could work for you or someone you know, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with us.


Resources: (picture) 

Integrative Play Therapy by Athena A. Drewes, Sue C. Bratton, and Charles E. Schaefer (text)