Play Therapy & Sandtray Therapy

Let's face it - talking can be hard. Imagine showing what your inner world felt like, instead of trying to describe it? Using play - the language we all speak fluently, we can help make visible the invisible pain and heal it.  Play Therapy & Sandtray Therapy engages our innate capacity to solve our own problems and desire to change our lives for the better.  By using toys and figurines to depict issues and concerns, children, teens and adults can gain insight.  An in-depth understanding of what a situation looks like and how to make changes in a non-threatening situation. 

Imagine for a moment that you are wrestling with a complex problem.  Now picture choosing figures that represent those issues, people, situations and problems.  You might pick a two-headed dragon because your co-worker has been two-faced, making your job miserable.  Or you grab a handful to snakes to represent obstacles that keep tripping you up.  Picture placing these items in a box filled with sand.  You arrange the figures to represent your situation.  Your problematic co-worker on one side of the sandbox, snakes scattered all over and then there's you, an island of calm surrounded by a sea of uncertainty. 

 

UGH, right? So let's change our perspective. We might step back from the table, get closer or move around to another vantage point.  As we move around, you notice another figure you had picked seemingly at random of a fish.  Hmmmm.  Let's see what's up with that fish. You might realize that the fish was another co-worker or your boss who always has your back.  Are they in a position to help you with all the chaos in your worklife?  You might realize that your two-faced co-worker has tried to split you from your fishy support. Once you are able to take a new perspective on the situation you decide to change it. But change can be scary.  What if you just change your sandtray?  Move people and situations around until they seem like a better fit for you.  All of a sudden, you might realize that once you and your fishy peer align, your two-faced dragon fades into the background. 

 

But how can playing with figures or toys help with real life situations? Imagine being in alignment with your fish co-worker in the real world. You were able to see how that would change the dynamics in the sandtray, now you make it happen for real.  When we envision, plan and try new perspectives, our lives can change.

 

Here's a first person perspective from Marla on how powerful play can be...even for us adults! 

"I was attending a training on Sandtray Therapy and part of the workshop was to create our own depiction of our world.  I remember walking into this big room filled with figures of heroes, villains, animals, fantasy & cartoon people, trees, stones, houses and so much more.  I was struck with a feeling of endless possibilities. But I was not sure what to create.  I decided to let my hands do the walking and picked up any figure that interested me.  The only figure I deliberately picked was this one of the dwarfs because I had this one growing up.  It just felt sentimental.  I scattered my figures around the sandtray and gradually arranged and re-arranged them until it felt right.  Some figures I removed, others I buried or grouped together.  Centrally I placed the dwarfs as a sentimental object without meaning.  When it came time for me to share about my sandtray I talked about the placement of all the figures, the ones I gradually became aware that I was moving the dwarfs up and down while I talked.  The facilitator asked me about that item and I tried to brush her off, telling her it was just a memory without meaning.  Then she threw me by asking about the "up and down." I realized that my life had been tremendously difficult lately, kind of like a roller-coaster with it's ups and downs. Looking at the sandtray again with fresh eyes, I was able to see how I had arranged the rest of the figures around the dwarfs to show the highs and lows I had been dealing with.  I was finally able to take a step back and acknowledge that I was really overwhelmed and unhappy.  This let me decide to change the type of therapy I was doing to what I was more passionate for - experiential therapies. I think without her insight and questions, I might have muddled along for a few more years until I was burnt out before making a change."

Marla Berger is a Registered Play Therapist - Supervisor.  She has been providing Play Therapy and Sandtray Therapy for over 15 years.  Her sandtray collection has grown over time thanks to garage sales, Happy Meals® and creatively pillaging her younger sister's toys.

Play Therapy Can Benefit...

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