Sandtray Therapy Introduction For Parents and Counselors

I love using Sandtray Therapy with my clients. I learned about sandtray therapy as a graduate student during my internship with domestic violence victims. I find that most of my clients (even adults!) are drawn to it, and it fascinates me every time to see how it brings out issues that many people were not aware before how much it impacted them. I wanted to introduce you to my colleague, Amy Flaherty to give you an introduction to what sandtray therapy is, how to learn the process of sandtray therapy, and what to ask for if you are a parent of a child looking for more information, or an adult seeking therapy.

Tell Us About Yourself

My name is Amy Flaherty and I’m a Licensed Psychological Examiner-Independent in Northeast Arkansas. I have an unusual license through the psychology board in Arkansas that allows me do both psychological testing and counseling. I’m also a Registered Play Therapist. I have been in private practice at True Hope Counseling since 2007. My ideal clients are kids, teens, and those who feel alone and without hope. My passion, far and away, is sandtray therapy.

How did you find out about sand tray therapy?

 I fell in love with sandtray therapy when I did my first training several years ago. I had a weekend where I had to take an introduction to sandtray course as part of my training to be a play therapist. This was my “road to Damascus” moment. After doing this training, I KNEW I found the tool I had been looking forward to access that stuff with clients that you just can’t get with words- the early trauma or subconscious material that runs our lives, both as kids and as adults.


What is sandtray therapy?

Sandtray therapy is a way of working with your whole brain using the tools of sand and miniatures. It’s fun, easy to do, and non-threatening but oh so powerful. The instructions are to place the miniatures (which are just small items- anything in the world from houses to jewels) in the sand to represent your world as the client. With little ones, they do this without instruction because they have the natural protection of the umbrella of play. Kids gravitate towards the sand almost every session and adults find it is a way to access feelings and thoughts they were not able to put into words previously.


Who is it for? What problems does it treat?

Sandtray therapy is for every age. The beauty is that it will work with a three year old and a ninety three year old.

The brain will get accomplish what it needs through the tools of the sand and miniatures and the safe environment the therapist provides. It has been shown to be effective with a wide range of diagnoses and issues, from learning problems and behavior difficulties to dementia.


What happens during a sandtray therapy session?

Sandtray sessions look very different with different ages. With children who have not developed abstract thought yet, they play in the sand and tell stories about what is happening, which may or not be related to what is literally happening in their world. It may look on the outside that the child is “just playing” but the brain is working hard to integrate all of the feelings and thoughts that are coming together through the story telling in the sand tray. All of the five senses are used which promotes integration of the brain. The more integration you get the higher level of insight, morality, and empathy. My job in the sandtray session with a child is to reflect what is happening in the sandtray and hold the safe space so that whatever comes out in the sandtray is understood and validated.


With teenagers and adults, the sandtray process tends to be much more static. When they are directed to make a tray representing their world, they will place objects representing parts of their life, both real and metaphorical. For example, the miniature of the two-faced man may represent an ex-husband or a boss.

Through the making of the tray and the use of their hands, the right brain is accessed, which is the part of the brain where our feelings, emotions, early memories and trauma lie. Through the processing or telling the story of the sandtray, the client is able to access those parts of the right brain that may have not been assessable just through talk therapy. The interweaving of both parts of the brain is the power behind the sandtray. I’ve seen one sandtray session equal three to four regular talk therapy session in terms of progress for the client.

What does brain integration mean?

Brain integration happens when the different parts of the brain are all used at the same time. Before the brain is integrated, the different parts of the brain are all doing their assigned functions without really communicating with each other. When the whole brain communicates, then integration occurs. The more information that is shared between the different parts of the brain, the greater the integration. The greater the integration, the greater the chance for the higher level skills to develop, such as empathy, insight and morality. Before the brain is able to integrate through methods such as sandtray, it is like putting together a puzzle with only half of the picture available. You can put the puzzle together, but only with the parts that you have available

How do you explain sandtray therapy to parents? To your clients?

With parents or clients who may be skeptical of sandtray, I explain it in terms of neuroscience- how using objects can help us access parts of our stories that we may not be aware of or just aren’t ready to face. I explain that it is a tool that also helps me as a therapist to more fully understand the client’s world and gain a better perspective on how I can help.

For children, very little explanation is needed. They usually just say, “Sand!” and start putting miniatures in the sand tray.


Are there special training or certification a sand tray therapist goes through?

Currently, no special certifications are legally required to do sandtray therapy. In spite of this, it is only ethical to use techniques and tools we have been trained in as therapists. I recommend at least a two day experiential training in sandtray to obtain a good understanding of not only the what of sandtray but really the WHY as well. I’ve seen the power of sandtray be able to heal others; however, its power can also be dangerous if not used properly. I’ve heard stories from other therapists of those who have actually caused harm and even suicidal behaviors from not understanding the power of the sandtray. Some things are repressed because they are scary, so once the sandtray reveals these, we as therapists need to be able to handle what comes up through the sandtray.

To help with training therapists in the sandtray method with quality, brain-informed trainings, I am launching a new training program, the Southern Sandtray Institute. Trainings will be conducted in a step-up format ensuring that the basics are learned well before advanced content is given. The certification of Registered Integrative Sandtray Therapist (RIST) will also be provided to those who choose to do advanced trainings and individual case consultations.


If I’m a parent of a child or a potential client interested in sand tray How do I find a counselor who does that?


If you are interested in your child using sandtray therapy, look for a play therapist. Almost all play therapists use sandtray therapy in their work. If you are an adult or teenager looking for a therapist who uses sandtray, ask any potential therapists if they use any experiential therapies. Most therapists who are into sandtray will have this featured on their website. Most who do one training fall in the love with the method and will feature it as a specialized technique.

editedAmy F HeadshotIMG_1535
For More Information about Amy and her Counseling Services Visit True Hope Counseling

Amy is launching a new sandtray training company coming October 8, 2014. For more information about training visit Southern Sandtray I can’t wait to see it!

What’s your experience with sandtray therapy? Tell about your experience in the comments below ↓

6 Therapeutic Interventions for Children and Adolescents Involved in Cyber-Bullying; Interview with Holli Kenley Part 2


Holli Kenley
Holli Kenley

Last post I Interviewed Holli Kenley about her book, Cyber Bullying No More, and she gave so many good tips for therapists and parents I decided to write two posts. Today I want to focus on tips for therapists who are working with children and adolescents who have experienced cyber bullying. To read information about how parents can support their kids, visit “Cyber Bullying No More!, Parenting a High Tech Generation” Part 1: Tips for Parents with Holli Kenley.

What are some reasons you think kids use the Internet to bully other kids?


There are two main reasons why cyber bullying is so prevalent.

  • Technology provides ‘anonymity’ for the cyber bully. This is really important. The cyber bully is distanced from the victim (no face to face connection), detached from the real word (identity protected) and disinhibited from the harm or hurt being inflicted on the victim. Thus, the cyber bully feels disconnected from the real world and his/her actions.
  • Technology provides a “huge power differential” between the victim and the bully. The bully is able to effectuate his/her agenda with ease. An expansive audience and limitless victimization reinforce the bullying behavior, and the bully is emboldened because of the lack of accountability and overwhelming factors of reinforcement.  Thus, the cyber bully feels empowered.

Research suggests that the main motivations for cyber bullying include:

  • Revenge or retaliation
  • Power and control
  • Cool and fun
  • Use as a defense mechanism (insecure, angry, jealous, mean)

It is interesting to note that Albert Bandura’s current research suggests that cyber bullying is a behavioral manifestation of the ‘process of moral disengagement,’ largely learned and reinforced by the factors of anonymity and power differential.  Group work focusing on the areas of restorative justice, with a heavily embedded empathy component is strongly recommended.

How do you feel a therapist could help a child who is involved in Cyber bullying? Either as a victim or the bully?

Many children take on the roles of both cyber victim and cyber bully (cyber bully victim).  It is important to assess for both roles and their involvement in each.  During the intake process, it is extremely important to conduct a thorough 5Axis Diagnosis, paying special attention to Axis I – Clinical Disorders. Also, with both victims and bullies, assess for thoughts of suicide and homicide (Duty to Report and Duty to Warn).

Here are three interventions for each.


For a child who is being cyber victimized, remember the 3 “S”:


  • Safety Net – Implement safety measures and develop a step-by-step plan for the victim who is in danger of harming him/herself or others (victims are more like to carry a weapon than bullies). Pay attention to levels of depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behaviors. Implement technological safety measures as well. Put a strong ‘net’ around this child!
  • Support – Believe and validate the child and his/her feelings. Listen, empathize, and develop a support system for the child. Let the victim know that he/she is not alone.
  • Social Skills Development – Many victims are feeling powerless. Either through individual or group counseling, working on assertive communication and self- empowerment skills is extremely important.


For a child who is cyber bullying, remember the 3 “C’s”:


  • Consequences –Remember that the goal with the cyber bully is to change the behavior. Research suggests that punishment by itself does not work, nor does solely taking the technology away. There should be appropriate consequences that correlate with degree of severity of bullying. (One exception would be if there is a duty to report given the laws within each community or state.) Making meaningful amends to the victim or acts of restorative justice are highly recommended.
  • Contract  – A Family Online Agreement should be implemented at once with clear guidelines on appropriate use, rules, and expectations. Whether one is in place or not, there are grounds for restricting usage of technology for a designated period of time. During this time, the child must demonstrate accountability and responsibility for his/her behaviors. Frequent monitoring is mandatory.
  • Counseling – It is extremely important to perform a ‘needs assessment’ with the cyber bully. The motivations for bullying vary widely; and thus, effective interventions do as well. Research suggests that group counseling with an emphasis on empathic skill building is highly successful in reversing bullying behaviors.


Tell about other publications that are available, or that you are working on

Resources on Cyber Bullying:

  • One of the best online sites for references is Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) – . There are all kinds of tools, downloads, materials, etc. available for counselors, therapists, educators, and families.
  • Another excellent reference is Cyber Kids, Cyber Bullying, Cyber Balance (Trolley & Hanel, 2010).


Other Publications by Holli Kenley


  • The PMS Puzzle: a recovery book based on my own struggle with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.
  • Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace With, a self-help book addressing recovery from all kinds of betrayal.
  • two e-singles:  Betrayal-Proof Your Relationship: What Couples Need to Know and Do
  • Cyber Bullying no More: Parenting A High Tech Generation.
  •  My newest book is Mountain Air: Relapsing and Finding the Way Back…One Breath at a Time, addressing recovery from any type of relapse.
  • I conduct workshops about cyber bullying to parents and at educational workshops and at therapeutic/recovery conferences.
  • Recently, a small group of community members and I participated in a two day Valley Wide Anti-Bullying Outreach Event which will take place August 29th– 30th , 2013 in my hometown of Prescott , AZ.  As part of the event, we will screaned the “Bully Movie’ and we had guest speaker Kirk Smalley, whose family was profiled in the movie, speak to several schools and at an open community forum. Mr. Smalley’s organization – Stand For The Silent – is an international movement of change – an outgrowth in remembrance of his son Ty, who took his own life at 11 years old after years of relentless bullying.

I started this interview by saying that cyber bullying (and bullying) is a family issue, a community issue, and a societal issue.  Yes, parents must do their part, but so must we all.   Thank you Holli for your time and expertise on the important subject of Cyber Bullying. To purchase Cyber Bullying No More, please visit: or other major and independent book sellers. To read more about Holli and her work, please visit her website

Sandtray Therapy 101

filley imageI recently attended a wonderful 2-day sandtray workshop with Denise Filley at Marietta Counseling Center for Children and Adults in Marietta, GA. I have been using sandtray work with my clients since I began this journey of becoming a play therapist, this was the most comprehensive training on sandtray work that I have attended. We covered a range of topics including materials, history of sandtray therapy, and also different perspectives of using the sandtray.

This workshop was highly experiential, including practicing with a partner, group activities, and also individual sandtrays.My favorite part of the training was a partner activity where we did mutual story telling in the sandtray. I had the privilege of practicing that activity with a co-worker, and we took turns picking a figure and adding a story line. I found that after this weekend workshop, we created about 6-7 different types of sandtrays, and I stayed with the same partner throughout the training. At the end of the training we had a larger group tray with about 4-5 different members. We all took turns adding figures until we thought the tray was finished. I found it to be very process oriented, and by the end of the training felt more relaxed and had relieved some stress that I had been experiencing at the time, in addition to feeling like I build some positive relationships with other therapists.

The staff at Marietta Counseling showed professionalism and also hospitality by providing breakfast in the morning, snacks and beverages throughout the training, answering questions, encouraging networking, and also the time they spent setting up all of the sandtray figures!

After this training I felt prepared to go back to work and utilize the techniques we learned right away. I look forward to practicing and increasing my experience using sandtray therapy. I hope to attend future trainings led by Denise Filley, as well as held at Marietta Counseling Center for Children and Adults.


Denise Filley’s Workshop Schedule

Information about Marietta Counseling Center for Children and Adults

Favorite Therapeutic Activities for Children, Adolescents and Families: Practitioners Share their Most Effective Interventions


lowenstein_2006I am always looking for free or low cost resources, as I am a therapist on a budget (and I am sure there are many of you out there like me!). With so much info on the web it’s hard to narrow down what’s good, what’s not, and how I can find the resources I need for my clients without spending a fortune. That’s why I am soooo glad that I was sent this free copy of Favorite Therapeutic Activities for Children, Adolescents and Families: Practitioners Share their Most Effective Interventions, Edited By Liana Lowenstein, MSW, RSW, CPT-S.

This ebook is a compilation of over 100 pages of techniques submitted by multiple therapists. It is divided in to different sections: 1. Engagement and Assessment Interventions, 2. Treatment Interventions, and 3. Termination Interventions. Each intervention lists goals of the intervention, materials, advanced preparation, and detailed instructions. As I read through some of the descriptions, I found them easy to follow and detailed enough that I felt that I could easily follow the intervention. The list of contributors includes 35 different therapists, many of which are authors/presenters themselves. The best part is, that the interventions come from various treatment models, including family, sandtray, and more directive, and also integrative models. I love this, as I pull from various theories myself, and therapists from different backgrounds will all be able to glean from this book due to the wide range of ideas. I recommend this book to any child/adolescent/family therapist looking for creative ideas for their clients, as it is FREE!!! and FULL of creative interventions. What do you have to lose? I will be using this resource for a long time, and can’t wait to try some of the ideas with my clients.


Liana Lowenstein is a presenter and also author of multiple books including:

1. Paper Dolls & Paper Airplanes: Therapeutic Exercises for Sexually Traumatized Children (with Crisci & Lay)

2. Creative Interventions for Troubled Children & Youth

3. Creative Interventions for Children of Divorce.

4. Creative Interventions for Bereaved Children.

5. NEWEST PUBLICATION: Creative Family Therapy Techniques: Play, Art, and Expressive Activities to Engage Children in Family Sessions


She has edited: Volumes One and Two of Assessment and Treatment Activities for Children, Adolescents, and Families: Practitioners Share Their Most Effective Techniques, and will be launching Volume Three this year.


To sign up for the free ebook, visit Liana Lowenstein’s website and sign up for her free monthly newsletter. You can also view her upcoming workshops.