W-4 Sand Play

Using Sandplay in
shorter term work and non
traditional settings.
Barbara Brugler, LISW-S, BCD
Certified Sandplay Teaching Member
Please do not copy without permission
• Participants will learn the short term benefits
of sand work and how to use sand for calming
or “grounding.” This therapeutic technique
can be effective in helping non-verbal clients
open-up to more traditional talk therapy.
I need you to hold your questions until time
• Background of Sandplay first
What is Sandplay?
Based on the work of Dora Kalff
Many kinds of sandtray therapies
In depth work on the unconscious
Go back to the beginning and come back in a new way
Working on the symbolic level – we do not discuss
what was done in the sand, but sit quietly to hold the
energy of the work
The psyche directs the process
Clients benefit from one session or 50
Hallmark of Sandplay is “Free and Protected Space”
• As you learn more about the in depth work that is
Sandplay, you can also use the tool of Sand and
symbols in many creative ways.
• I used to call it play therapy in the sand before I
had much training.
• Research on Sandplay
• In the schools for test anxiety
• Other short term outcomes
• Groups, use caution – keep it structured
• Example of man who just touches the sand.
Calming and grounding – Experiential
Molding sand when you do
not have two trays.
There are many brands of this now.
School, home-based, non traditional
therapy settings
• Regular sessions, just like kids who have
sensory issues and see the OT regularly
• As needed, spurts
• Any work is beneficial
• Structured but you can’t go back and forth
• Pre-Sandplay
• True Sandplay can also be done in these
Pre Sandplay work
Floor games
Story telling
Hiding and finding
Sifting and sorting
Figures without the sand
Do not mix types of sand work, if you are
doing Sandplay you cannot do any directed
Sandtray type therapy, not Sandplay as
such can also be helpful
• Structured:
• 1) Find something to represent the bully
• Now find it’s opposite – (important with a bully to not
have them beat it up. We don’t want to encourage
victimization or what might lead to a school shooting.
Bullies do not kill, but the victims have.) Show me the
two figures in the sand. Or maybe just the bully.
• 2) Can you find something that could represent
strength or courage for you? Put it in the sand, what
else would you like to have in there with it? How does
that feel?
Non Sandplay ways to use the tools
• 1) Can you find a figure that could represent your (dad,
abuser, alcoholic parent etc.). Put it in the sand. What
would you like to do with this figure? What would help
you feel safe? What else would you like to do? What
else do you need in the sand?
• 2) Find something to show me how mad you get? Can
you find a way to calm the anger (cool the anger
depending on what they put in)? What else do you
need in the sand?
• Sometimes they just take off after one instruction and
you do not need to do more.
You can use figures alone or on a desk not in the sand, or use the
sand understanding directive is pre Sandplay work.
• 1) Find something to represent the cancer. What
would you like to do with it in the sand?
• Now find it’s opposite or maybe what you would
like instead of the cancer depending on age of
person. What would you like to do with it in the
sand. Now can both be in the sand together?
• 2) Show me how mad you are? What would help
you feel less mad?
• 3) Can you find something that would feel
helpful to you right now? Put it in the sand.
What would you like in there with it?
Figures without the sand
• Gardner’s Mutual Story telling game
• Soldiers and battles on and on and on
• Find a figure that would represent courage,
wisdom, intelligence, flexibility, humor, etc.
• Make a world with the resources.
• Find a figure that represents who you are today.
Now who you would like to be. Have them
interact. What else do they need in the sand to
be complete? Are there other parts of yourself
you need to add?
• Find a figure that represents the youngest you.
Now a little older and older still till you get to the
current you. How are they different, how are
they the same? Teaching them the parts of
themselves and then you can use those in the
future when they do developmentally younger
things you can ask them which one of them was
in charge when that happened.
• What else does it need to have in the tray with it?
I do not recommend going back and forth
between undirected and directed sand work.
• Understand if you use directed work this may signal to the
unconscious that the conscious is going to direct the process.
• If you want the unconscious to be in charge the client chooses this
is the “free” part. You cannot go back and forth between Sandplay
and other ways of using sand. These non Sandplay tools can be
more diagnostic. Sandplay is diagnostic but heals quicker than
traditional treatments.
• If you want to once in awhile do something different then be clear
“we are going to try something different today, we won’t usually do
• Once they have done pre Sandplay work they may want to do
traditional Sandplay – the difference is in you not them. You sit
quietly and do not give any instructions.
• A client may work in the sand once a month
but they may still gain from the work and be
changing their psyche. They may stay more on
the surface if they don’t know when they will
be back, but still gain benefit from the work.
• Many thanks to Martha Bowling, retired
school guidance counselor, for examples from
her work in elementary schools.
• The sandtray is the size the eye can take in in one
• It should be blue on the inside and rectangular,
never round,
• The sand should be white or neutral as every
color has meaning.
• In the beginning I used a rectangular under the
bed storage box that was blue plastic. I had a
second for figures.
• For calming a Zen garden, a bowel, or even a
smaller rectangular tray will work.
Basic figures
• If you are not going to have a full collection then
here are some basics:
• Have people of different races if you can.
• Pets, domestic farm and wild animals, and wild
animals from other countries – maybe one or two
of each. The person will say “this is a goat” if you
don’t’ have one for them to choose.
• A couple of houses. “Toys of the Trade” sells
figures that are $1 or less so you can get enough
for $20 or less. “Tubes” are good.
• Trees, bushes, something to represent water
like lakes or even blue paper that they can cut
into rivers and lakes.
• Rocks, drift wood, shells, other things you find
outside like nuts, pinecones and acorns.
• Fantasy figures – there is a tube of those.
• Soldiers – Dollar Tree has a bag with tanks and
two sides.
• Bridge
• You can make a mountain and a volcano out of
clay and paint it or use sculpty.
• Some therapists can make all sorts of things
from clay but something like a “yellow brick
road” is pretty easy to build.
• Villains, evil of some sort, and protectors of
some sort.
• This is enough to get you started.
If you just allow the person to work in the sand you will
give them the gift of healing from the inside.
• If time permits we will look at some
sandpictures. I cannot give those to you as I
have been given permission to use them but
they are not mine to give. We honor the
clients when we observe their sacred work.
• Thanks to Martha I have some examples from
her school work as well.
Examples from School
• Martha saw students sometimes up to 6 times.
• Sometimes they were scheduled, sometimes they
came to her when they needed to or were sent
by the teacher.
• Sometimes work was weekly, sometimes it was
spread out over the course of a school year.
• She did pure Sandplay not talking but giving the
students her full attention. She took notes with
their permission.
• Going down in the sand is going into the
unconscious. We find resources there to help us
emotion regulate and cope. Once a person has
learned how to do this they have learned the
lesson that good things can be found in the
unconscious (even though they do not use that
word) and can return time and time again when
they need another tool even if not using the
• I encourage kids to read fairy tales.
• Martha used the rectangular plastic bin for her sand
and only had dry sand. She had one bin at each office
so she did not have to move sand. They do make
portable sandtrays.
• She suggested having wheels on the table where you
keep it so you can move it out of the way. My kids
played on the floor when I used the bin.
• I kept figures in another plastic bin, she used a fishing
tackle box so she could carry it with her. When I was in
two offices I had a suitcase with wheels that I used to
transport figures. CD cases with fold out doors make a
great place to keep figures.
• She hired a student to put things away, but they
never saw a completed tray, she took the things
out before the student came in.
• In school settings she suggests first thing in the
morning or the last part of the day. She often
met 30-40 min. She would do recess if necessary
but that is only 15 min. Often students who are
having problems regulating in the classroom need
a break and so does the teacher.
• She set a timer so the students could monitor
how much time they had left. At the end she
would give them 5 min. incase there was
anything they wanted to say about what they
made. I also ask if they want to give their picture
a title.
• It is appropriate to give the child rules unless they
are ODD. Rules such as:
• the sand has to stay in the box
• you do not have to talk unless you want to but I
will not be talking about your picture.
Rules continued
• I do not allow things from the sand to leave
this room so it will be here for you to use next
• We may not meet regularly, but know you can
always return if you need to.
• In the beginning you can have them put their
hands on either side of the tray and say “this
is your world. Everything in this world is in
your control.”
Other ways to be directive
• If you are doing Sandplay and you want to do
directive work you can do that with paper and
art supplies like clay.
• Draw a house with two floors and have the
child draw who lives there; draw a picture of
everyone in your family doing something;
show me how mad you are – over and over
until the pictures change.
Case examples
Burying cars – cemetery
Elective mute who was being molested
Some of these kids have never had anyone
truly pay attention to them, so just watching
quietly is therapy – recreating the first year of
• Parents often say kids are so calm when they
go home
• Great for non verbal kids
• If they can learn to become “narrative” it will improve
executive functioning.
• Example of an adult who just touches sand while he
• Adults who just want to move sand to calm themselves
• Girl who rocked and hummed was grounding herself in
the sand. Her house drawing revealed a lot of people
living in her house. The humming was her escape into
her own world, the rocking calmed her.
• Questions
• If time allows we will look at sandpictures
• You can visit the Sandplay Therapists of
America website
• or www.sandplayohio.com for more
information and training here in Ohio