What is it?

Sand tray therapy, sometimes called the World Technique, is a form of expressive therapy. In its most basic form, sand tray therapy presents clients with an opportunity to create an imaginary world in sand that symbolizes and reflects their real-world experiences. It is play therapy and art therapy combined, which allow the psyche’s natural healing ability to turn on through a “hands-on” experience. Although sometimes conducted in small group settings, this type of therapy is primarily used with individuals. 

During a sand tray therapy session, the client will be provided with a box or tray filled with sand, water, and miniature objects to play with. The objects may include animals, cars, trees, buildings, and mythical characters. The idea is that the objects represent the entire world, the good, the bad, the scary, the sad, the beautiful, the ugly, and the hopeful. This allows the client to create without limits or boundaries.

While the client creates, the therapist observes quietly and with little interference. Afterward, the client is invited to tell a story about what they created, and why. Together, the client and therapist will analyze the scene, talking about the arrangement and the chosen objects, interpreting how they might reflect the client’s internal experiences. Why was this object chosen? What would happen if this or that changed?  The client then has the opportunity to make changes to their sand world as a way of retelling their story or gaining further understanding of their experience.

Not all therapists will ask the client to discuss what they created. Some may simply provide the client with a safe space in which to work. Other therapists may ask to photograph the client’s trays in order to track changes over time.

The theory behind STT is that each client will create a sand world that reflects their internal world, their experiences, struggles, and emotions. Then, clients have an opportunity to observe what they created, remove obstacles, and resolve conflicts. For this reason, STT requires a safe and trusting client-therapist relationship that allows the client to open up parts of themselves they may have previously kept hidden. When this happens, STT has been shown to increase self-acceptance and positive self-talk.

When and why is it used?

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Sand tray therapy is often very effective for clients who are unable to express themselves after a traumatic event or for clients who feel “stuck” in traditional talk therapy. The use of play, movement, and creativity allows access to parts of our psyche not accessible by words. 

It is also helpful for young children who do not have the language skills to express themselves, as well as teenagers and adults who have experienced any kind of ongoing trauma, neglect, or abuse. Additionally, STT is helpful when someone has experienced a singular catastrophic event and is unable to talk openly about the experience.

Is it effective?

Yes! Combined with talk therapy, STT has been shown to facilitate healing and boost psychological well-being. The calming effect of playing in the sand is soothing to the system and creates an environment in which clients feel safe to explore their internal world. Many people are able to access parts of themselves otherwise closed off. 

The theory behind STT is that when a person is provided with a safe space in which to play and create freely, he or she will be able to create solutions to their own problems. Because STT is an effective method for facilitating feeling and self-expression while not being psychologically triggering, it has proven very helpful in diagnosing and assessing a wide variety of mental illnesses. 

What can I expect at the therapist’s office?

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Sand tray therapy sessions are usually thirty to sixty minutes long and take place weekly or bi-weekly. As a client, it is possible to attend either a singular session or to meet regularly over a course of six to twelve weeks. In some circumstances, continuous sessions over the course of many years may be recommended.

Finally, there is no right or wrong way to “do” sand tray therapy. Creativity is neither a requirement nor a precursor to showing up. If you feel that you or someone you know could benefit from this treatment, do not hesitate to call. There has never been a better time to show up for yourself than right now. Our therapists at the Relationship Therapy Center are here to answer any and all questions you have.

Other Services offered at The Relationship Therapy Center in California:

In addition to sand tray therapy, Our Sacramento area counseling clinics located in Roseville and Fair Oaks, CA are pleased to offer a variety of mental health services. We will discuss the importance of self-care and emotional support to help you cope and to discover ways to find healthy ways of dealing with stress.   

Sand tray therapy can be beneficial, with the right therapist. Our compassionate therapists are trained to walk you through the process and help you find healing and peace. Please contact our therapy office to learn more about the many ways we can help you and your loved ones heal, grow, and love healthy.