The Usefulness of Sand Tray Therapy

How do you put into words about the abuse that you experienced yourself? What would you say to someone that you had sexually abused? How would you tell someone else what you had done?? The young men who come to Oxbow Academy have to confront these questions. Sand tray therapy is one therapeutic technique that can help them to find the answers.

In sand tray therapy, students create their own miniature world. They work through experiences with the guidance and support of a therapist. Often these are experiences that they would not be able to put into words right away. Sand tray therapy allows students the opportunity to work through their feelings in a safe space.

Processing Through Play

Many Oxbow students struggle with written and verbal communication. They may also have problems identifying and expressing emotions. They primarily communicate through action and movement, play, or through pictures and visual images. When they are asked to put their experiences in writing or talk about their experiences, the challenges they face in communicating are putting them into words due to the pain of the experience itself.

Sand tray therapy takes away the obstacle of expressing that pain and experience into words. This form of therapy allows them to show what they think and feel before they have to put those experiences into words. With sand tray therapy, students can choose objects and figurines that are meaningful to them. They don’t have to worry about finding the right words to express themselves. Sand tray therapy allows students to open up about their experiences without feeling limited by difficult emotions and experiences.

Gaining Greater Understanding

Sand tray therapy can be a liberating experience for parents too. Most parents find it much easier to understand what their son is trying to say when they can see it. While parents might not understand the meaning of every symbol, they are able to glimpse some of the issues their son is trying to address. They get to see a glimpse into their son’s world through their son’s own perspective.

A therapist at Oxbow Academy and Registered Play Therapist (RPT) described his experience working with a student whose parents were trying to understand the turbulent relationship that he had with his siblings. Sometimes the young man was kind and compassionate. Other times, he turned into what the parents described as a “real jerk”.

The boy shared a sand tray with his parents. In the sand tray, the young man put a nest of eggs. Then, he added a bird who protected the eggs and a cat who was trying to attack the eggs. The young man told his parents that both the bird and the cat represented parts of him, and those parts were always in conflict. While sometimes he wanted to protect his siblings, other times he wanted to threaten them. The parents walked away from the sand tray with a better understanding of their son’s experience and struggles.

The Benefits of Sand Tray Therapy

Sand tray therapy is useful for people who find writing or talking about their experiences to be a challenge. For many Oxbow students, this form of play therapy lets them process their experiences and emotions so that they can put them into words. In addition, it may also provide parents with a valuable glimpse into their son’s feelings and behaviors. This kind of experiential and play therapy allows students to gain deeper insight and growth during their journey of healing at Oxbow.