Sand Tray Therapy for Recovering From a Traumatic Experience

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Sand Tray Therapy for Recovering From a Traumatic Experience

Traumatic experiences in life are hard to manage especially when they happened during childhood / Photo by: sivivolk via Shutterstock


Traumatic experiences in life are hard to manage especially when they happened during childhood. You will take the burden of the impact of those events until you grow old, affecting your behavior and how you interact with people. A person who had experienced traumatic events in life is more likely to have mental health disorders, prohibiting them from living a normal life. Thus, they need to go through medications and therapies to cope with those unfortunate events. 

One of the therapies that have been proven to help patients cope with traumatic events is sand tray therapy. It can help increase emotional expression while also reducing psychological distress. Although this therapy is usually used with children, it can also be applied to teens, adults, families, and others. According to an article by Better Help, it can be used in situations where trauma, neglect, or abuse has happened. These situations mostly create strong negative emotions that may be difficult to deal with. 

Sand tray therapy primarily aims to communicate because it will help people understand each other more. This will be beneficial to families and couples who are having troubles in their relationships. Aside from that, it helps individuals in counseling to feel more at ease with their therapist or counselor. 


A Deeper Look at Sand Tray Therapy

Sand tray therapy offers an opportunity for people to cope with unfortunate events in their lives. According to an article by Good Therapy, the therapy was first initiated as a therapeutic technique by British pediatrician Margaret Lowenfeld. It was then developed by other colleagues, such as Dora Kalff, Ruth Bowyer, Lisolette Fischer, Hedda Bolgar, Charlotte Buhler, and Goesta Harding. 

Lowenfeld was inspired by a book titled "Floor Games" written by H.G. Wells in 1911 for her idea of using sand trays in therapy. In Wells' book, he encouraged readers to use different fun-filled games and described the play as a means of personal development for both children and parents. Lowenfeld then introduced two zinc trays in children's playroom after she established the Institute of Child Psychology in London during the early 1930s. The first of the two zinc trays was half-filled with sand while the second had water in it along with a variety of objects used for shaping or molding sand. 

Sand tray therapy offers an opportunity for people to cope with unfortunate events in their lives / Photo by: Julia Kuznetsova via Shutterstock


According to an article by the Very Well Mind, sand tray therapy is a combination of play therapy and art therapy. It utilizes a box of sand and miniature figures, which gives an opportunity to an individual to find easier ways to express themselves. They might find it easier to open up when playing in the sand since they are slightly distracted. It will also be comfortable for them because they will be intimidated to make eye contact with their therapist since they look at the figures and the sand they are playing with.

Sand tray therapy can be utilized into two types—the directive approach and the nondirective approach. In the directive approach, therapists provide questions and encourage patients to engage. Meanwhile, the nondirective approach gives an opportunity for people to express themselves without being directed with questions. Additionally, the therapy is also called the World Techniques because patients essentially "build" a world in the sand tray or sandbox. 

How Sand Tray Therapy Helps People

Sand tray therapy is particularly helpful to people who have been affected by trauma, neglect, or abuse especially if their behavior and perception in life have negatively changed. It helps them feel comfortable and secure since the therapy works in a nonverbal nature. The interactive and relaxed setting of this play supports a move toward healing. In this way, people will eventually open up and cope with their struggles. 

Previous studies have shown that sand trays are effective in treating several problems. For instance, a study showed that upon giving sand tray therapy twice a week for 16 sessions to five-year-old children, they became less aggressive. Another study conducted in Korea found that sand tray therapy improved emotional and behavioral adaptability of the participants who have witnessed domestic violence. The group sand tray therapy was also discovered to be a good positive self-expression in a study of migrant women in Korea. 

Sand Tray Therapy helps them feel comfortable and secure since the therapy works in a nonverbal nature / Photo by: alisafarov via Shutterstock


Since sand therapy is unstructured, it allows people to free themselves of deep-seated negative emotions. They experience healing throughout the entire process because they are allowed to contemplate and express their inner thoughts. This therapy also allows them to be heard when they can't put their emotions into words. It gives people a sense of power over the situation, encouraging them to think that they can win over their problems or trauma. 

Children who will be undergoing sand tray therapy can choose the toys they wanted to have in their sand tray. The session usually runs for 30 to 60 minutes scheduled every week. After the session, therapists and their patients discuss the observations.



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