Play therapy might involve building, arts and crafts activities, books, puppets, figurines, board games, or pretend games like house, restaurant, doctor, or dress-up. Sand tray therapy involves the use of symbols (small figurines, toys, shells, rocks, and other items), to build a world in the sand. Sand tray is different from play therapy in that it can be used with adults and teens as well as children of all ages. Play therapy and sand tray therapy might look a lot like just playing, so it is reasonable to wonder what makes play therapy or sand tray different from just playing.
Children often do not have the words or the understanding of their feelings to talk through what is going on for them. They may not be able to explain why they feel or act a certain way. In fact, many adults even struggle to answer these questions. At younger ages play really functions as a child’s way of expressing him or herself. Play is essentially words for kids. Play therapy and the sand tray offer a non-verbal way for children and even adolescents to process their feelings, their actions, and what is going on in their lives.
In building a world for sand tray whatever one feels is important can be included in the world, and the world could focus on any topic. Building and working inside this world may help to make sense of the world, to explore an issue without the fear of directly talking about it, and to feel more in control of a situation.