- General therapy
- Neuroscience of therapy
- Play Therapy
- Sandtray Hacks
- Sandtray therapy
- Therapy Techniques
- Why does sandtray therapy work??
- Isn’t it just playing in the sand??
- What? You bought all this stuff for your THERAPY OFFICE??
- People are going to pay you to play in the sand??
- How in the world will this help me get through my divorce/rape/depression/etc?
- I’m paying you to play with my kid in the sand??
I’m betting if you’ve worked for any amount of time in the sandtray world, you’ve heard at least a few (if not all) of these questions- and maybe even asked them yourself when that pesky ol’ impostor syndrome rears it’s ugly head.
To understand as clearly as possible the complex answer to these questions, I’ve put together an infographic for you to use when you get it twisted as to why this sandtray stuff works.
Since trauma doesn’t happen to just one part of the brain, we can’t just focus on one part of the brain and expect our clients to heal. We need to involve all parts of the embodied brain that were first involved in what landed our clients in our office to help them fully heal.
Enter sandtray thearpy.
Check out the awesome infographic below and download it HERE.
You can even put on your website or keep beside your desk when you get those moments of “why am I doing this again? I know it works, but how do I explain it to others?”
Like the way sandtray therapy has been made simple and easier to understand??
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Guest blogger and fellow sandtray enthusiast Cheryl Willoughby shares her ingenious solution to that pesky problem of getting all of your miniatures to stand neatly and stay organized. Read and try yourself- this is good stuff!
How many of us find ourselves in that constant battle to minimize chaos and engineer out mess makers???
We all know that rush between sessions to clean up toys, put sandtray items back on the shelf, and just maybe have time to run to the ladies room before welcoming the next kiddo into our office.
We know that ideally we would like sand tray items upright and visible without a great deal of effort. Also, we would like to not replace broken items that get damaged as they kerplunk on the floor.
I don’t think I am the only sandtray therapist who plays the game of put one figure on the shelf, knock off two, replace those, push over a few more, only to finally give up and leave the characters in a bundle haphazardly scattered on the shelf.
I found my solution walking through the craft isle.
Clear Casting Epoxy easily allows you to make clear bases for our favorite hard to stand items from our shelves.
Clear Casting Epoxy
Hard to stand figures
Polypropylene or rubber molds
Stuff (see below)
Clear casting epoxy can be found in the jewelry section of your local craft store or on-line and comes in various brands.
The casting material is sold in sizes ranging from small boxes up to gallon sizes.
The kit contains liquid resin in one bottle and a hardener in the other. I purchased the smaller 8 oz. box simply because I wanted to experiment. The box made enough goo to hold about 10-15 of my items. I believe next time I will purchase a slightly bigger kit.
First- Gather supplies and your sand tray items that would benefit from bases.
Gather that stuff we therapists all have in their offices; tape, rubber bands, pipe cleaners, tissue boxes- anything that would aid with making the miniatures stand up while the epoxy takes shape.
Remember, we are working with hard to stand items and have to find a way to insure they don’t wobble for 24 hours.
Helpful hint: I found pipe cleaners were very useful in propping up items. (I have to admit, toys strung up with pipe cleaners taped to tissue boxes for stability looked a little macabre and I worried about what the house keeper cleaning my office would think.)
Next- Read the instructions from your epoxy and FOLLOW THEM EXACTLY.
While the instructions are not difficult, they are precise. I would imagine that each brand has their own specific ratios. My particular brand of epoxy required equal amounts of hardener and epoxy to be mixed for 2 minutes, poured in another cup and mixed again for 2 more minutes. Pouring from one cup to the other was not optional because it mixes air with the compound.
At this point, if you choose, you can treat the molds with Mold Release & Conditioner making it easier for the epoxy to release from the mold.
Then simply fill mold with epoxy, add figurine, securing with items to make as stable and upright as possible and let set for 24 hours.
I found that mixing a little of the epoxy at a time and working with 4-5 figures was best. While it took more time to complete the project, it was difficult to balance too many items at a time while the resin set.
Helpful hint: If you have difficulty removing the item, I found that using a blow dryer to warm the mold helps the items detach from the mold.
I am a learn-as-you-go type of crafter. So here are a few things I learned in the process.
- It is vitally important to have the items as upright as able. I was disappointed that a few were frozen slightly off kilter.
- Make sure your mold has a flat bottom. Some of the molds had a slight curve that was difficult to notice.
- Although not suggested by the makers of the epoxy, paper cups made a fairly good mold as they were easy to tear apart and pull away from item once set.
- I used rocks, glass beads and other heavier objects in the base of a few items that were more top heavy to better help them stand up.
- One or two items did not work just as I wanted. To remedy the mistake, I put item in a slightly larger and deeper mold and did a second pour over the first try.
Cheryl Willoughby, MA, LPC has been a practicing mental health counselor for close to 15 years. She currently owns Affinity Counseling Center in Midland, Texas. While new to the filed of play therapy, Cheryl has a strong affection for children and is proud to soon welcome her first grand baby. Cheryl is currently working toward her RPT under the supervison of Pam Dyson of DFW Center for Play Therapy Training.
Technology is good.
It makes our lives better, easier, heck, even you are reading this right now because we live in an awesome world where I can talk to you while sitting on my couch in the middle of nowhere.
There’s some things that just aren’t aren’t the same-
To give you some examples..
-Online romantic relationships will NEVER take the place of living with someone day in and day out and building a relationship
-Your mother’s touch will NEVER be the same as just Facetiming with her
-Powerful, attachment-based therapy will NEVER take place with an app
Sandtray therapy is also one of those things that just can’t be appified.
There’s TWO main reasons for this:
1) Sandtray therapy is a tool to aid in healing, its not a projective assessment.
We don’t use it to “figure out” what is wrong with our clients and then prescribe them another treatment.
NO, NO NO.
Sandtray therapy IS the treatment- it IS the healing tool.
It should never be described or used as a projective assessment.
To do so is plain irresponsible.
I’ve had clinicians refer clients to me so I can do sandtray therapy a couple of times and then they can do the “real therapy.”
Ok, for one, that’s a super insult, and two, you don’t just do sandtray a couple of times and then off you go to someone else.
It’s too powerful for that.
When you are working with a client in the sandtray, you need to have a relationship with them of unconditional positive regard so that when powerful feelings and trauma gets stirred up (and they will) you can be there to hold them safe in your therapeutic nest.
Brain research and anecdotal evidence both support the fact that sandtray therapy leads us into deep relationships and wielding this powerful tool is an honor and a responsibility.
When deep feelings and old trauma are stirred up and healing actually happens on a whole-brain level, healing gets cemented even further because those past too-powerful-to-call into-words brain connections now are resting within the cocoon of the attachment you have developed within therapy.
Healing occurs in relationship- right brain to right brain, which leads me to my next big reason that sandtray therapy will never be appiifed
2) The neuroscience doesn’t support it.
Everything we now know about WHY sandtray works is based in what the neuroscience research tells us.
Even for me, when I decide what to teach, I look at what the research says and try to only teach what is based in science.
What the neuroscience of sandtray tells us now is that its power is derived from actually USING YOUR HANDS to work with the miniatures, moving them in the sand, all while talking.
This dance from the right brain to the left and back to the right is what helps us process and work through the trauma that is holding up our clients.
We use the hands to work with 3D objects because
- That’s how our brain is wired
- That’s how we processed the information first (trauma happened in the real world so must be healed in the real world).
Once we use our hands to activate the implicit memories that trigger trauma, body-based memories, we can work through those at a level below words or even consciousness.
Through the use of sandtray therapy, we can meet our clients where they are with their trauma and heal there- often times even without the need for words.
To put more simply, neuroscience tells us that we must use as many senses as possible, especially touch, to activate the right brain.
When we activate the right brain, we are getting at the stuff that fuels therapy- the feelings, trauma, those pesky, but powerful images from our childhood.
THAT’S what our clients come to therapy to heal- right brain language- like “I feel horrible and I want to feel better” or “I’m sad all the time and am tired of this.”
So, when we, as therapists, are able to meet them where they are already-in the right brain with 3D images that they are able to hold and move around with their hands (which activates the right brain naturally)- our clients get better faster.
An online gaming process will NEVER be backed in neuroscience- that is until we live and process all of our information in a virtual, online world.
When that happens, I’ll gladly update this blog post.
But until then, know that I won’t be appifying my sandtray process.
Part 3: 2 Reasons why the brain likes play (AKA: What you need to remember when wonder’why am I doing this again’?)
It seems like magic sometimes.
You show up, you practice your play therapy techniques, and your little clients GET better.
BUT- it’s not magic- the success of play therapy is based in the science of interpersonal neurobiology.
But NOW, how do we know the WHY behind play therapy.
When we work with our child clients in a way that feels comfortable to them-like through play- we communicate to them that they are understood.
Until about age 11 when children develop abstract reasoning skills, they live in a right-shifted world, where they are able to understand the meaning of things and relationships even when words aren’t available.
So, when we, as play therapists, meet our clients where they are through sandtray therapy and other forms of play therapy, we are letting them know “I see you, I get it, I’m here” in a way that their brains are already wired to most readily understand.
Through this non-verbal method of sandtray therapy, we don’t have to jump the hurdle of crossing into the left brain where language lays. Instead, we can just come along beside and be WITH them as they are working through their difficulties.
But you ask- How does my presence and working with them in the sandtray/play therapy room allow for my clients to get better?
This answer lies within two key concepts:
We know, through many social psychology studies, that our brains detect obstacles and fear as greater when we are alone. Our brains read objects or events as less fearful just by simply having a person next to us AND also even LESS scary when we have a person next to us with whom we have a close relationship.
Think of that child who you love seeing and he’s had a hard, hard life. Many small and large traumas throughout his young life. With you by his side, tracking and letting him know you are there, his brain will be able to revisit or process those scary times in a way he would not have been able to just alone.
Your client gets better faster by increasing his emotional regulation and identifying this triggers.
Or more simply put: Play therapy worked.
Stephen Porges coined this term within his book about The Polyvagal Theory. What the neurosception of safety states is that when person, such as the therapist, has a large window of tolerance, meaning that they are able to stay regulated and with a person, even in times of unrest, then the person who is having difficulties (such as a client) develops a larger window of tolerance.
The magic of the neurosception of safety is that our brain does this on a subconsicous level. Our brains are ALWAYS scanning the environment for cues of safety or unrest.
If you have that same little boy who has been through all types of trauma, he is not going to readily be able to access and work through his feelings due to being in flight or fight mode more often than not.
However, once his brain (and body) detect that YOU are a safe person and that YOU area always the same, his brain then sends the message that it’s safe to open up to others and talk about even the hard things (Porges calls this the social engagement mode).
Given this information, know that EVEN if you had the exact right words to say and KNEW how to change the child’s cognition through words and the “right” technique, it wouldn’t matter if his brain says “nope, it’s not safe here.”
So, again, where is the most important work with so many of our kids?
It’s in the developing of the neurosception of safety. Because without that, no technique in the world will be effective.
Again, you show up, you play, you connect.
Your client gets better faster by increasing his emotional regulation and identifying this triggers.
Or more simply put: Play therapy worked.
Of course, the science of interpersonal neurobiology is WAY more complex than these two concepts but you can use these to rest on when you get those nagging feelings of ‘why am I doing this again?’
What works for you when you have those nagging feelings?
Leave your answer in the comments below.