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.

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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 ↓

Angel Donor: Helping Children through a Liver Transplant Interview with Author Jennifer Gladen

AD300-1I had the great opportunity to win a copy of Jennifer Gladen’s book, Angel Donor. I am excited to add this book to my collection because I did not have a story on this topic.


“Olivia never asked to have a disease like Biliary Atresia. It made her liver sick and only a transplant will make her better. After waiting several months and close to losing hope, she gets the call she’s been waiting for. The journey of her live is about to begin.”

Interview With Jennifer Gladen:

Hi Jill. Thanks for taking the time to discuss Angel Donor with your readers.

What inspired you to write Angel Donor?

My daughter, Jackie, was born with a liver disease called Biliary Atresia and later needed a liver transplant. She was in and out of hospitals since she was three weeks old. I remember wishing there was something I could read to her to help her get through these times. That’s when the idea for Angel Donor was born. It wasn’t until years later that I was able to bring myself to write it.

What age group is it appropriate for?

Angel Donor fits well with Pre-K and the primary grades.

What were some of the challenges with writing on this topic?

It was very hard to write the truth about Biliary Atresia, liver disease and transplants but at the same time not be too scary for children. Especially since this book is meant to be comforting and something children can identify with.

What is Biliary Atresia?

Biliary Atresia is a childhood liver disease. Children are born with a liver that has blocked bile ducts, which in turn scars the liver and causes infection and more liver damage. Because of liver damage and the bile ducts not draining properly, jaundice (a yellowing of the skin) occurs. Without treatment, the liver can fail.

How is it diagnosed and what kind of treatment would a child with this issue need?

Usually Biliary Atresia is diagnosed when a baby is just a few weeks old. They are jaundiced and don’t eat well. If Biliary Atresia is suspected, the doctor will order blood tests, X-rays, and a liver biopsy.

There is no cure for Biliary Atresia. The initial treatment is to perform a surgery to restore the bile flow to the bile ducts outside the liver. Some patients do well with this treatment but most children with this diagnosis need a liver transplant because gradual liver damage continues to develop.

How can this affect a child and his or her family emotionally?

I think different children handle this situation in different ways. They feel a range of emotions. There are a bunch of hospital visits, emergencies and a host of experiences, which can make a child anxious. For example, my daughter Jackie didn’t like the highway for the longest time because when we went on the highway it usually meant we were going to the hospital. However, in our experience my daughter seemed to understand the “bad stuff”, i.e: needles, IVs, etc were to help get her better. My advice is during hospital stays, take advantage of your Child Life Specialists ( ) They help the child handle what is going on psychologically when a child is in the hospital.

In my book Angel Donor, Olivia is painting a picture in the playroom. Usually a large playroom like that is run by Child Life specialists. My daughter knows many Child Life Specialists. They helped her understand the medical procedures. Jackie used pretend play where she put an IV into her doll. Her favorite, however, was painting and art. All these activities make the hard times easier to deal with.

The emotional effects on the rest of the family are just as tough. Parents and siblings are worried about the child. Routines are disrupted. Parents of more than one child are torn between their responsibilities of being with the child in the hospital and being with the rest of their children.

What advice would you give to parents whose children need organ transplant?

I have a bunch of advice I’ve collected over the last ten years. The first is to ask, ask, ask. Ask questions when you don’t understand what is going on with your child. Also if you research online about the disease, be sure to talk to your child’s doctor. Not everything we see online is 100% fact. And your doctor knows your child.

Get support. This is what kept me sane 🙂 . There are groups and websites designed to offer support, information and advice. Again, the information is not mean to replace your doctor’s advice. Always go to them when there is a problem or a question about your child’s medical care. Having said that, these groups are filled with other parents who have “been there”.

Two of my favorite support websites (also listed in the back of Angel Donor) are: Children’s Liver Association for Support Services (CLASS KIDS) – and Liver Families –

What tips could you give a therapist on how to support a child and his or her family with this issue?

I think a therapist could do many of the things a Child Life Specialist might so, such as the medical play techniques or draw about their feelings. Jackie loved to pretend to put an IV in my arm. She continued doing that long after she came home from her hospital stays.

Where is Angel Donor available for purchase?

You can get Angel Donor by visiting:

Guardian Angel Publishing:


Barnes and Noble
You can also order autographed copies at my website.

What is your blog/website address?

What other books have you written?

A Star in the Night was my first book. It is about David, who makes his way home on Christmas Eve and sees this is no ordinary night. Accompanied by a shimmering star and some tough decisions, David encounters three experiences that will change his view of Christmas forever.

Teresa’s Shadow – Teresa’s Shadow isn’t just a story about bedtime and monsters. It’s about fear, friendship and kindness. One night at bedtime Teresa discovers Corky, a furry visitor, in her room. Corky is no ordinary monster. In fact he seems just as scared as Teresa. Teresa soon realizes she must help Corky get home.
When you are not writing, what else do you do?
I work full time as a teacher at a child care center in addition to taking care of my three children.

What writing projects are you working on right now?

I have 2 other books I’m finishing up. Stay tuned…

Books by Jennifer Gladen
Books by Jennifer Gladen

The Worry Wars: An Anxiety Workbooks for Kids and Their Helpful Adults!


Worry Wars cover-smallI receive frequent referrals for children who experience some type of anxiety, and I found a wonderful resource by Paris Goodyear-Brown titled, The Worry Wars: An Anxiety Workbooks for Kids and Their Helpful Adults!. In this book there are three stories addressing three different types of anxiety children might struggle with ; “Daniel the Dragon Slayer,” “Polly vs. Princess Perfect,” and “Oscar and Clyde, the Clinging Octupus.” The illustrations are black and white color-book style and fun, so you could easily have your child color the pages as you read. After that, there are many techniques, activities and reproducible pages that therapists can use, to help their clients cope with anxiety. Some of the activities include shields, bubble blow, and my favorite, the worry worms. I have used the stories over and over with children. They are really helpful metaphors explaining anxiety in a way that children can grasp. I would recommend this resource to others who help children work through anxiety issues, and look forward to trying other recourses by Paris Goodyear-Brown. You can purchase this book, other resources, read her biography, and find out about her counseling services at her website, Paris and Me

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.

Stop It Now!

I just wanted to share this new link, which I have also posted under the Parent Resources page. Stop It Now is a great resource about sexual abuse, warning signs to look for and ways to prevent sexual abuse and speak up for your self.

Play Therapy Works!

I stumbled across this video describing the value of play therapy for children who experience emotional and behavioral issues. Check it out, and also check out the Association for Play Therapy website for more info on play therapy and to find a play therapist

View a Play Room

You may be wondering what a play therapy room looks like. Click on this link for the University of North Texas Center for Play Therapy and experience what a play therapy room can typically look like. Their website also is a good resource for parents who may have questions or concerns about play therapy. You may also view photos of a play room from Pam Dyson’s website. There are links to her website and blog on the right hand side of this page.

Another Children’s Trauma Book??

What kind of book is it? Is it a picture book? I am asked. Well, yes, but…

It is not just a picture book! It is interactive. It has activities, like drawing and storytelling so that the child can interact with the main character, Sam. He or she will feel like they are helping him learn how to cope, all the while learning how to cope with their own situation. Also, I have included a therapist guide in the back to encourage further reading about children, play, and trauma. It will also show theoretical background for the book itself, and answer some of the questions adults may have.

Where The Story Began

“Sam Feels Better Now!: An Interactive Story for Children” began in traumatology class at Georgia State University last summer. Our class was asked to create a project that related to the principles of trauma therapy and could be practical for others to use. My goal in creating this story was to incorporate my first loves, play therapy, art, and expressive therapies with these principles. The story has gone through several revisions, and I am excited to see its final form.