Do You Help People Heal From Traumatic Events? Part 3

Posted by: Lisa Shouldice on June 11, 2015 2:26 pm

Creating Safety to Process Trauma Using Sandtray

Welcome to Part 3 of my Sandtray blogs! Part 1 introduced Sandtray Therapy ( and Part 2 explained how to set up the first Sandtray session with a client ( Sandtray is often used in therapy to facilitate healing traumatic events and related intense feelings. I truly feel it can be used for many issues and concerns clients present with and it is even great for couple counselling!

So while Sandtray can be used to process trauma, there are many other techniques and approaches used to this purpose as well. So one of the ways I use Sandtray is to create safety before I begin facilitating the processing of intense traumatic memories, even if Sandtray is not used again in session with that client.

I do this by first discussing this with a client at least one session before they complete the tray, so they know what to expect. When the session comes to complete the tray, I facilitate it in a slightly different way than usual, slightly more directive. For example:

“We are using this tray to create feelings of safety and self-care within your spirit before we begin talking about the difficult memories you have alluded to.   So I would like you to create a tray that creates feelings of safety, love and self-care today. This is a feeling you will be able to access while we get into talking about some horrible experiences you have had. There is no right or wrong. You are creating a world in which you are in full control and it can be anything you want it to be. So please choose your figures thinking about safety etc…”

The purpose of this tray is similar to using visualization to create a safe space with a client. The tray deepens the feeling of safety so when a client leaves the session they feel really good. This is a feeling we refer to throughout the next sessions in which we talk about the client’s traumatic experiences. If a time comes in which the client has been healing some negative memories for awhile and we decide they need a break, I may suggest another sandtray, a Self-care tray. This is a similar process in which a client re-creates a feeling of safety in the tray and introduces figures that depict self-care, whatever that looks like for them. It is a wonderful way to rest the spirit and remind a client about all of the ways they take care of themselves.

Many of these types of trays depict nature or garden scenes. They may include a wise other, a partner or may even have a figure that they identify as you, the therapist! Some trays include war worlds with warriors to protect them. I have also seen trays in which a client has placed themselves on another planet with no one, only themselves so no one can hurt them. I do not try to correct any of these worlds. It is simply a wonderful way to deepen that feeling of safety as intensely as possible so they have it in their spirits to refer to later in their personal lives and in therapeutic session. It can be also used in a visualization at the end of an intense session to help a client pull out of the past before they leave your session.

I offer talks and supervision for healing professionals interested in using Sandtray in their practices and work with clients. I would love to connect!

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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