Playing with Sand Can Help Us Communicate our Emotions

Playing with Sand Can Help Us Communicate our Emotions

By: Vanessa Gonzalez


When was the last time you played in a sandbox or went to the beach and wholeheartedly made a sandcastle? While these activities aren’t necessarily therapeutic, sand can be an excellent tool for therapeutic treatment – much like play therapy or art therapy.


Sand Tray therapy can help someone resolve those deep-rooted unresolved issues or emotions in a flexible and adaptive way. It utilizes the mind-body connection to children, teens, and adults to work through trauma and distress in a safe and expressive way.


What is Sand Therapy?


Sand Tray Therapy is a nonverbal form of expressive therapy that allows clients to create using toys and sand. It allows for the individual to reflect upon their own lives and allows them an opportunity to resolve conflict through reflection. It helps utilize both conscious and unconscious parts of the mind to create a unique approach through a hands-on activity.


As such, many children to usually unable to effectively communicate their emotions or issues when faced with trauma, neglect, or abuse. By using sand, a familiar medium, children associate with play, the child can feel a sense of familiarity, comfort, and security in working with sand. Similarly, with play therapy, the therapist will provide little instruction to the child, and the child is free to use the sand and create their own way to express themselves.


This free interpretation with little instruction allows the child to feel independent in the play and use it without cues from the therapist. This serves as a powerful outlet for children to express themselves and provide great insight to the therapist to better understand the child and their experience. Research has shown that most children often remain silent after experiencing sexual abuse. Sand tray therapy can be beneficial for these children and create a relaxed, interactive setting where the child can freely express themselves and feel safe to open up and begin to heal.


According to a study completed by Tornero and Capella (2017), sandplay is an important therapeutic tool. It is very important for supporting processes of change and allowing participants to assign new meanings to traumatic experiences. Specifically, it is beneficial when working with survivors of sexual abuse.


How to Use Sand


Given free instruction, the client first shapes the sand evenly along the bottom of the tray. Then, they contrast elements of the sand to resemble their natural environments – such as creating hills or mountains. They may also create craters in the sand with other objects or their hands and create waterways such as oceans. The sand itself acts as a great sensory activity and can elicit different feelings as they use the sand in different ways.


For example, they slowly sprinkle the sand, move the sand or force, or even sprinkle the sand. The intensity in which the same is used can play a major role in the therapeutic process.


When the treatment is continued, the therapist will start to notice a change in behavior and a change in play activity. For example, they may change the object used or spend more time with the duration of particular objects. In addition, they may be exhibiting prolonged sadness or facing the trauma head-on and utilize the sand to work through that feeling with the therapist.


What is Discussed During Play?


General questions or observations might be:

  • What would you title your artwork?
  • Do any of these objects represent themselves or anyone they know?
  • What are the names of the objects, if they have any?
  • They may not represent other people. They may represent different parts of themselves – possibly presenting a different aspect of themselves.
  • Therapist will pay attention to the objects’ positioning, if any pieces are facing away from each other, danger zones, etc.

Sometimes, it’s challenging to find the right words to say. However, if we lack the words to say, we also can create pictures in our minds. By utilizing sand tray therapy, the unconscious mind can be projected onto the tray. This way, we may resolve the issues from our past and learn skills to overcome future obstacles.


Sandtray and play therapy is available for children and adolescents. Reach out to us for play therapy in Jupiter and child therapy in Palm Beach Gardens.

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