Sand, Story and Solidarity: Finding Joy and Meaning in Clinical Work

Posted by: Bonney Elliott on May 4, 2015 9:06 am

My work life is split between coaching cancer patients and their families, and private general psychotherapy practice. In both domains, the clients who come to see me are often in the midst of major life transitions. Their stories can be heart wrenching. I could easily get lost in their suffering, Take it on and bring it home with me. Or worse, become so detached that it ceases to affect me at all. Both alternatives would impact my wellbeing and my longevity as a practitioner. There is no perfect formula for keeping the fire in the belly alive in my clinical work. Mitigating compassion fatigue is not simply about finding the perfect job and job/life balance, or staying healthy through self-care, nurturing relationships and mindfulness. It is about finding joy and meaning in the work I do.

fantasy-221242_640The three pillars of my clinical practice are sand, story and solidarity. Sand represents the Sand Tray Therapy that brings creativity, joy and lightness to the work, even with clients who have experienced significant trauma. Story represents Narrative Therapy and my own writing, which help me to find truth and beauty in client’s stories. Solidarity comes from the practitioner community that I belong to, my lifeboat of support. I meet with like-minded practitioners regularly, through group supervision and collaborative practice groups. Having a therapeutic community sustains my practice, keeps me grounded and bridges the isolation of clinical work.

Sand Tray is a lovely and powerful expressive art therapy which evolved from approaches used with children, who tend to prefer playing in the sand to sitting still and who may not have the language to describe their experiences. I use sand tray mainly with teens and adults, as an adjunct to talk therapy. Guiding and witnessing them in constructing their inner worlds in the sand, using miniature figures, objects from nature and art materials. It appeals to visual, right-brained dominant clients but even the most concrete thinkers get into it and appreciate the tangibility of constructing their worlds rather than just talking about them.

Narrative Therapy is a branch of counselling informed by postmodern philosophy and social work. Each client is the hero of their unique story, and therapy is about re-authoring that narrative to be more in keeping with their values. Often, this entails identifying and stepping outside the boxes of our socially constructed realities in order to make conscious choices about their influence. Sand Tray and Narrative Therapy are a powerful combination. Clients gain insight into their relationships by externalizing the people and things in their lives and moving them around in three-dimensional space. Experiential processing enriches the telling of their own story, drawing upon the metaphors, meaning and symbolic language generated in sand tray. I do not interpret the worlds of my clients. The collaborative stance of Narrative therapy keeps the story explorative and empowering.

In processing my own experience of clinical work, I use sand tray in combination with reflective writing as a window into my psyche, a soul garden, and a storyboard for generating creative possibilities.

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *