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An Introduction to Sand Tray Therapy

Provo Canyon School

At Provo Canyon School, youth aged 8 to 17 receive psychiatric treatment and academic instruction in a residential setting. Provo Canyon School serves the diverse needs of its students by offering a variety of specialized therapeutic methodologies, including sand tray therapy.

Sand tray therapy is a nonverbal therapeutic practice that engages clients of all ages and can be used in keeping with a variety of theoretical orientations. The therapist provides a sand-filled box, painted blue at the bottom, and a collection of miniature figures.
The miniatures are varied and include people, animals, buildings, fantasy characters, natural objects, and vehicles, as well as a number of other figures. The collection should be varied enough that the items in it convey a range of emotional and value connotations, including evil, goodness, happiness, sadness, fright, and comfort.
In a sand tray session, the therapist invites the client to use the available materials to create a world in sand. It is nondirective and should involve minimal instruction, as the therapist's main role is to construct a safe space in which the client can explore his or her inner reality.
The session concludes with verbal processing of the sand tray scene. Therapists should observe patterns and choices that the client has made, though they must be careful not to impose their own interpretations. It is more telling to hear the client explain the scene and how he or she constructed it.
The sand-tray-therapy process is extremely useful in counseling children, who often do not have the words to explain their inner realities. It has also become a helpful tool to use with clients who have difficulty verbalizing their feelings, overintellectualize their experiences, or struggle with tension and nervousness in therapeutic sessions.

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