sand tray

Sand Tray Therapy:  An Expressive Arts Therapy in Austin, Texas

At Relationships Matter Therapy- Austin, our licensed clinicians use Sand Tray Therapy- An alternative approach to talk therapy for adults, adolescents, and children to express and process their thoughts and feelings when words alone are not enough. 

Sand tray therapy is a method which can be used to facilitate healing in adults, adolescents, and children, allowing them to express their thoughts and feelings when words alone are not enough. In addition to its therapeutic use, sand tray can be a tool for personal growth and the development of creativity.

A sand tray therapist’s office is equipped with a specially proportioned sand tray with a blue interior, water and a large collection of miniatures, including human figures, fantasy and folklore figures, animals, buildings, objects from nature, vehicles, and others. The miniatures represent all of the elements of life-the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, the comforting, the frightening, the happy and the sad. The therapist, who has been specially trained in the use of the sand tray, provides an accepting environment in which the client is invited to create a world in the tray using the sand and miniatures.

Though some of the people with whom I have worked express concerns that they are not creative enough to use the sand tray technique, creativity is not a requirement. There is no right or wrong way to build a world in the sand. Some people use only sand or sand and water, though most include miniature objects in creating their worlds. After the client has finished building, she or he tells the therapist about the world, sometimes making up a story about it. Together the client and therapist then discuss the ways in which what has been experienced in the sand relates to the client’s life.

sand tray

How Does Sand Tray Therapy Work?

People think not only in words but in images. The use of the sand and miniatures activates this nonverbal manner of thinking, allowing the client to express images, emotions, perceptions, and conflicts about which they may not be able to talk. New solutions to emotional struggles can be experimented with through the “play.”

The meaning of the work in the sand tray emerges as the client shares the world with the therapist. Through the use of the sand tray, emotional struggles which previously were not conscious or could not be talked about are brought into awareness so that they can be understood and resolved. An increased capacity for self-expression, self-awareness and communication can be developed through the use of sand tray.

Who Can Benefit from Sand Tray Therapy?

The use of sand tray is very effective with children who are not yet mature enough to express complex thoughts and feelings. Most children take to the use of the sand tray very readily.

However, sand tray therapy is also a powerful therapeutic tool for adolescents and adults, with whom it can be used along with verbal therapy. Working in the sand tray allows clients to move to a deep level more quickly than they might when relying on words alone. One might compare the world created in the sand tray to a waking dream.

In my clinical work, I have found sand tray therapy particularly helpful with adults and teenagers when they are “stuck” in verbal therapy. Using the sand and the miniatures can open the way to feelings which we have been unable to reach by talk alone. For people who tend to rely too much on their intellect to the exclusion of their emotion, struggle with perfectionism, have a history of trauma or loss, or have unresolved family issues, the use of the sand tray can be especially effective. Sand tray therapy can also be employed in counseling families or couples.

The Neuroscience & Benefits of Sand Tray Therapy


Sand tray therapy is brain-informed and research-based.   Much of sand tray work is non-directive play therapy work, which has been repeatedly proven to be evidenced-based.  Sand tray therapy uses all of the senses, which encourages the brain to be more integrated and form more neurons.  More neurons yields healthier brain function, which yields higher levels of development in skills such as empathy and insight.  Sand tray therapy also allows for the left and right hemispheres of the brain to be better connected, again promoting an integrated brain.  Sand tray therapy is a RICH experience and often taps into the subconscious.  Since the brain processes images first and then attaches language to it, sand tray therapy maneuvers around the defenses people may create in the cognitive parts of the brain. 

Sand Tray Therapy Can Help You Gain A New Perspective On Your Life. See Your World In A Brand New Way.

A Way to Process Feelings, Gain Insight, and Promote Healing.

Want a therapy approach that doesn’t require talking the whole session? Our trained clinicians can use sand tray therapy to help you express and process your thoughts and feelings without words.

Wondering what a Sand Tray Therapy session is like? Watch the video below to find out.

“Sand tray can be an embodied conversation between our inner world and outer awareness, held and witnessed by another. Because of the tactile experiences of the sand and minatures and the symbolic nature of the figures, we have the opportunity to make contact with implicit memories that have no words.

We follow our body’s guidance in arranging the sand and allowing the minatures to choose us. It is a right-centric process that allows us to let go of meaning-making in favor of following our felt sense and behavioral impulse. Meaning may arrive later, but we at least begin, as best we can, without expectation to give our inner world the most freedom we can.”
-Bonnie Badenoch