By: Natalie Hutson, M.A., L.P.C.
Sandtray therapy is a creative arts approach to working with eating disorders. Within the sandtray environment, the therapeutic healing process occurs naturally, enabling the patient to freely express or re-live experiences and emotions without judgment, interruption, or criticism. Patients arrange and symbolically transform objects in ways that foster and promote therapeutically positive changes in their lives. Individuals with eating disorders commonly feel they have little or no control over their lives and thus take control over something they can-food, weight, exercise, or body shape. Sandtray therapy allows patients to have total control of the action of therapy and to experience a sense of their own power. Sandtray provides patients the opportunity for self-exploration and self-expression, increasing their self-awareness and acceptance. Through this self-awareness and acceptance, patients are able to integrate, and filter through, the opposing messages they receive from their environment and reconcile their own true experiences.
Sandtray therapy is usually done adjunctively to talk therapy, which carries the interpretive aspects of the psychotherapeutic work. The heart of sandtray therapy lies in allowing the inner self to guide one’s choices, and then it allows one to listen to the message one is giving oneself about creating, overcoming, and completing a phase of growth and healing. Through the process of sandtray therapy, patients experience healing through a growing sense of self-control, empowerment, and safety. Within this calming and safe environment, patients become more creative, confident, and expressive. Sandtray therapy allows patients to express overwhelming experiences and feelings symbolically in a caring relationship, promoting healing.