[THERAPY THOUGHTS] Sand Tray Therapy for Mental Health!

February 15, 2024
hand holding sand

Working with children and adolescents who have experienced immense trauma and grief, I quickly became cognizant of the need to find creative ways to reach clients who struggle to verbalize their deep-rooted and complex trauma. Knowing trauma is stored in some of the deepest areas of the brain left me yearning for a way to tap into my client’s unconscious to provide an opportunity to process their unique experiences non-verbally. This desire to expand my practice led me to a therapeutic intervention that combines expressive art and play called “Sand Tray.”

Sand Tray is as it sounds: a big tray filled with sand (And yes, I do have a sand box in my office!). I use a distinctive type of clean, fine-grained sand that is known for its emotional regulating abilities called Jurassic Sand. My sand tray is made with specific dimensions and colors to represent water and air. Found near my sand tray are several shelves holding a vast array of “miniatures.” Miniatures are figurines that include animals, plants, people, buildings, vehicles, and other types of commonly known things with which my clients can explore and create. The miniatures are placed into the sand by clients to create a scene representing themes from the client’s inner world. When I feel a client may benefit from a Sand Tray experience and the client agrees, I allow the client to become familiar with the play area, exploring and finding safety in its contents. Once a client’s body language reflects comfort, I assess for the use of directive or nondirective proceedings, allowing each client to have their own individualized experience in the sand tray. Through observation and interpretation connection can begin to be made between the image displayed in the sand and their own inner world. By making changes in their make-believe world, clients are often empowered to make similar changes in their real world.

This whole-brained therapeutic intervention can be used for individuals of all ages and stages of life. Additionally, individuals with autism, others who struggle with verbal communication, and those who require different forms of treatment beyond conventional psychotherapy are great candidates for Sand Tray. This fun and effective intervention has been a great addition to my therapeutic toolbox for the youth I serve here at Foundations!


Until Next Time,

Katie Szerkins, LCSW, Foster Care Therapist