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Sandtray and Self-Care: How And Why You Should Use This Powerful Method to Clear Off Your Own Mirror
It begins by doing our own work, hopefully with a therapist or friend with a similar perspective on the value of the implicit an the inherent. As we gradually modulate our impulse to control our own recovery process, we will likely find ourselves extending this grace to everyone — patients, family, friends, and possibly the world at large. This may help us become ever more skilled listeners with fewer agendas and judgments.”
- Bonnie Badenoch
The Heart of Trauma: Healing the Embodied Brain in the Context of Relationships
Only three sentences. But three extremely long-reaching and potentially life-changing sentences.
But life-changing? Really? And what does this have to do with sandtray?
First, let me tell you, Bonnie Badenoch is the oracle and a much-needed truth-teller for therapists everywhere.
Her most recent book, quoted above, reads like a treatise for the therapy profession as a whole. She calls us all to do our own work. She says we must shift the focus internally towards who we are as a person in the therapy room if we want to be the best possible therapist. This is in stark contrast to what most therapists believe is the answer to improving therapy skills, which is the continual adding of therapy techniques to the therapist’s toolkit.
But wait, you may be thinking – isn’t that what we go to school for and why we complete training programs – to figure out how to actually do this stuff???
Yes, this would seem to be the case; however, Badenoch provides extensive research that all points towards the fact that it is WAY less about what we do in session rather than WHO we are.
To provide you with a little background to hang your left-brained hat on, let me explain a bit about how she comes to this conclusion and about what it has to do with doing your OWN sandtrays.
We know trauma causes changes in our body and our brain, or what we refer to as our “embodied brain,” since we now know that there is absolutely no clear distinction between what we refer to as the brain and body.
When any of us experience trauma, especially that which is experienced without a safe person near, our bodies physically hold the trauma. Our eyes begin (and remain) narrowed, our ears filter differing wavelengths and sounds and even our skin changes how it responds.
All of this happens below the level of consciousness, making our ability to change it very difficult when using just words. But really, it’s more than just our ability to change and heal the effects of the trauma, it’s also our ability to recognize these effects as ever even present. When trauma happens to a person, it happens to the whole body, not just the skull-brain or one part, but the entire body, often taking the form of implicit memory.
And, since we have 80% of the information about what is occurring in our world coming UP from our body into our skull-brain (as opposed to the other way around,) a large majority of effects of the trauma is held in our body in implicit form, which cannot be accessed with cognitive processes.
But again, what all does this have to do with us as therapists and sandtray?
As therapists, we MUST, work on healing our own trauma or we won’t last in this profession, not to mention not do our best work while we are with our people.
But, there’s more to healing our own trauma than merely being able to tell an lengthy explanation of what happened told to another (although this is a step in the right direction), our bodies must also experience the healing on an embodied, implicit level. And? You don’t get this with talking – the healing can only happen with the use of an expressive healing technique, such as sandtray therapy.
When we do our own work using sandtray therapy, we are finally able to get a felt sense of healing. We are then able to regulate within ourselves stimuli coming from the internal or external world. We are able to experience and be with our client’s pain, but not become it.
We are also able to react and provide what our client needs from a place of genuine inclusiveness for all kinds of pain, knowing that we have felt and worked to heal ourselves using this powerful medium of sandtray that accesses what Badenoch states as “pain that has often been too powerful to call into words.”
Without cleaning off your own mirror, you’re not able to be an accurate reflection for your clients.
And the good news is…the tool you need to do just this you likely already have in your office, just sitting and waiting to help heal your own story.
You’ve got it.
You know what you’re doing with your sandtray sessions.
But, then it happens. You sit down at your computer and then NOTHING.
You know this stuff works, but you’re just not sure how to write in a way that makes sense for others (like auditors and insurance companies).
Never fear, I’m here to provide you with 5 quick guidelines to decrease the worry and anxiety about typing up those notes.
*Wipes sweat off brow*
Here we go!
State what happened.
No need to go all crazy with getting into details of theories and different meanings in a large portion of your notes. Write what happened in the session.
Was the client silent? Then note that.
Client was hyper talkative and moved the miniatures around throughout the session? Jot that down.
Client worked in the sandtray throughout much of the session. Client placed only 2 items in the sand, which were a firetruck and police car. Client crashed them together making loud noises throughout the session.
2. State what you did or said.
Again, don’t re-invent the wheel here. State if you reflected, processed, tracked, summarized the movement or actions of the client in the sandtray.
This is especially easy for adults but may be a bit more difficult for children – read Garry Landreath’s The Art of the Relationship if you need help on how to interact with a child in the sandtray. (really, this book is a must-read for anyone working with children in play therapy anyway.)
Therapist reflected throughout the session the movement of the client in the sandtray. Noted when the client removed the fences in the tray and used the “I wonder” statements to inquire about clients actions in the sandtray session.
3. Use the term “consistent with” in your notes.
When you note themes or patterns in the tray, avoid stating that “X means Y.”
We never know the EXACT reason a client puts something in the tray (unless they say verbally,) but we can note when themes arise that are consistent with other items.
Client placed many rows in the sand of soldiers and other people. This excessive row making is often consistent with anxiety.
4. Use common themes in the sandtray within your documentation.
Review healing themes and problematic themes to help identify and then document what occurred.
If you know your stuff– and you should if you’re doing sandtray– YOU’VE GOT THIS. (IF NOT, you need to go back 2 spaces and join the Sandtray Suite for $1. )
Client placed a candle in the center of the tray with rocks surrounding the center. This centering theme is consistent with healing and progress, which is also consistent with what client has reported with her progress with anxiety.
5. Note what changed.
One of the keys in the sandtray session is movement and progress. We want to note what has changed between session and within session.
Movement = change = progress =integration
Client began the session with a large dragon in the fence, which she stated represented her rape. Over the course of the session, client stated she wanted to take the dragon out because she did not want it be such a large part of her life. This movement is consistent with healing.
Now then, anytime you feel that stress level start sneaking up on you, you can simply refer back to this cheatsheet and know that you’ve got this!
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!
You want to cut down the guess work and just have it done for you??
Good news — I’ve done just that with my check-box documentation template — The Sandtray Documentation Wizard.
Click this link to grab yours now!! —-> http://sandtraysuite.com/optin/
Being a sandtray therapist is awesome for so many reasons.
A LOT of people just don’t get what makes it the best but if you’re a sandtray therapist, you get it.
And I bet you’ll get some of these below as well.
So, without further a-do, here’s 20 things you’ll only get if you’re a sandtray therapist!!
1 Sleeping in on a Saturday morning, knowing that you’ll get the good stuff and the little trinkets for a super cheap. You love the stuff that everyone else has rummaged through.
2. Ordering the kids meal menu just for the little toy.
3. Buying girl stuff to play with when you have only boys living at your house.
4. Justifying your purchases with I can use it for work AND your kids.
5. The beauty of having your children/grandchildren get tired of little toys so you swipe them up.
6. Walking into a gas station out-of-state and seeing 80% off statues of local sites.
7. When you’re on the toy aisle looking at horses, and your oldest granddaughter informs the younger one that they are for sandtray.
8. It’s like it’s Christmas morning when you’re fact lights up because you’ve found a small empty bird nest and its 75% off!
9. You almost have a mouth-watering feeling driving past thrift stores, wanting to go inside to find all the unique miniatures that everyone else assumes is just junk.
10. Walking into your grandmother’s house seeing all of her figurines and eye-balling them for your collection.
12. Getting home and realizing you have sand everywhere – your pant legs, hair, and even eyebrows!
13. “Borrowing” your child’s toys for your miniature collection.
14. When there’s sand in everything you own….and you’re perfectly fine with it.
16. The check-out lady looking at you weird because you’re buying 20 of the same item, all because they’re on clearance and you know your fellow sandtray therapists will love them.
17. Having your brother tell you “it’s for the kids” when he sees you starting at your nephews new little car they brought back from England.
18. The frustration and insult you feel when someone just doesn’t get it and says “Huh, you’re just playing in the sand?”
19. You’ve had a hard day and realize you are unconsciously running your hands through the sand because you know it helps you relax and feel better almost instantly.
20. The beauty and pride (and even jealously) of well-ordered and well-stocked sandtray shelves.