VIDEO #1 - In this first video, after we provide a brief description of sandtray therapy, we discuss three points: the advantages of using sandtray with clients, reasons why it is an effective modality and strategic times to use it in the therapeutic process. Finally, we show a sandtray scene and briefly discuss the meaning of the tray. We discuss how sandtray is indirect and less threatening for clients. Clients who struggle to express delicate and painful experiences and emotions can find a symbolic means of expression in sandtray. Because of the power of sandtray, trust is very important. My rule of thumb is to use sandtray only when the client trusts the therapist to a significant degree. A good time to use sandtray is when clients are stuck. Another issue discussed in this video is using sandtray with grief. As we say in the video, sandtray is an ideal intervention for grief.
VIDEO #2 - In this video, we cover some of the practical aspects of sandtray including the sand, miniatures and the tray that you will need to get started. Sandtray therapists believe that the tray itself is important and tend to be fairly particular about the dimensions and color of the tray. The tray in the video is made of hard plastic that is waterproof, has a blue bottom and sides (to represent water and sky) and is the standard size. When we discuss various types of sand that are used including play sand and the white sand (silica) that is shown in the video. Some sandtray therapists have several varieties of sand in their office and let clients choose the type they prefer. The miniatures are very important for numerous reasons but one of the most important is having a good enough selection so that clients are able to find figures and object that truly capture their perceptions of their lives. The placement or arrangement of miniatures also is important and we briefly cover this topic as well. The Homeyer and Sweeney (1998) book is an excellent source for a detailed description and explanation of trays, sand and miniatures.
VIDEO #3 - In this third video, we take you through three phases of the sandtray session itself: setting up the materials prior to the session, creating the sandtray scene and processing the scene. The layout and display of the miniatures is important and different therapists use tables or shelves to display them. The easiest way to display the miniatures is on shelves so that they stay in the same place and are arranged appropriately. When the therapist is ready to do the session, there is no set up time necessary if shelves are used. Once the client arrives, the scene creation phase begins. In this phase, we provide detailed instructions to the client to help him/her to stay focused primarily on the present. In the humanistic approach, the therapist remains quiet for the most part during this phase but is attentive to and available for the client as he/she thoughtfully chooses figures for the scene. In the early moments of the processing phase of the session, there is a transition period with many clients because they often experience feelings such as sadness as they create the scenes. In the humanistic approach, therapist begins this phase where the client is. If the client is sad, that is the initial focus of this phase. During the processing phase, the therapist facilitates a here and now experience of growth and healing.
VIDEO #4 – In this video, my wife, Debbie, created a tray and let me process it with her as a demonstration. This segment is the first half of the “session.” Though she is not a client, Debbie is a person who is willing to experience her feelings and the “session” is very much like a real one in several ways. She experiences sadness and other feelings and allows me to facilitate her tray in the here and now. I also believe that this short (14+ minutes) video does give you a pretty good example of how humanistic sandtray therapy works. The video begins right after she has finished the scene creation phase and is moving into the processing phase. As I have mentioned, if the client is experiencing an emotion after creating her scene, that is where we begin. In this video, Debbie and I focus on her feeling of sadness for a brief period then move into a focus on the tray. She discusses several key symbols such as a fairy with a missing wing, an angel with a broken wing and a person carrying a heavy load. You might notice that as I ask her to describe her experience of carrying a weight, she feels sadness almost immediately. Debbie also describes her role with most people in her life as being one of supporting and listening and expresses sadness about the limitations of the role.
VIDEO #5 – This next video is the second half of the session with Debbie and begins with a focus of Debbie trying to be helpful with people who are not willing to change or grow. I ask her how many people listen to her and she responds by talking about how her mother does listen to her but tends to play devils advocate with her. We also explore other symbols that represent Debbie and she discusses her fear of serious illness and the drain of being a helper. The session shifts to an exploration of Debbie’s dream of publishing a children’s book and the accompanying self-doubt that she will ever accomplish her goal. One thing you may notice as you watch the video is how much she looks at the tray and the scenes. One of the powers of sandtray is clients tend to keep a visual focus on elements in the tray, which keeps them tuned into significant issues rather than bring up an issue and leaving it after a few minutes. Toward the end of this video, Debbie talks about a lack of boundaries between her and her family, which is painful for her.
VIDEO #6 - This third video with Debbie is quite different because in the video I am trying to demonstrate typical mistakes or blunders that sandtray therapists in training tend to make. In the first segment of this video, I do not stay with the present, which is the primary focus of the humanistic approach to sandtray. In the second segment, I analyze Debbie’s experience rather than staying with the experience. This mistake, analyzing rather than exploring, is very common but in humanistic sandtray the focus is on experiencing, not thinking. Asking why questions can be helpful sometimes in therapy but in this approach we stay with emotions during the processing phase and save any analysis or reflection until later. Another mistake that I demonstrate in this video is focusing on other people in the client’s life rather than keeping the focus on the client. In humanistic sandtray therapy the focus is on the client, the here and now and on experiencing rather than analyzing.