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‘Sandplay’ helps Goldberg Center reach clients
‘Sandplay’ helps Goldberg Center reach clientsMay 20, 2002Nicci Brownnicbrown@syr.edu
Most Americans have fond childhood memories of building sandcastles on the beach or in the playground. Now a growing number of marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and other mental health practitioners are discovering the benefits that sand can bring to their treatment sessions.
“Sandplay” is an internationally recognized technique that encourages the creation of three-dimensional scenes-or worlds-in a specially designed tray of sand. Since its creation in Britain in the 1920s, sandplay (or as it was then known, “the World Technique”) has grown in popularity to the point where there are now publications, associations and conferences devoted to its development and use.
Thanks to a $3,340 grant from the Central New York Community Foundation, the University’s Goldberg Couple and Family Therapy Center is also putting the benefits of sandplay to use. The grant has enabled the center, which is run by the Department of Marriage and Family Therapy in the College of Human Services and Health Professions (HSHP), to purchase a custom-made tray and storage cabinet, a set of miniatures and other items essential to integrating sandplay into the clinic. The grant also included funds to purchase a digital camera, which is used for documenting the client’s work and progress.
Anne Gosling, director of the Goldberg Center, says the addition of sandplay will have far-reaching benefits. “Not only will it provide another form of therapy for our clients, the infusion of HSHP students into community agencies (both during their training and after graduation) will serve as a way to spread knowledge of the modality,” she says. Currently, at least a few centers in Central New York have the specialized trays used in sandplay.
Heather Hay, an MFT doctoral student, says sandplay is an extremely useful tool for opening the lines of communication between a therapist and client. “It allows for the externalization of the inner world of a client,” she says. “Sandplay can help people express concerns, even when the source of those concerns is not conscious.”
Hay says the technique is particularly relevant in light of the events on and following Sept.11. “Especially for children, there is a lot of secondary anxiety they may be experiencing, but can’t really put into words,” she says. This secondary anxiety may manifest itself in the form of irritability, regressive behavior (such as bed-wetting) or trouble sleeping. Hay says because sandplay is “concrete,” it can give a sense of control and definition-something children may not feel in real-life.
Trays used in sandplay are usually made of wood or plastic, are blue on the inside, and measure 21 inches wide and 30 inches long. Those details are no coincidence. Hay says the dimensions correspond to the average person’s “visual world”-what they can see without turning their head. The color blue is chosen for its representation of the elements and “calming” qualities. Sandplay therapy also incorporates miniature figures, which represent people, animals and structures.
Hay says a session starts when a client is presented with a flat tray of sand and asked to create a scene or “world.” The therapist will usually watch the client work and serve as a witness to the process. Then, when the scene is finished, the therapist helps the client to recount his or her experience. Hay says, in this way, the therapist figuratively “walks a client through their world.” A photograph can then be taken of the scene for inclusion in a client’s file and for future reference. But, Hay is quick to point out that the scenes created or figures used in a sandplay scene should not be interpreted literally; rather they can serve as clues to an underlying problem or triggers to a useful conversation. In addition, the process of creating a sand tray is inherently soothing and healing.