You get dreaded look…
…the one that makes your heart drop….
…the one where your client is like “You want me to do what??”
Unfortunately, this happens all too often with experiential methods of therapy, like sandtray therapy.
Hopefully, you were able to explain to your client (I’m thinking of adolescent or adults) about the WHY behind sandtray therapy, but he is STILL looking at you with that deer-in-the-headlights look- the one what makes you wonder if YOU even went to school.
I had this question last night from a therapist on one of my consultation calls for my RIST cohort and thought you guys may have this same question.
QUESTION: What do I do when my client looks at me like I’m crazy when I ask them to do a nondirective tray?
ANSWER: First, this is a great question because this does happen to the best of us. I’ve had this happen often with adults or adolescents and I’ve learned to not view it as something that I did wrong.
Rest easy- there’s no reason to think that you did anything wrong with your explanation.
When your client has difficulty creating his or her world, it is often a sign of emotional underdevelopment or just a major focus on left-brained concrete thinking. He may be feeling overwhelmed at this task and honestly doesnt know where to start.
Here’s 3 options for when this happens to you:
1. Name that feeling
Research says that when we name a feeling for someone else, our brain immediately releases feel good chemicals in our brain that actually calms our bodies. It’s something Daniel Siegel calls “Name It to Tame It.“
With your person, you can say something like,”It looks like you are having a hard time finding just the right one. Remember, that’s normal for some people and it’s not a race or a contest. Just grab what you think belongs in your world. Do the best you can, it’s okay.”
2. Give a directive
A directive is a statement giving the client direction about what the tray is going to be about for the session. It can be simple or abstract. But, with this type of client, I usually try to make it something simple and somewhat safe. For instance, if I have an adult who is really active in his church, I may give him a directive to make a tray about his church life. Or, if I have an adolescent, I will give a directive to make a tray about her school life.
Directives decrease anxiety because the client doesn’t feel so overwhelmed with not knowing where to start to what to do.
Remember, the brain never misses a change to integrate so even if you just start with something simple like school, you will always get to the root of the issue through the processing.
3. Make a smaller portion of the tray as only the available space
The amount of space the client feels like he has to fill may just be overwhelming. What I will do is to draw a line in the sand around only a corner of the tray. I then instruct the client to only make his world within this part of the tray.
Another option is to use a tissue as an outline and tell the client she only has to worry about making her world from the are that was covered by the tissue.
Often, you will see the client’s body visibility relax when she doesn’t feel like she has to do it all at once. Again, don’t worry about not getting to the “meat” of what is going on through this directive.
It will come. Your job is to listen, validate, and trust the process.
Does this ever happen to you? What do you feel works best when you get that “you must be cray” look?