25 January 2017 00:00

Sand tray work is a well known play therapy technique that acts as a powerful cathartic tool for use with children, young people and adults. Over a number of years I've adapted it as a tool to work with in supervision.

Whenever I facilitate a sand tray session as supervision it conveys a certain mysterious quality for participants. What is it? What does it do? Having started working with sandtray as a supervision tool in 1993 I've developed and adapted it to work with individual students in practice education, in small group seminars and in professional mentor groups. There is a lot of information on line about how to set up sand tray work in therapy which can help you with sourcing tools, like the sand tray itself and the small objects and toys needed to do the work. I will add some links for you to look at at the end. But to get started let me explain what it is and why I think it can be adapted to thinking about cases and the situations social professionals face in a new way. In the sand tray exercise workers do not reflect in words but use a very quiet, safe space to facilitatie imagination, creativity and playfulness in the hope of bringing a sense of intutition or unconscious reactions to the surface of thinking.  One student who was very powerfully struck by the exercise said it also brought some 'fun' to her work as well! 

Sand tray work was first used in the 1930s. Margaret Lowenfeld was a psychiatrist who recognised the power of facilitating children to address trauma. She created play techniques that allowed children the freedom to explore whatever they wished. She discovered early on that children have amazing capacities to find their own 'stuckness' and move through it in their own way at their own pace. She was also one of the first clinicians to insist that this work was 'non-interpretive'. That is, the meanings belong to the child and work with the child starts from their understanding of what is happening, not from the 'professional'. Play provokes pretend and copied behaviour, that the child lives with. It also evokes a sense of fantasy for them to enact in the sand. A wonderful medium in can be molded, shaped and sifted through the fingers. Water can be poured on to create rivers, ravines and lakes. It's a space to create landscapes or places with small toys and objects. These are placed however the the participant wishes. To find out more about Margaret Lowenfeld go to the following link where you will find a video about her life and work:

Over the years I've developed the sand tray as a self-reflection exercise and as a supervision tool. I can facilitate the sand tray for small group supervision, to facilitate case supervision and as large group exercises. I've run the exercise at conferences for up to 20 people in workshops. It is such a versatile tool and once the exercise is described to participants it becomes a technique that belongs to them so that they can continue to develop it in their own work.

To find out more about the technique and how it can work please read my article. I am not able to publish it on the site but I can email copies for personal use. Contact me on the form at the bottom of the page if you would like me to do this.

Amas, D. (2012). We all love playing in the sand! Using sand play therapy in critical reflection with students in practice placement. The Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning, 7(2), 6-24.

Here is some feedback from participants who attended workshops and seminars I have facilitated:

Reflection is the most important part of social work, and the sand tray exercise, which appeared to be a bit of fun and an experiment, proved to be an exceptional tool for good reflection to take place.  I was a little sceptical and even slightly apprehensive about the idea, but it turned out to be a very worthwhile occupation and one I would happily repeat.

I was a bit skeptical at first and unsure I would feel the same as you described. However, I was very wrong! I was surprised at how powerful the activity was and I found it helpful to reflect on the real reasons I'm following the path to become a social worker.

A very powerful and revealing exercise - Thank you

I found the session very interesting and emotional. I was conserned it would be obvious and not require very much thought but in reality it was interestening how I became invested in the story and what impact it had. Very well organised in a very peaceful and safe environment.

It was a very surprising and emotional experience. One of the most powerful learning experiences I have encountered.

A very powerful exercise with unexpected results!

Thank you for a concise and informative session. A helpful tool that can be adaopted and applied to a range of groups. Excited about using it in supervision.

Article about sandtray supervision:

Amas, D. (2007). We all love playing in the sand! Using sand play therapy in critical reflection with students in practice placement. The Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning, 7(2), 6-24.

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