Over the years of working in the field of developmental delay and sensory processing difficulties, we have witnessed many children struggle to make sense of their emotional world alongside their struggles to create an effective response in their central nervous system. Since tactile exploration is a natural media for occupational therapists it was not difficult to find that his particular mode of therapy was a very good fit for us at ATA.
Play is the work of children. When the child chooses 10 or 12 characters from an array of over 1000 characters, you simply know that their choices have meaning for them. And witnessing their process as they create and re-create stories become a privilege for us.
Children with developmental delay generally do not want to discuss their emotions, but prefer to play them out. Sand Play therapy has provided us with an avenue to understand our children more fully, and to improve our intervention planning
Sand Play therapy reminds us every day that the child is experiencing emotions through every therapeutic experience we provide and we need to respect these emotional adaptations just as much as their sensory adaptations. Through Sand Play we are able to elicit the child’s beauty from within.
A Brief History
In the 1920’s Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld first developed the therapeutic use of Sand Play and miniatures. Her approach was called the “Lowenfeld World Technique”. She asked her clients to combine the sand tray and miniatures to create “world pictures”.
Dora Kalff, a Swiss Jungian analyst adapted Lowenfeld’s method and called the approach Sand Play. Dr. Kalff said –
“Lowenfeld understood completely the child’s world and created with ingenious intuition a way which enables a child to build a world – the child’s world – in a sandbox”
Why use Sand Play Therapy?
- Gives expression to non-verbalized emotional issues. Play is the language of children and the sand tray provides a safe medium for expression, free from evaluation.
- Has a kinesthetic quality. Sand has a sensory quality and the experience of touching and manipulating the sand can be therapeutic in and of itself.
- Creates a necessary therapeutic distance for the client. This distance can allow the client to have a safe place to work through and process their experiences.
- Provides a setting for the emergence of therapeutic metaphors.
- Provides a needed and effective communication medium for the client with poor verbal skills. Beyond developmental reasons, there are clients of all ages who may have poor verbal skills for a variety of reasons. When unable to effectively communicate needs, it can create a great level of frustration. In Sand Play therapy expression of needs is not dependent upon words.
- Provides a place for the client to experience control.
- Sand Play can be used with a wide age range of clients.
- Developmental considerations must be taken into account and will impact how the client uses the sand tray.
- Young children generally use it as an ongoing play experience, and this may look like play therapy in miniature
- Older children are more able to delay impulses and create scenes in the sand tray.
- Adolescents are often attracted to Sand Play for it’s nonverbal aspects.
- Adults are also able to use the media successfully
When is a good time to use Sand Play?
- As an introduction to the intervention program
- As a change of pace. Some clients may have experienced years of traditional therapy, and Sand Play therapy can provide a needed change. It can serve as a method to reach feelings and issues that were not accessible with typical modes of therapy.
- An opportunity to evaluate progress of therapy. Looking at a sequence of client’s sand trays can reflect the ongoing progress.
Who can benefit from Sand Play?
While a wide variety of clients can benefit from Sand Play therapy, there are some populations who may especially benefit from using this modality.
- Clients who are introverted and tense – the tactile interaction can help reduce tension and anxiety.
- Clients who are hyperactive – creating a scene or story in the sand can assist the client to focus and slow down.
- Clients who over-verbalize. Some clients tend to over-verbalize as a defense mechanism or for avoidance or resistance. A nonverbal method such as Sand Play bypasses these forms of interference.
- Clients who rationalize or intellectualize. Similar to over-verbalization. Sand Play can bring out the emotional aspects of a client’s issues.
- Clients who have trouble verbalizing.
Some Common Themes
- Aggression / Anger / Revenge
- Power / Control
- Helpless / Inadequate
- Empty / Depressed
- Anger / sadness
- Trust / relationship / abandonment
- Nurturing / rejection / security
- Boundaries / intrusion
- Violation / protection
- Conflict / violence
- Self-esteem / self-worth / empowerment
- Fears / anxiety
- Loyalty / betrayal
- Loss / death
- Adjustment / change