It works in conjunction with traditional talk therapy to help a person heal past trauma and build up resources that are necessary for other parts of life.
This type of therapy is known to be especially helpful for children and teens. As a type of expressive therapy, it can also be useful when a client and therapist do not speak the same language or share the same culture.
Its use in the treatment of people who have misused substances has also been documented.
Sand tray therapy came about in the late 1950s under psychologist Dora Kalff. She was tutored by child psychologist Margaret Lowenfeld, who had come up with her own form of sand therapy as well. Kalff used Eastern philosophies and training in Karl Jung’s methods in order to refine her mentor Lowenfeld’s methods.
The idea is to use a tray with miniatures to help clients express themselves. The therapist guides the client so they can understand the link between what they have created in the sand tray and their real world.
Sand tray therapy has been useful for clients who have been through abusive or traumatic experiences. It can be just as useful in adults as it is in children. Data shows that clients benefit by de-stressing and being able to express themselves.
The idea is to provide a safe space for the client to work while discussing things as they come up. This way, they can eventually come up with solutions to problems and gain a better understanding of their circumstances.
In one study, a client who had abused drugs was struggling to talk about their emotions or identify them. The client was eventually able to use the miniatures to explore these feelings, and this helped them to resist the urge to abuse substances.
Sand tray therapy can include a variety of tools. A sand tray can be of any size, but Dora Kalff specified that they should be 19.5 inches x 28.5 inches x 3 inches to provide a controlled space where a person could use their toys, tools, and miniatures.
Clients are encouraged to use the toys and miniatures available so they can create a small version of a world that displays something they are living at the moment. The client receives guidance, but they are not interrupted during the process.
Once the client is done, the therapist may decide to talk about how things were put together. The discussion might focus on how the items were arranged and what this could mean. Items may also be arranged while talking to the therapist.
Most research focuses on sand therapy’s effects on children and teens.
Some clients had as many as 50 sessions, and others had as few as 6. They all improved during the course of these sessions.
Sand tray therapy is innovative in that it allows people to allude to problems and can be helpful for people who prefer nonverbal communication.
There are other types of therapies that focus on nonverbal methods or use metaphors as a way to help clients. These include:
Sand tray and other complementary therapies can help those in recovery from substance abuse, but they shouldn’t be used as a primary form of treatment. They work best when used in conjunction with traditional substance abuse treatment, such as the use of medications and talk therapy.
In fact, recovery often depends on receiving a variety of approaches during treatment.
All the above options may be used to complement sand tray therapy. When multiple therapy options are used together, clients often experience more grown in recovery.