Sample Psychology Research Paper on Sandtray Theory


The theory envisages a therapy of using sand, tiny objects, and tray with water to construct emotions, perceptions, and ideas. The therapy emphasizes on dynamic qualities of patients to creatively construct personal experiences from play. Additionally, Sandtray therapy is supported by an already established relationship between the client and therapist and a tray. Essentially, the therapy allows children and adults to construct new ideas from already existing realities within their inner-self over a given period. The therapy is based on the theory explaining that instant healing is possible when patients examine their inner worlds. The therapy takes into account the ability of a child or an adult to non-verbally communicate his or her conscious and unconscious state to restructure and strengthen perceptions and ego. Sandtray therapy is anchored on play theory, and allows a patient to create scenes that form the basis of a reflection of personal life creating an opportunity to resolve conflicts, eliminate obstacles, and gain self-acceptance.

Traditional therapy theory and inception

Since its inception, Sandtray therapy has evolved and transformed how psychologists and medical practitioners conduct therapy sessions.  As revealed by Garrett (2017), Margaret Lowenfeld, a British pediatrician is believed to be the first medical professional to utilize the Sandtray therapy.  The inspiration to use this therapy came from a book that elaborated the importance of play as a method of promoting personal development for children and adults. Upon establishing a therapy room for children, Lowenfeld introduced two trays that according to Lee et al. (2018), contained sand and water respectively. Meanwhile, Lowenfeld placed another box containing small toys, paper, and miniature pieces of metal and colored jewels (Lee et al. (2018). The children in the therapy room began creating inner perceptions and emotions from the box and tray of sand. At that point, Lowenfeld discovered that Sandtray technique could present opportunity for a therapist to observe the inner perception and emotion as shown by a patient (Magnuson & Sangganjanavanich, 2011). This therapy was later modified to Sandtray play therapy anchored on play theoretical framework.

Progression to becoming a play therapy theory

The Sandtray therapy has progressed to be part of play therapy theory due to the need to provide client-centered services to patients. Here, the children or adults are encouraged to freely participate and express themselves during therapy sessions. As mentioned by Halpenny and Linzmayer (2013), any interference by a therapist may hinder the ability of a child to meditate and express emotional freely. Consequently, Sandtray therapy works well when the client and therapist have established a friendly relationship. Hence, improvement of Sandtray therapy is inspired by the desire to establish a warm relationship, acceptance, and deep respect to support clients in the process of problem resolution. Besides, per Danger and Landreth (2005), Sandtray therapy has progressed to become a play therapy theory to provide a friendly environment to facilitate the growth of experiences, and awareness. Sandtray therapy is most useful when clients are allowed to open emotions, deepest thoughts, and feeling as they go about reconstructing perceptions into reality. Moreover, it is anchored on play theory, which has evolved to be one of the best therapies, as it allows non-verbal expression of ideas (Grehan & Freeman, 2009). Inclusion the theory as part of play theory has been occasioned by the desire to allow traumatized patients to reveal their most disturbing emotions, perceptions, and awareness.

Insights provided by the theory towards life problems

Play therapy theory provides insights into life problems by enabling clients to express their personal emotional content and make it noticeable and accessible for reflection. In view of this, Grehan & Freeman (2009) explains that Sandtray therapy should allow a client to transform abstract ideas and perception into real pictures that are usable in decision-making process to help them directly modify or change their inner thoughts and emotions to an established order of events or ideas.  The insights to life problems is supported by the ability of play therapy theory to create a number of therapy sessions during which a client addresses his or her psychological problems by creating a series of pictures. The pictures then allow the therapist to understand the life problems of a client thus is able to diagnose and recommend solutions.

Expression of goals through theory

The goal of Sandtray play theory is to provide solution to conflicts, eliminate obstacles, and establish self-acceptance by using water and sand as a tool for healing. The goals of the therapy are succinctly expressed by the theory that explains the creation of three-dimensional scene in a tray containing sand and tiny objects. Freedle (2017) posits that once the three-dimensional scenes are created, the client and therapist can effortlessly view the constructed object entirely at a glance. The theory further prescribes that after the completion of the inner construction of the picture, the client is expected to share a story or expression about the idea of the picture constructed (Freedle et al., 2015). Information sharing by the client also creates the opportunity for a therapist to interrogate additional information concerning the scene created. Under the theory, the therapist acts both as a witness and a custodian of the therapy process.


Assessment and diagnosis

Diagnosis and psychological assessment relies on play therapy theory, which addresses unique developmental needs of children and adults by allowing them to express themselves better through play activities.  As such, assessment and diagnosis are linked to play therapy by allowing a therapist collect information about a client and use information retrieved from the process to conduct psychological assessment and diagnosis before treatment. Balfour (2013) acknowledges that diagnosis and assessment are essential to therapists to decide the appropriate treatment of patients suffering from myriad problems.

Strengths and weaknesses of the approach

There are several strengths and weaknesses associated with Sandtray play therapy. As part of its strengths, Han et al, (2017) exemplify that Sandtray play therapy allows children to develop confidence and self-efficacy by managing skills acquisition and learning new tasks through constructing inner worlds. This therapy technique gives power to patients to define their own destinies and exercise control over their life problems. Nevertheless, the therapy has been criticized as being time-consuming, confusing, frustrating, and largely dependent on the skills of a therapist. Additionally, the succinct interpretation of constructed pictures has remained a debatable topic in the mental health domain, as the interpretations of pictures and symbols may be vague and ambiguous making it difficult to correctly interpret true representations.


Sandtray play therapy remains the best technique that addresses the verbal challenges that derail psychological assessment and diagnosis. The non-verbal feature is the core reason that Sandtray play therapy has gained popularity as a technique that effectively solves problems of traumatic or disabled patients who do not respond to treatments. Essentially, sandtray therapy is anchored on the play theory that allows patients to construct pictures and ideas using tiny playing objects, sand, and water. Sandtray play therapy has proved to be the best natural way of assisting patients, predominantly children, who like to play. Going forward, psychologist should interrogate the debates regarding the differences in interpretations of pictures and symbols within the mental health practice.




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