Career Theory, Career Counseling, & Sand Tray Therapy

by Sand Tray Therapy Student
(Decatur, GA)

Sand Tray Therapy and Career Theory

Sand tray therapy and miniatures have been used for therapy with children, adolescents, adults, families, and groups. Sand trays have been used with a variety of theories, including Cognitive Behavioral, Narrative, Brief Solution Focused, Adlerian, and Transactional Analysis (Chiesa, C., 2012). This paper examines the use of sand trays in career decision making, a relatively innovative use of sand trays and one that has not had a major presence in career literature.

Sand tray therapy uses sand tray materials as a nonverbal way of bringing the unconscious to the conscious, which helps clients work out problems. Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld developed the World Technique in the 1930s, using miniatures and sand trays to help children express themselves. She believed that the pictures children created in the sand tray mirrored their internal worlds. She also believed that sand trays gave clients a way to connect with the environment, release unacknowledged emotions, and to enjoy therapy. She did not associate sand trays with any one psychological theory; instead, she used them as a tool to help her young clients.
Dora Klaff modified the World Technique with Jungian theory in the 1950s. She used sand trays as a projective technique, providing a safe and protected space to encourage wholeness. Contemporary mental health professionals tend to use sand trays and sand play to help clients achieve insight into their problems, using a visual and kinesthetic experience to achieve such insight. Sand tray tends to be a tool that can be coupled with other mental health theories, such as the ones described in the introduction.
Career theory has been around since the 1890s and was developed by the newly needed placement services by industries located in cities. It made its way into schools as vocational guidance. Initially such guidance matched job skills and aptitudes with specific jobs—a trait/factor approach. Now, career counselors use a more holistic approach, examining not only traits, but the client’s life as a whole. Sand tray is used as an additional resource for career counselors, especially as they try to help clients identify and solve career dilemmas (Sangganjanavanic, V (2011).
When using sand tray therapy with career clients, counselors introduce the tray in a typical manner. The counselor asks if the client would be willing to try to create a scene in the sand. The counselor then asks the client to think about his or her career situation, careers that have been considered, and any frustrations encountered. After the sand tray picture is finished, the counselor facilitates discussion and examination with the client. The sand tray is used to not only help with career decisions, but also to conceptualize factors in career decision making, such as family, culture, and socioeconomic status.

My Perspective
I have an interest in sand tray therapy and career counseling. Though, I usually think of sand tray as an effective tool to help children express themselves, I have come to see it as a very powerful tool to use with adults, as well. The sand tray just seems to peel away layers more quickly than talk does. I believe that the sand tray could be a tool in career counseling, used in conjunction with interest inventories and career assessment tools.

Plus and Minus
Sand tray therapy could give clients new insight into their career situations and challenges. The sand tray picture can give the counselor an increased understanding of a client’s challenges. That same picture can often give insight into the client’s family challenges and culture, which do influence career choice and satisfaction.
The negative side of using sand tray with career counseling could be that of client resistance. The counseling center might also be resistant to this use, since there have not been any quantitative studies done on sand trays coupled with career counseling.

This use of sand trays has not been extensively studied, so the efficacy is unknown at present in terms of career counseling. Certainly the use of more traditional career counseling tools should be continued rather than discarded.
Because of the potential emotional power of a sand tray, they should not be used with clients experiencing severe emotional trauma or severe mental health issues. As with any sand tray therapy, the counselor has to be careful with interpretation and should use the client’s input as a guide.

Executive Summary
Sand tray can be used as a tool to help in career decision making, allowing clients to create visuals of their situations. Sand tray also helps clients make concrete their experiences. Pictures can convey more emotional range than words do.

I would really like to try and use this career counseling / sand tray therapy technique with career seekers.

How to Use The Sand Tray for Sand Tray Therapy Link:

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Chiesa, C. (2012) Scripts in the Sand: Sandplay in Transactional Analysis Psychotherapy with
Children. Transactional Analysis Journal, vol. 42 no. 4 285-293.
Sangganjanavanich, V., Sangganjanavanich, S., & Magnuson, S. (2011). Using Sand Trays and
Miniature Figures to Facilitate

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Disclaimer: This website and its content is intended for trained licensed mental health professionals and school certified mental health professionals to use for their clients / students at their own discretion.

*If you ignore the disclaimer above are using these techniques on yourself and you feel any discomfort or upset it is highly suggested that you seek out a licensed  mental health professional immediately.

"Beyond Art Therapy" is the concept from Dr. Stangline that combines all creative fields in therapy. It is not the traditional "art therapy" but goes beyond to include sand tray therapy, play therapy, mindfulness, meditation, color therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a vast majority of other therapies.

For any other type of mental health emergency call your local 911 / Police Number immediately.

Dr. Stangline does not offer advice / suggestions to anyone who is not a professional mental health provider, or a student who is studying this field and has questions about mental health programs of study.

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