Emotions in the sand tray 

Sand tray is one of my favorite interventions to offer clients of all ages. It lends itself to directive and non-directive approaches and can shed light into underlying issues that may need to be further addressed, or at the very least, validated. Recently my teenagers have been the biggest fans of my sand tray. 🙂
I have found that often teenagers are distant from certain emotions or use more peer accepted emotions to cover up true underlying feelings. Teens can usually rattle off feelings words with little effort and many show an understanding of at least the basic definition of different emotions but may struggle truly connecting with emotions they experience. 
Recently I laminated over 20 feelings words and put them in a small box. They lend themeslves to many activities and are certainly helpful in the sand tray! 
1. Choose a feeling word. He or she could randomly pick a word or one could be chosen more intentionally. 

2. Ask him or her to create a sand world representing that feeling and what it means to him or her personally. This helps the individual connect more meaningfully to the emotion and gives the therapist much more insight into the individual’s unique experience. 

3. Validate what the individual shares about the sand tray world verbally. Never assign meaning to anything in the tray unless the individual has already done so. For example, don’t call the cow in the corner a cow unless the person has identified it is in fact a cow in his or her world. 

4. Use non-judgmental and exploratory phrases like, “Wow you worked so carefully on this. What would you like to tell me about it?” “I noticed you had that in the center then you covered it with sand. Could you tell me anything about that?” 

5. Keep a curious and affirming attitude as the individual is sharing verbally about his or her world. Something that appears silly or lighthearted could actually be quite heavy so be sure to tread carefully and reverently. 

6. Ask the individual if he or she would like a photo of the sand tray after completion. Many children and teens want to take a photo home and find what they create to be very significant and meaningful. 🙂 

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