Sand Tray Child Play

What Happens in a Sand Tray Therapy Session?

There is an expression that play therapists use, “Sand tray sessions can give you goosebumps.” Sand tray therapy can be a powerful intervention that can take a child’s thoughts, behaviors, feelings, or situations and project them out into a scene or world. Sand tray therapy can be a way for a child to process very difficult or complex situations in a more comfortable way.

Children do not often come to session, lay down on a couch and start sharing the inner-workings of their mind. Ha! Children are, however, looking for ways to explore, develop mastery, and have fun! Which is why it is much better for them to use play or creative ways to show the therapist what it is like being them. That’s where the play therapists come in! 🙂 Sand tray therapy is a technique that can be used with various play therapy modalities and theories.  

It is common for play therapists to share the idea that children do not use words like adults because they are not adults yet. In a sand tray, the toys are the words and the way they use the toys can be the behavior. 

Typically, in a playroom, there are shelves with miniatures or small 6-11 inch toys that range from houses, people, animals, food, fences, scary items, jewels, etc. The toys can be placed into the sand tray to create a scene or a world.

The therapist can use prompts to help understand and discover a child’s perception of a situation. A get to know you prompt can be “use the toys to tell me 5 things about yourself” or “create a scene in the sand that shows me your world.” Depending on the therapist’s theoretical orientation, the therapist and child can create a scene in the sand together. This can be a technique in Adlerian Play Therapy or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy where a child can learn tools such as coping skills, resource building, or even positive self talk with the therapist. 

Sand tray therapy techniques can unpack themes of play. For instance, let’s say a child is burying a toy in the sand. A therapist is looking for how/why they are burying in the sand. Is it for protection? Is it because someone died? Is it for control? These are themes that the therapist is looking for in the session to help the child develop insight or create a new pattern of behavior. 

Sand tray therapy can feel safer for children to express themselves because there are boundaries in the box. A child can have a healthy sense of control with these boundaries by leaving the sand tray scene up, closing the box, or even taking the scene down.  The toys or ideas do not have to go outside the box. It can feel like a safe way to show a projection of what the child is experiencing, how they understand a narrative or situation that is happening in their family, or it’s a chance for them to process something that is difficult for them to understand with just words. 

Sand tray therapy may be helpful for any child that needs assistance with processing grief such as losing a parent, or a divorce where they are going from one home to another new home. Life events can be very scary for children and sand tray therapy is a way to take some fear out of it so that children can learn that they can have scary things happen to them and that they will be okay… or even better from the event.

You can find out more about child therapy and how it can be helpful to children and families. 

If you or someone you know is looking for therapy for children to process loss, or a family transition, please schedule a free consultation today! We provide therapy in Provo, Tooele, and across Utah.

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