This past weekend several of my play therapy friends and I gathered for a playdate to catch up and also talk about sandtray therapy. It was so great to talk with others in the field about challenges and success stories as well. Being with like-minded people in the profession is one of my self-care skills (Pam Dyson discusses other self-care skills for therapists here).
During this weekend, all four of us shopped throughout many corporate chains and chic boutiques in the greater St. Louis area. During this time, I was able to pick up several awesome miniatures for my ever-growing collection. At one point, one of my friends remarked I had a true gift for finding miniatures. My reply was typically Amy- a flippant one. Something along the lines of “Well, you know, everyone has to have a gift for something.”
However, this small statement started the wheels turning in my mind about what makes a good sandtray miniature. I once heard a Jungian therapist remark that a sandtray collection should be representative of everything in the world. Most of us do not have room for EVERYTHING in the world, so we must choose things wisely to represent our client’s inner world while still operating in the constraints of time, space, and most importantly, budget.
I’ve included some thoughts on how to become a sandtray whisperer, along with some examples of how I’ve used creative thinking to get the most bang for my sandtray buck.
We are social beings by nature. From chimps to the smartest IT person, all of us on the spectrum crave human interactions. We also tell our stories in terms of a relationship to others. Providing many different groupings in all types of areas can provide this feeling to be expressed. Do not worry if you have a group of pigs or a group of robots. If the brain needs to express a grouping, then it will find whatever you have available.
Most people coming to therapy are doing so because they are having difficulties with something- a relationship,job or within themselves. Choose things that represent this challenge. Think of picking up rocks from your road that could be made into walls or bridges. It also helps to think of therapy as putting pieces of a puzzle together. Anything that can help this process- or express it- can be used. Even a small puzzle that you can get in the dollar bin would be an excellent sandtray miniature.
Biophilia (the love of nature) is rooted in us all. Most people, children and adults alike, place some type of nature in the sandtray. Again, be creative looking for objects that represent nature. Getting green pebbles can be used for this. It is important to use dead parts of nature as well. These are very easy to locate aswell. Go to your yard in the fall or winter and pick up sticks to be driedout. Many of my clients seem to be drawn towards items from actual nature.
4. Heroes, villains, other mystical creatures
Just like we tell our stories in terms of “us” and “them,” we also tell our stories in terms of good and bad. Evil witches can be found in happy meals and angels in the dollar store bin after Christmas. Mystical creatures are often used by younger children as well as adults.I have a miniature of the Alf character on a magic carpet that I got out of a grab bag at a flea market and it gets used often with adults.
5. Broad themes for life
This could be a religion section but I find that I get more mileage out of my miniatures that are more general. I do have Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist miniatures, but people tend to use the broadly themed items such a rock with the word hope written on it. Again, the brain will be looking for something that represents hope and you only need rocks from Hobby Lobby to represent this. Hearts, crosses, four-leaf clovers, baby bonnets, rainbows, and devil horns are all examples of these broad themes. The party section at the dollar store is a great place to find these.
Celebrations often mark events in our lives. We used these as markers for our progress and therefore are often very prominent in our brain. Putting a couple of birthday candles out can trigger many different themes. Christmas trees and wedding cake toppers have the same effect. Around holidays, always keep an eye out for anything that can act as a miniature. I try to hit up the 80% off after-holiday special items.
One of the keys to being a sandtray whisper is not being too literal. Our minds work in pictures and often have associations what are beyond what is the norm. Thinking a Yoda miniature is useless because you do not work with kids is faulty thinking. For adults, Yoda may represent wisdom or a time in their childhood when things were magical.
Always be on the prowl for small objects to act as sandtray miniature. Remember, if it triggers something in you, it will likely do so in a client.