Have you ever had a chance to use a sandtray in therapy? It’s an amazing resource.
With the sandtray, you can explore ways to show
- your family (now, or in childhood)
- the main things in your life right now
- a significant dream
- how you would like things to be
- a muddle you feel you are in
- different parts of yourself
- what your depression feels like (or anxiety, stress, grief, etc)
- a difficult time in your life
The amazing thing about sandtray is what can come up, and how surprised we can be by that – but at the same time how relieved we can feel to have ‘got it out there’ in a form that can be seen.
How does that work? Well, with sandtray, we are thrown into using the right hemisphere of the brain. This is the side that sees and understands things as a whole, that thinks laterally, and uses metaphor and imagery to connect ideas and concepts in fresh and meaningful ways.
What is a sandtray? It’s typically a large wooden box with low sides. Some sandtrays have the inside base painted blue, covered over most of the time by an inch or two of fine, clean sand. Nearby are a lot of little objects – miniature figures, toys, stones, shells, ornaments, beads and other small items.Ever tried #sandtray in therapy? Here's why you should! Click To Tweet
For example, let’s say you are trying to depict your family. You are looking for something that can represent your father. There isn’t a little figure that looks like him, so you are going to have to pick something else. You scan the collection, running your fingers over the dozens of different objects. Your hand keeps being attracted to a feather. This is silly, you think. My Dad was a big, burly man: surely the lion or the bull would be more like him. But somehow the feather keeps ‘calling’ to be put in the sand tray. When you put the feather in, you feel a partial sense of satisfaction – it feels ‘right’, at least to some extent. In the end you decide that the combination of the bull and the feather is what is needed. You finish the sandtray, adding a kitten wrapped in a piece of tangled string to be your mother, and two little footballs to represent your brothers. The therapist asks you where you are in this picture, and you realise that you haven’t found something to represent yourself. In the end, you choose a seal.
You and your therapist look together at the sandtray you’ve created. In the looking and the talking, you get some new insights about your family dynamics. These are things you have never thought of before, which feel like they have floated up from a deep well of knowing that is inside you. This isn’t a dry sort of knowing – this is a real felt sense, and you feel like you are connecting to something that feels real and true inside you. Things about Dad, Mum, and yourself that you’d always known, but never thought (psychoanalyst Christopher Bollas calls this ‘the Unthought Known’).
Thinking about your Dad as having a feather-like quality helps you understand a little bit more about why you were always anxious about him; and also helps you connect with some anger too at what felt like his lack of protective strength around you. Over the coming months, you find that understanding and connecting to your mixed feelings about him seems to be helping the two of you forge a stronger, calmer relationship together, even though you may have chosen not to tell him what you have learned.
Similarly, the image of the seal, and the kitten tangled in string, become useful motifs in helping you understand, make peace with and move on from your past. Depression and anxiety begin to transform through being understood and felt in new ways with your therapist.
That’s just an example, one that I have invented as a demonstration. Hopefully it will have given you a bit more of an idea of why it can be so incredibly helpful and illuminating to use the sandtray in therapy.
Getting in touch with your own deep, felt inner knowing through sandtray work in therapy can feel profoundly healing. Over time, the process can make you feel more trusting of what’s inside you, and therefore more resilient in daily life.
Many therapists use the sandtray, particularly Integrative Arts Psychotherapists, Art Psychotherapists and Jungian analysts. If you’re within reach of central London or Colchester, and you’d like to try using a sandtray, give me a call on 07515 937027 or email me. I look forward to working with you to help you connect to your deepest creative self!
What are your thoughts about using a sandtray? Let me know in the comments below.