Exploring “Sand Tray Therapy” – By Dr. Phyllis & Rev. Carrol Davis

Carrol Davis Sand Tray

Exploring the many tools of recovery can be very confusing. Sorting through the many different kinds of therapies available as well as the therapists that practice these arts is a study in and of itself. There are many different tools therapists use depending on their training and education. Sand Tray Therapy employs an eclectic approach combining the use of many disciplines: behavior modification, play therapy, gestalt, psychotherapy, family systems, trauma resolution, and addiction. The more models the therapist is trained to use the more effective the Sand Tray Therapy.


Sand Tray Therapy
is a technique used to help clients resolve issues hidden from their conscious awareness. Examples of persons that might seek help for hidden issues might be:

IMGSand tray 10I have been in recovery for alcoholism, drug addiction for years, working a solid program, and yet:

  • I can not stop yelling at the kids.
  • I keep getting into destructive relationships.
  • We fight over trivial things.
  • I act out sexually.
  • I want to resolve my issues prior to marriage.
  • I keep relapsing. Why?
  • My marriage is still in trouble.
  • I am depressed and anxious.
  • I recently developed an eating disorder.

Sand Tray Therapy helps to encourage hidden emotions of sadness, fear, and anger to surface revealing the source of the pain. Once the memory has surfaced, the therapist can use other tools and techniques to help the client resolve the trauma and bring closure to the issue.

First, the client focuses on the issue they want to resolve. They talk briefly about the issue and the problems they are experiencing. Next the therapist prays for wisdom, guidance and revelation to resolve the problem.

IMGSand tray 15 IMGSand tray 14The actual technique involves the client’s choosing from hundreds of figures the ones they are drawn to. They may be repulsed by the figure, happy, sad, glad, or fearful. They may not even know why they noticed the figure out of hundreds of others. When the client feels they have chosen all of the figures they need for this particular exercise, they begin to make the sand tray.

IMGSandtray 1The figures are place in the tray and moved around at the client’s whim until they feel complete. Sometimes the figures are buried and resurrected. Sometimes the figures go through a process of what appears to be fighting, celebrating, eating, sleeping, etc. Whatever action the client takes in working with the figures and the sand is okay. The therapist only observes and takes notes for processing later.

Working in the sand tray can evoke strong emotions and memories. We have found that it works well with clients that are very cognitive, and trying to rationalize and justify negative experiences, as well as with those clients that have no memory of their past, clients with speech and language difficulties, both children and adults.

This technique has been used in our practice to uncover and resolve issues of physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse. One client resolved many years of guilt over a spouse’s death. Another client remembered and resolved an issue of being kidnapped that was out of her conscious awareness and was creating marital difficulties. Marital conflicts have been resolved and many issues of abuse.

IMGSand tray 12An unusual and effective technique, Sand Tray Therapy should only be utilized by clinicians trained in this area and family systems work. Different from many therapeutic techniques, we focus on problem resolution at the heart or root cause of the issue and find that sand tray is very effective for resolution focused therapy.

Pray for wisdom and discernment as you sort through the many disciplines and therapeutic tools available for your recovery, “It works if you work it.” God bless.

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