Where Words Can't Reach: A new way to use the sand tray in therapy, combining attachment theory, neuroscience and the Satir Transformation Systemic Therapeutic Model


About Me

I have been studying sand tray therapy for 20 years. In the process I have changed the traditional ways of working in the sand tray and have created a new revolutionary wonderful -deceptively simple way of using the sand tray.

Ph. D Research

I hold a Ph.D from Simon Fraser University. I have studied the impact in personal growth of training therapists in my approach called "Neuroscience and Satir in the Sand Tray". The results show how long and profound change can result from just two or three hours  of working in the sand tray. This work is applicable in chid and adult counselling.   now train internationally in this approach. 

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Do you have a sand tray in your therapy practice but you are not quite sure how to use it? I have written this book for anyone wanting to use the sand tray with clients. It is now out and available from my website, wherewordscannotreach.ca/my-book


+ View one page of over 200 pages in my book of practical ways to help clients transform their fears, sadness, anger and mistrust.


Figure 1- Child who insisted her mother stay in the classroom all day. Starting with the therapist placing the school in the sand tray.

Here is a case illustration of a 5-year-old girl. Following the case is a discussion of the Beliefs and Essential Elements of the Satir Model noted above

I had met with the parents prior to meeting the child. The presenting problem was that she could not be in school without her mother present all the time in the classroom. My hypothesis was that she was using all her resources to stay safe. She knew she needed to be safe even though to the logical eye she was safe. Her perception was that school was not safe unless her mother was in sight . Her mother created the safety. My work was to help this child feel safe at school without her mother present.

When I met with this particular child I invited her to make a picture in the sand tray. She was very tentative and cautious as she looked around the room. She was unable to choose anything from the shelves for an unusually long time. I then suggested that we play a game and that I put a figurine in the sand tray and then she put one in. (This seems to help children who are stuck for fear of making a mistake.) I knew that this child was having difficulties at school and her solution was to have her mother be in the classroom. Her solution to her fear of being separated from her mother seemed very effective for the child, but was becoming hugely inconvenient and stressful for the parent. The coping was the solution to the child’s sense of insecurity when separated from her mum. As I placed the school figurine into the sand tray, (figure 1) I asked the child if she could read the words above the clock. She could read the word ‘school’. At this point she had been in my room all of 10 minutes and did not know me other than what her mother had described to her. She knew only that she was coming to see me to help her to be happy at school even when her mom was not there.

The school is the external or interpsychic part of the child’s experience. As I placed it in the tray she then found two relatively huge dinosaurs at the entrance. (figure 2) The dinosaurs I hypothesize, represent her internal or intrapsychic iceberg of feelings and perceptions. So then I asked her, “How would it be to go to school when there are dinosaurs right outside?” She said it was scary. I ask, “So what could we do, to not make the school so scary with the dinosaurs?” Right away with few words she looked for some fencing and together we connected it all up. (figure 3 )She placed the circular white fence around the school in the tray. I ask her, “How is that for children to see that the school has a barrier between them and the dinosaurs? “ As we stay in the metaphor of the play we are creating a physical barrier around the school to create a safe place for children to learn. As she does this she introduces some people on a carriage. As I watch this I know that she is already moving towards an internal transformation because she is introducing the figurines to the new perspective of the school. Carefully I keep the discussion to the sand tray. I ask her if the children could go to school now that it was behind the barrier. She gently moved the dinosaurs away and replaced them with three deer and a zebra. Interestingly she placed the wolf inside the fence. (figure 4 ) asked her how come the dog-like animal was inside the fence. She said, “It was for protection”. So she transformed the external image of the school to one of being safe, which in turn changed the internal or intrapsychic iceberg of feelings and perceptions and the expectations that the dinosaur represented. (School is scary place without my mum, I feel scared and I expect to be scared without my mum when I am at school now changed to school is a safe place, I can go to school.) I asked her how she felt seeing that these children could go to school. She smiled. She said she felt better in her heart. I only saw her once again and she had already stated leaving her mother without any fuss.


Figure 2 how would it be to go to school with dinosaurs outside. What could we do to make it less scary for the children to be able to go to school?


Figure 3 Making school safe . “How is that for children to see that the school has a barrier between them and the dinosaurs? So now there is a fence around the school the children can come in the cariage.


Figure 4 How do the children feel now that school is safe from the dinosaurs? How do you feel now that these children feel safe going to school?


Register for a Workshop

I provide workshops that will help therapists and social workers, really be able to use their sand tray to its fullest.

I would love to train you in the use of the sand tray. It is a beautiful way of working with children and anyone else for that matter. My book is now out and it will help you learn even more about the wonderful world of the child, that the sand tray is able to access.

Come to my playroom in Fort Langley British Columbia and enjoy playing the sand tray. Learn how to use ways to use it with children and adults.

23253 Francis Ave, Fort Langley B.C. V1M 2R7
Email: fort.playroom@shaw.ca
Coffee, Tea and Vegetarian lunch provided. (We will have a short lunch) 
Cost $125
Restricted to six people, so sign up early

Registration Form

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