Why I work with a sand tray

People sometimes wonder why I have a sand tray in my office when I work largely with adults. But I believe it can be one of the easiest and most powerful tools available to support our relational work.

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Isn’t that just for kids?  

Yes - sand tray work does work brilliantly with kids – it was developed as a form of therapy, by amongst others, Virginia Axline, who wrote the landmark childrens’ therapy book “Dibs: in search of self”. 


And it also works really well with many adults.


What is a sand tray?  And what is sand tray therapy?


A sand tray is a rectangular shallow box, with fine sand in, that feels pleasant to run your fingers through.  Alongside the tray are objects, a whole range of different sorts of objects that you can choose to represent the issue that you are exploring, and to explore your own personal world.  My collection of objects includes stones, feathers, shells, domestic and wild animals, monsters, dinosaurs and heroes, a clock, a bell, mirrors, ribbons, and many strange and wonderful items that are not easily summarised and described.


To work with the sand tray, I invite the client to choose items that appeal to them in some way and place them as they wish in the tray.   It may be to create a specific scene to explore an issue, or a broader representation of your world right now.   The edge of the tray provides a safe boundary in which to contain the work, which can make difficult issues much more manageable.   I have used sand trays to explore support systems, to recognise strengths, to explore relationship issues and illuminate internal conflicts and feelings.


I use sand trays in my work, and in my own therapy because they always show something new.  They allow us to connect with our unconscious, and to follow our intuition in choosing items and placing them, and noticing how they relate to each other.  It isn’t a thinking exercise, and there is no right and wrong: whatever appears is there to help us.  I am often hugely impacted by the emotion that can be expressed in the sand tray, as we suddenly see part of ourselves, and make that connection.


Sand trays are particularly good when words seem to be failing to reach what the issue is all about. By bringing in intuition and touch, and the scope to physically move things around, to build, bury, remove and replace items we can open up new insights that words might never uncover. And as we explore an issue at arms length, with our hands, and recognise the resources we can release stuck situations and gain new choices.


My sand tray is always available to use: some of my clients love it, some never use it.  The choice is yours!

Kate Graham