During my graduate courses, I was instantly drawn to play therapy. I had done so much extensive research on play therapy, at one point my professor begged me to write a research paper on something other than play therapy . . . it was hard to do . . . I couldn’t even do it . . . . and instead wrote a paper about how to use play therapy with middle and high school students. During this research report, I continued to read the effectiveness of using sand trays to help older students depict stories/situations in their lives metaphorically.
At this point in my career, I was only working with elementary students and was bummed, thinking sand trays would only be useful with older students. But I was destined to make it work . . .
This year when 6 perfectly sized sandtrays and accompanied toys fell into my hands, I was ready to let just about anyone play in the sand. Before beginning it with any of my younger students, I did some research as to how best structure a session in the sand tray. I found a wealth of information on sandplay.org, including a procedure manual.
During my information gathering, I realized how wonderful this approach would be for my students who are less verbal, or who like to place me in “jail” and tell me I can’t talk.
Sandtrays are a great way to be fully present in the sessions while the student quietly works in the sand. Sandplay.org encourages the counselor to stay quiet, yet engaged in the session as the student builds their world or a story in the tray. Many times the student will talk about what figurines he is placing in the sand or the ones he is looking for. During this time, I quietly sit or reflect on the figurines he is picking out. At this time, sandplay.org recommends that you hold back interpretations or guided interventions with the student. This way, the student has an opportunity to experience the sand tray and work through the story on an unconscious level without being influenced by the counselor. I guess we almost want them to get lost in the moment, in their “sand world.”
P.S. They think that cassette tape is a cell phone.
I set up my sand trays to look like this:
And when they build together it looks a little like this: