by Karen R. Burke, MA, LPC-S, RPT-S
This is an interesting time to observe how a child might use their time. Because there is a time limit and the child has a world in mind to "produce", there is opportunity to observe any conflicts the child might have in completing what one wants in the time allowed. There is opportunity to work through the child's efficiency in organization and pacing.
For the history of SandTray, please click HERE
Most children find the process of Sandtray to be quite enjoyable. Being able to build and "play" in the sand can be very appealing. For elementary and secondary students it is developmentally aligned with this age group, which makes it easy for them to participate.
Sandtray is a projective, Jungian oriented method. As Carl Jung might look at a dream, you can look at everything in the tray as representing a part of the whole person. As a child builds their world, they will choose miniatures that have conscious and unconscious meaning to them. The way they choose, place, arrange, and show interaction between items in the tray is a way to express the inner parts of themselves. This is a unique opportunity for the child to work out conflicts while being accepted. This can cause deep, internal changes that free them to be able to focus on the present.
Sandtray is an avenue to expressing personal experiences into a three-dimensional concrete form. A miniature or "world" can express feelings, emotions, and conflicts which previously had no verbal language. The Sandtray world can offer a rich, highly personalized vocabulary for pre-verbal or non-verbal experiences. Without having to depend on words, children can increase their capacity for expression through Sandtray. Children struggling with emotional issues, have a place to express and show emotions without having to say a word.
This means that space, materials, and a safe environment are provided, without a lot of rules or direction. The process is generally client-directed. The therapist is there to witness the process and to contain the space. After basic guidelines are given, the child builds what they need to build. No topic, subject, or direction, about the world, is given. They do not need it. They need the freedom to present, in their world, the very personal interworking of themselves.
There are many demands and instruction given to children about how things should be done. When building a world, the child has the opportunity to experience something different; to build a world that will not be judged. There is no right or wrong way to build. This is a time to be able to accomplish a goal without receiving negative feedback.
Many children have experiences at home or school in which they feel they have little or no power over themselves or their environment. By allowing them to build a world without limits or rules, they are given the opportunity to be in charge of what they create. There is no judgment about the world they have created or the process they use. They also decide who will be invited to view the world and if they will talk about it. This experience can build confidence about their ability to make decisions and exert control.