What is Sandplay therapy?  

Sand Tray therapy is a form of expressive therapy that is sometimes referred to as Sandplay therapy (although Sandplay does have a different approach) or the World Technique.

This type of therapy is often used with children, but it can be applied to adults and teens as well. Sandplay therapy is meant for individuals, in a one to one session. 

“When the beginnings of self-destruction enter the heart, it seems no bigger than a grain of sand.” —John Cheever, American novelist

What happens in a Sandplay session? 

Approaches to Sandplay therapy can vary across practitioners, but one of the most common techniques used is the ‘World Technique’. This nonverbal approach involves the use of miniatures. People in therapy are encouraged to use miniature toys, figurines, and objects in the sand in ways they choose while the therapist observes and later analyses the person’s interaction.

The person in therapy can add water to the sand and place the miniatures in the sand tray in any order. The design of the sand tray is guided by their imagination and their subconscious. The result is a microcosm of their inner world. The world within the sand tray is expressed through symbolism and metaphor, and may not even make immediate sense to the person creating it. But aided by the therapist, a person in therapy—even a child—can begin to recognize the relationship between the creation in the sand and their own inner world.

Sandplay therapy for adults

Many adults enjoy Sandplay therapy as a way to bypass the logical and intellectual parts of the themselves in order to access a deeper, creative aspect. People don’t just think in words, we also think in images. Parts of the unconscious are often projected onto the objects used in the sand tray, bringing the unconscious into conscious awareness.

Sandplay therapy can be used with adults when success with verbal therapies is stifled, or when a therapeutic modality that allows more access to innate creativity is desired. A great use for the sand tray can be with grief or trauma, when words are difficult to say or fully process.  When clients touch the sand, it can be very soothing to the psyche, offering a healing beyond what we can visibly understand.

 History of Sandplay therapy

British pediatrician Margaret Lowenfeld is widely regarded as the first person to utilize sand tray as a therapeutic technique. After developing an interest in psychodynamic psychology in 1921, Lowenfeld entered the field of child psychotherapy in 1928.

Lowenfeld claimed that her idea of using sand trays in therapy was inspired by the book Floor Games, written in 1911 by H.G. Wells. In the book, Wells describes the various fun-filled games he and his sons played on the floor, and encouraged play as a means of personal development for both children and parents.

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