Sandtray Therapy

Not just Grandma’s Knickknacks. Expressive Art Therapy Style.

When added to Therapeutic Models and established rapport with a counselor these miniatures begin to tell stories in the sand tray.

One of the healing earth elements (Earth, Wind, Rain, Fire)

Giving the ability of the Right Brain (non verbal) to share experiences of negative times in one’s life without the need to talk about it.

For counselors, this style of therapy brings less secondary trauma.

For clients, oftentimes after working in the sand, when they tell the story of their tray they begin to discuss things they had “forgotten” or are able to give words to that hidden defeating thought.

The use of sand and images in the sandtray activates, stimulates, utilizes, and coordinates all functions of the brain.

When one touches the sand, there is an immediate connection between the body, feelings, and sometimes thought.

Movement and building activates the lower brain that connects the parietal lobe processes and transmits tactile sensations every time builders touch, arrange, and rearrange the sand and images.

It processes information about touch, temperature, pressure and pain, increasing the capacity for sensory knowledge.

It also connects to brain centers that link with speech comprehension, visual functions, and reading.

The visual cortex and occipital lobe are called into action as builders view and respond to the image collection, particular images on the shelves, and as they explore the different shapes and forms created by the manipulation of wet or dry sand and various images.

The aroused senses then activate the limbic system, which is implicated in emotion, memory and fight-flight experiences.

The hippocampus creates and retrieves long-term memories and involves the temporal lobe to sequence events in time and space.

The frontal lobes process and regulate any emotionally laden experiences.

The temporal lobe in turn processes and conducts information about smell, sound and memory.

It supports complex comprehension of verbal memory, speech, many language functions, object perception/recognition, and the processing of faces/complex scenes.

The presence of the witnessing therapist activates the middle of the prefrontal regions of the brain that registers “attuned communication” or that nonverbal sense of “going alongness” between two or more people.

It also supports verbal communication of shared feelings (Shadler & De Domenico, 2012).

When we think of the left hemisphere, we think of our fixed belief systems, self-talk, organizing details, drawing conclusions using logic without experiencing the current situations and communicating with the world in a literal, factual, and concrete way using unadorned conventional language.

The right hemisphere is the creative side where we access our feelings, interrelationships, intuitive mind, spirit, and our authentic self.

It is here that we see the “big picture,” possibilities, and use “our felt sense,” the imagination, symbols, and images to synthesize patterns and meaning (Shadler & De Domenico, 2012).

Information is processed first with pictures and THEN words and linguistics are attached. This makes sense if you think about how children can remember and process things based on pictures way before they can express it with words. This phenomenon continues across the lifespan.

Have you ever seen a picture that affected you in a certain way both mentally and physically, but you struggled to put it into words? That happens because information is first processed in the right side of our brain were emotions and images reside and is, hopefully, then processed through to the left side of our brain where putting it into words happens.

When there is a traumatic event, the images and emotions
get trapped in the right side of our brains.

Sandtray therapy allows us to process situations
that are very hard to articulate.

Through sandtray therapy, I get to see into your world and better understand where you are coming from (Flaherty, 2018) and you will learn some things about yourself.

Flaherty, A. (2018). Your “no fail” sandtray therapy script. Southern Sandtray Institute. Fort Smith, AR.

Schadler, G., & De Dominico G.S. (2012). Sandtray-Worldplay for people who experience chronic mental illness. International Journal of Play Therapy, 212 (2), 87-99.