Playing with sand was the ultimate therapy

By Caitriona McMahon

As many of you may know adult colouring and baking have played a huge role in my recovery to date. Why?

Well, these two innocent activities help bring me into the present moment when my mind would actually rather worry about the unimaginable.  Hands on attention to detail has a powerful way of showing us that it is okay not to think all day every day and that in fact being here now is . But what else can hands on craft or activity offer us?

In an effort to know more and try something new I booked in for my first Sandplay Therapy session. To be honest I wasn’t quiet sure what to expect but I was hoping it could offer another useful tool for my well-being toolbox.

I was delighted to find The Green Room Counselling with a vacant appointment, so without further a do it was set in stone, my first sand play therapy session.


A few days later, I was entering the therapist’s Anika Sparling’s room as an eager beaver.  It was a beautifully lit calming green space, shelves to the right, holding what seemed like millions of figurines, trays to the left with sand and a relaxed space to sit and talk.

Anika began by explaining what Sandplay Therapy was and that we could do a free tray or a directed tray, a wet tray or a dry tray. A free tray she went on to explain could be whatever I like and a directed tray could be used to resolve problems or explore my inner self.

As it was my first go, I opted for a free tray and I thought why not let the imagination go wild.  I was given a box for collecting figurines and as I was guided towards the shelving I started to freak out with excitement as I recognised some of the toys from my childhood.  I returned to the sand tray area, box full of goodies, ready to create who knows what.

A kind of childhood excitement rears its head when someone tells you there’s the water, to feel free to add some if you like and work away to create whatever you like.  De Vinci move over C Mac is in town.

Caitriona's sandplay masterpiece
Caitriona’s sandplay masterpiece


And so I began.  Hmmmm where shall I put this bridge I  thought… oh let’s not forget the dolphin, oh and the squirrel.  A short time later I had created a scene I often use for visualisation purposes to meditate and do ya know what? It was bizarre and strangely satisfying to physically see it laid out in front of me.

Everything I had visualised, the water, the trees, the animals, were all there – it felt like a dream.

This type of therapy is called Jungian sandplay and is based on image making.  It was created as a method that provides a way to connect with “deeper levels of experience,” according to a website devoted to the therapy.

After I explained I was finished with a look of achievement written all over my face, Anika sat beside me and asked a little about what was happening in the tray.  Over the next 20 minutes the way she translated what I had created blew me away. If I had paid a fortune teller or psychic I would have been overjoyed with the accuracy of the reading.

As Anika spoke and gave a little insight into what certain things meant in the tray, each one started to resonate at lightening speed.  How could she know that? From a toy? I had never told anyone that – it was amazing.

Sandplay creates a dialogue between the conscious and unconscious and it’s believed by those who practise the method, that it activates a healing process and the increasing development of an “individual sense of self.”

Sandplay was revealing what was buried in my unconscious and suddenly Anika could see what I couldn’t –  and things I never even knew existed were starting to come out.  That day I left therapy at ease, realising their was a reason I behave and respond in certain ways. I had a greater understanding of me.

There is not a doubt in my mind that sandplay therapy can benefit everyone. Whether you’re someone working through an unresolved issue or just need a space to let everything out, sandplay and The Green Room Counselling offer something unique.

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