Excelsior has utilized Sand Tray therapy for many years now, but our therapists, staff and girls are excited about the recent addition of our new Sand Tray Therapy room! After witnessing the benefits that Sand Tray therapy has had on so many of our girls, Excelsior knew it was time to open a room dedicated to this therapeutic technique.
What is Sand Tray Therapy?
Sand Tray Therapy is a form of expressive art therapy in which a person uses colored sand and miniature toys to construct patterns and scenes. Often what a person creates is a reflection of their life, emphasizing what they are feeling or experiencing at that exact moment. Through the use of sand, they are able to create scenes representing a place that is calm and safe for them, or they can create more chaotic scenes to release built up stress. Often these scenes help them process past trauma by providing the opportunity to resolve conflicts, remove obstacles or invite acceptance of self and situations. (Source)
Sand Tray therapy begins with a rectangular, wooden tray that is several inches deep and painted blue on the inside. The tray is filled with clean, white sand that clients can manipulate to create a landscape. For example, sand can be piled up to represent a mountain or scraped away to reveal the blue interior of the box, representing water. Additionally, the Sand Tray room contains a wide variety of small toys, blocks, dolls and figurines – typically things that are commonly seen in everyday life. Using the sand and toys, the client then freely creates an evocative landscape that they later process with the therapist. (Source)
Benefits of Sand Tray Therapy
Sand Tray Therapy can be used for people of all ages, but is especially effective when treating children who have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect. Sand is a familiar medium for most children, bringing a sense of comfort, helping them feel safe and secure. With Sand Tray Therapy, children are able to play freely without attempting to verbalize their thoughts which helps them develop their own expression of situations. At the same time however, playing freely often relaxes the client enough that they begin speaking openly. Interestingly, the independence children garner from this activity often leads them to make assumptions and behavior changes without cues from the therapist. (Source)
The scenes children create with Sand Tray Therapy foster self-awareness through reflection and questions. Additionally, as one of Excelsior’s therapists comments, Sand Tray Therapy “allows clients to let their feelings flow, through the use of strainers, cups and tubes”. This is immensely helpful when children are reflecting on past experiences and processing the emotions associated with them.
Not only is Sand Tray Therapy valuable in providing an outlet for children to express themselves, but it also serves as an effective method for gaining insight into deep-seated traumatic experiences. (Source) Sand Tray Therapy is often used in conjunction with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) to assist in effective processing of traumatic experiences. To read more about EMDR, click here.
The majority of the girls at Excelsior have experienced some sort of trauma and most of them have significant difficulties with trust. For this reason, nontraditional types of therapy, like Sand Tray Therapy, that are nonverbal and more indirect, often help our girls open up and begin to trust their therapists. Excelsior strives to provide each girl with access to as many alternative types of therapy as possible, so she can begin the process of recovery with a strategy that best fits her needs.