Theme: Transitioning, coping with middle school, mastery
Recommended Ages: 12-14
Goal: To teach or improve coping skills
Materials: Lid of a rectangular box; wrapping paper, scissors, glue; sand; cut-out illustrations and/or drawings; miniatures
The beginning a new school year in a new school is one of the major “transitional milestones” in life (Martin, Nejad, Colmar and Liem). Transitioning from elementary to middle school, when peer acceptance moves to the forefront, is particularly meaningful for an individual. The universal fear of being rejected by one’s peers may be a contributing factor to social anxiety (Erath, Flanagan & Bierman) and impacts adjustment to middle school. Other issues may include adjusting to multiple class changes, increased academic pressure, and changes in peer group. Play therapy and, in particular, sandplay may be an effective tool for working with preteens experiencing these and other difficulties associated with transitioning into middle school.
This unique approach to sand tray work, which allows the client to maintain their scene until they return to the next session, can be very useful with this age group. It not only provides the therapeutic benefits of working in a sand tray, but also the tactile and mastery experience of constructing one’s own tray/world over time, as they learn to navigate and adapt to their new social environment.
Building the sand tray:
• Use the lid of a rectangular box.
• Cover the box lid with wrapping paper.
• Fill the box lid with sand.
• Ask the client to select miniatures, cut-out illustrations, and/or drawings.
• Ask the client to build/discuss the scene, and save the scene intact until next session. At the next session ask the client to make any changes needed from the previous session.
• Save this new sandtray until next session and again ask the client to make any necessary changes.
• Taking photos or making a diagram can help the counselor and client discuss changes from one session to the next.
Many play therapists such as Homeyer and Sweeney (2011) highlight the importance of “leaving the sandtray intact…to maintain the scene in the client’s mind” until after the client leaves. The act of offering preteens the option of building and saving their tray/world may ease the distress of feeling they have limited input into what goes on around them.
For some clients, the act of using one’s hands in the creative process is more important than what is actually being created. Therefore another option is all the client to draw the miniatures they would like to use in the sand. As Jung noted: “often the hands know how to solve a riddle that the mind has wrestled with in vain,” (in Capacchione). By incorporating the body in the therapeutic process, thoughts and feelings not previously accessed may rise to the surface.
Armstrong, S. (2009). Sandtray therapy: A humanistic approach. Dallas, TX: Lucid Press.
Capacchione, L. (2001). The art of emotional healing. Boston, MA: Shambala Publications.
Erath, S., Flanagan, K., & Bierman, K. (2007). Social anxiety and peer relations in early adolescence: Behavioral and cognitive factors. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 35, 405-416.
Homeyer, L. & Sweeney, D. (2011). Sandtray therapy: A practical manual, 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge.
Martin, A., Nejad, H., Colmar, S., & Liem, G.A. (2013). Adaptability: How students’ responses to uncertainty and novelty predict their academic and non-academic outcomes.
Journal of Educational Psychology, 105, 728-746.