Psychotherapy for Children & Adolescents with Sandtray

Liz Bunting, Psychotherapist With SandtrayChildhood may sometimes be looked back on by adults nostalgically as a happy time, however there are challenges children and adolescents face that can be confusing or distressing. Dealt with early and effectively these can be resolved, if not they can generate more stress and anxiety for the young person and their family. When a child or teenager is worried or upset they are more likely to withdraw or ‘act out’. This is the behaviour that parents, teachers or health professionals are likely to see and are an indicator that something isn’t okay in that young person’s experience.

Sandtray is used as a tool for exploration and expression, creating a ‘world’ or scene in the sand using miniatures, objects and figures which is guided by imagination and often reflects the unconscious or inner world. Using symbolism and metaphor facilitates safe exploration for the client and together client and therapist explore the relationship between the world created in the sand and the client’s inner world.

Liz Bunting, Psychotherapist With SandtraySandtray is a natural area of relaxation and the level of interaction makes it an effective tool for clients who are in a highly anxious state or find verbal expression difficult. This includes children who often find talking about their worries difficult as play is their natural form of communication and also young people, who may experience non verbal communication as less anxiety provoking. Sandtray is a technique that enables children and young people to convey their thoughts and feelings without words. Young people feel more at ease when they do talk while creating a sandtray world because they are relaxed and not feeling pressured to talk.

Children sometimes re-enact an event they have found difficult and this helps them makes sense of what has happened. As a young person uses sandtray and at times may talk, psychotherapy enables the child to come to an understanding of themselves and their experiences. By creating a scene in the sandtray reflecting a client’s life with obstacles or challenges, things buried or hidden depicted by symbols, figures and animals – themes can arise that really shift a person’s perspective or understanding of a situation or relationship. The young person is then able to work through this problem, easing their anxiety and increasing self confidence.


Liz Bunting, Psychotherapist With SandtraySome of the difficulties a child may experience may include:

  • Inability to concentrate at school
  • Trouble sleeping or nightmares
  • Loss or bereavement of a person or a pet
  • Bullying or issues around friendships
  • Extreme anger or tearfulness

When a child or young person is able to engage with therapy they are able to explore issues they are facing which helps in various ways:

  • To deal with emotionally difficult issues and learn ways of resolving them
  • Learn to function in a change of environment
  • Assist with developmental milestones
  • Help change their thinking and/or behaviour that is causing problems

Liz Bunting, Psychotherapist With SandtrayThe teenage years are a time of transition and there are a number of reasons for these. Changes are going on within the body, biological and hormonal changes are happening very quickly and outside in the environment with relationships with peers and parents, at school, home or work. It is also a time where a young person is forming their identity which amidst the flux of change can be confusing.

Adolescent psychotherapy can help explore these issues and help a young person through these issues with confidence. It often helps to focus less on talking and more on the use of creative media such as clay, painting or sand tray work.

Some of the difficulties you may experience as a teenager include:

  • Trouble with sleeping
  • Feeling anxious, tense, angry or tearful
  • Feeling like you don’t fit in or not knowing what you want to do
  • Finding it difficult to talk about your worries with your parents
  • Loss through bereavement, separation or divorce
  • Anxiety around school, exams, friendships, bullying
  • Issues around drugs, alcohol or sexual health
  • Making the transition from childhood to adulthood
  • Negotiating the difficult balance between the natural desire to become more involved with peers and less with parents
  • Learning to be able to communicate your needs and express your feelings in a way that maintains enough connection between you and your parents and at the same time reducing conflict.

Psychotherapy using sandtray is a way for an adolescent to tell their story and can help you to:

  • Understanding the reasons behind the way you feel
  • Cope with these feelings and find ways of expressing them
  • Improve relationships with friends or family members
  • Become more aware of yourself and the impact you have
  • Be and feel supported with setting goals and achieving them
  • Feel more able to communicate your thoughts and feelings to others


Issues Worked With

  • Abuse – emotional, physical & sexual
  • Anxiety
  • Grief & loss
  • Bullying
  • Domestic Violence
  • Exclusion from school
  • Imprisonment of family members
  • Low confidence & self esteem
  • Looked after children or in foster care
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Stress
  • Trouble Sleeping