Every time I talk about this study in my trainings I get the “wha…. get out!” response from even the most seasoned therapists.
So you know it’s good.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Starting in the earlier part of the 20th century, doctors figured out that cutting a person’s Corpus Colosseum (the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres) greatly reduced the effects of epilepsy.
Easy peasy right?
Well, yes and no.
Yes, seizures reduced but also the way the patients processed information changed but other stuff changed as well…
Once the connection between the two parts of the brain was cut, the person could no longer access information with both parts of their brain if the information was only given to one side of the visual field.
For instance, say a person was shown a picture of a puppy to the right visual field (which is processed in the left part of the brain). When that happened, the person could use language to say what they saw (a puppy) but was unable to draw or use images to describe what was seen.
Correspondingly, if the same person was shown a picture of the same puppy but it was in the left visual field (which is processed in the right part of the brain), then the person was unable to say verbally what they saw but would be able to draw what they saw, even without being able to provide a verbal explanation of why they were drawing a picture of a puppy.
Watch this short video that shows just this happening.
Ok so you get it- and yes it’s cool but what does this have to do with the power of sandtray?
Glad you asked.
Everything. I say everything.
Our clients come into our office and complain of behaviors that are disrupting their lives (in fact, this is how we diagnose issues- if it’s interfering with daily living).
Likely, our clients have tried it all- talking to friends, praying, shelf help (reading books), or even watching YouTube videos but nothing has helped.
So many times the reason all those things don’t work is that they aren’t addressing the real issue. What’s running the show is often locked in the right brain and words aren’t able to get there to help explain what’s occurring.
Our clients, as well as ourselves, often say and do things that may be driven from a trauma in the right brain, but if we don’t have both sides of our brain working together, which often happens with trauma, it’s AS IF we are a split-brain patient.
Our actions have roots in something completely different than our “logical” attribution because our left brain is just trying to come with any reason for a certain behavior or reaction.
And guess what?
So many times, especially with folks who have been through trauma, our brains get it wrong.
Some examples to drive this home even more:
- A person who walks into their bosses’ office and the boss is sitting similar to how their abusive father sat. They go off on their boss about never being taken seriously, only to later learn that the boss called the meeting to give them a raise. The behavior doesn’t “make sense” and so the person may attribute causation to the wrong thing, and they end up in your office with out-of-nowhere anger issues.
- A parent of one of your child clients just doesn’t like her sons. Of couse, it’s not overt, but there’s something off there, you can just tell it. You notice and question the parent. She responds that the boys are just more like their father. The reality? Her brain is triggered by a long-repressed trauma from her own father’s negative treatment of she and her sisters.
- You see a red-haired person walking down the street. You notice you become flush and irritated. You then think to yourself that you must have ate something wrong and immediately take a stomach-soothing medication. The reality? Your right brain carries the memory of that red-haired bully from 3rd grade who made you feel less than but your left brain doesn’t have access to that early trauma.
And I could go on and on..
..and I bet you could too once you start thinking about it.
But where does sandtray come in?
Sandtray is able to work with the WHOLE brain, allowing for the right AND the left to talk to each other.
Because it uses images, it activates that right part of the brain where so much of what runs therapy lies – trauma, negative thoughts and feelings. When we are able to bring up those experiences into the external world through images and miniatures, then our left brain can come in and put words to what we are feelings.
This is why adults break down, often in shock, when they build their first tray.
They will say “Oh my, I had no idea all this was under this. I have no idea why I’m crying.”
Through sandtray therapy, you get to help your clients move from that state of split-brained confusion into a solid understanding of their lives, which leads to a more integrated brain.
And what does an integrated brain look like?
Daniel Siegel puts it like this:
“Integrated linkages [in the brain] enable more intricate functions to emerge—such as insight, empathy, intuition, and morality. A result of integration is kindness, resilience, and health.”
So…you want to take on a bet with me?
I’m betting that any treatment plan goal you write is some form of these words above – it’s what we are all striving for with ourselves and our clients.
That, my fellow-therapists, is the beauty and power of sandtray therapy.
[Tweet “We take what is often a “split-brain” caused by trauma and put a brain back together through the power of sandtray therapy.”]
So yes, sandtray therapy completely deserves the “whaaa…get out” reaction that I receive from therapists when truly understanding what sandtray therapy can do for all of us.
Good stuff, man. Good stuff.