Sand Tray Therapy

Sand Tray Therapy is a form of expressive therapy developed by Margaret Lowenfeld. It allows the client to express themselves in a safe space by creating a world with figurines, toys, and sand in the tray. These act as tools that help the client visualize and express their inner world nonverbally.

The scenario they create in the tray may act as a reflection of their own lives, a specific traumatic experience or memory. For instance, sand tray therapy with children who experienced sexual assault in Chile enabled them to return to the experience and thus take control of it.


Sand Tray Therapy VS Sandplay Therapy

The two techniques have been known to be used interchangeably but slight differences exist.

The therapist is more directive and actively involved in being a facilitator while the client creates their “world”. The therapist acts as a witness, to encourage the client to build their inner world, analyzing the scenario in the tray as it unfolds. This technique helps encourage the client to speak about issues they normally find hard to express in words.

The therapist does not interfere with the client until they have finished constructing their world. They allow the client to choose which toys to include and how to arrange everything inside the sand tray. This technique focuses more on the unconscious mind, whereby clinicians believe that clients will subconsciously recreate the struggles in their inner world. These struggles will be discussed with the client after the client has finished construction in the tray.


The Humanistic Approach to Sand Tray Therapy

Clinicians who use this technique depend entirely on the client to find their own solutions to the problems presented. They treat the client as innately healed and whole, believing that the solution to the problems lies inside the client. Rather than wholly depending on the therapist, the client uses creative play to discover answers to their problems. The sand allows the client to express feelings and thoughts that they would not be able to verbally during traditional therapy.


Who Can Benefit from Sand Tray Therapy?

This technique can benefit those who have a hard time verbalising their thoughts, memories, traumatic experiences, or wounds. This could include children, teens, and adults who experience:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Trauma
  • Grief
  • Physical Disabilities or Learning Difficulties, such as speech issues
  • Low Self-Esteem or Difficulties Socializing


When you have something you want to say but do not seem to have the words on hand, you could try finding and expressing them through the sand!