Critical evaluation from a counselling session


Sand play has been found to evoke deep realities and cuts across several cultural and familial taboos. According to Amas (2007), sand play is essential as it activates the deep primordial and integrative forces of the psyche. When children are exposed to events that are overwhelming and that may render them helpless and unable to exploit the ordinary defensive and coping ego operations, they have high chances of having trauma (Kaduson & Schaefer, 2012). Davids (2005) described sandplay as a psychotherapeutic method where the sandplayer forms three-dimensional scenes in a tray using sand, water and some realistic miniature figures. The interaction with both the sand, water and the miniature figures has been found to allow the sandplayer to access his/her unconscious self, giving a concrete expression of the sandplayer’s unconscious content by the image created in the sand tray. The therapist quietly witnesses the sandplay process with empathy (Amatruda & Phoenix, 1997).

Case Conceptualization

Thalia is a 7 year old girl who lives with her mother, Tamara, and her elder sister, Lorelei. She turned out for the interview well-groomed and behaved well throughout the session. During the interview, Thalia came out as an intelligent girl who responded to my questions animatedly and articulately despite being quiet for long stretches of time.

Thalia and her mother are attending the counselling session because of a situation existing between her and Lorelei. She does not consider Lorelei as her sister as the two do not have the same sirname. Despite the fact that they have lived together their entire lives, Thalia insists that they are not sisters. Lorelei is going to high school in a couple of months and this seems to be the source of her internal conflict. During the interview session, she did not want to talk about why she does not recognize Lorelei as her sister and even her mother says that she has constantly kept on imitating everything Lorelei does. The idea of not having Lorelei in the same school with her seems to be scaring to her.

Thalia had led a normal life all her life, holding a close relationship with her mother and her sister. However, information regarding her extended family, or even that regarding her father was not sought. She has always been a smart and capable kid. The girl has a special relationship with the soldier, whom she refers to as her great pal. The soldier is also represented in the island she makes in the sand tray.

The girl has a good interpersonal style. She seems generally relate well with others. She has many friends and she is liked among her peers and even at school. She is comfortable and easy to get along with. I got an impression that Thalia has quiet strength, meaning she is neither aggressive not submissive. The young girl feels threatened and that might be the reason for her moving against her sister. Thalia and I have a very good therapeutic relationship since the young lady approaches me with a bit of submissiveness. However, Thalia is an extremely smart kid who treats others with utter respect. When I ask her questions, she answers in a clear and respectful manner.

The stressors that Thalia faces are normal for a seven year old kid. She faces stress from family relationships. The girl’s relationship pressures emanates from her sister going to college soon and she is threatened by the loneliness that she may experience in her absence. However, her family offers the best support to her. Her mother especially seems to be attentive and caring to her. She displays a genuine interest for Thalia and her problems. Thalia benefits from the family environmental support she has with her family.

Regarding her personality dynamics, her intelligence seems to be above average as she is able to handle concrete thinking and even abstract thinking. Her sharp mind seems to be catchy on things. Thalia has an aloof character, always cold and distant when she is not happy with someone. For instance, she now considers that her sister is not her sister anymore since she will be leaving her alone when she goes to high school. However, this does not mean that the girl holds hatred for her sister as she still is close to her and quite often mimics her actions.

After careful consideration of Thalia’s case from a sand play therapy is very appropriate as the technique is a potentially valuable tool for guiding counsellors that work within the context of a potentially challenging school environment (Campbell, 2004). Geldard and Geldard (2009) say that sandplay is a client-centered approach that is integrated with other approaches and their theories of change. In the Sequentially Planned Integrative Counselling for Children (SPICC) model, sandplay therapy is used in the first phase and integrated with Gestalt therapy in the second phase, that helps in raising the child’s awareness, making them connect with strong emotions. Narrative therapy is used in the third phase, cognitive behavioral therapy in the fourth and finally behavioral therapy in the fifth phase. The relationship of Thalia and her sister is important as we explore her problem. Through going to the same school, Thalia has developed a close relationship with her sister as she enjoys her company and probably they play together. Thalia feels that that is how siblings should live. She does not understand the why her sister has to leave her to go to high school. According to Henderson and Thompson (2011), irrational thinking is a recipe to hating self, which can lead to destroying self and ultimately hating others. When Thalia gets information that her sister will be moving school, she is upset and feels that her sister is abandoning her, this might have led to her hating herself and even withdrawing from the family.

As a treatment plan, Sandplay will be employed to help connect with the child and enable her to tell her story. When employing the Sand Play Therapy to address Thalia’s problem, my objectives will be to identify the mother to child relationship issues, mother to child unity, as well as constellation of the self (Turner, 2005; Kalff, 2003). A representation of Thalia’s psychic processes is revealed through the understanding of the symbolisms showing up on the in the Sand Trays (Warr-Williams, 2012). I will be able to explore the process of Thalia’s unconscious mind as well as the conflicts that may arise for her through her personal introspections (Kalff, 2003).

The Effectiveness of the Interview

My interview with Thalia begun by me asking whether she wanted to do sand play, which she assented to. This is according to Kalff (2003). The directions I gave to her were non-directive and simple. I showed Thalia the shelves where she could choose the miniatures from and I would indicate that they were able to choose whatever figures she liked or made meaning to her. I allowed her to touch the sand and realize that she could push the sand to the side so as the blue bottom would represent the images of water and the sides would represent the sky. Turner (2005) says that a therapist should provide all this information to the client in order to ensure that is well equipped for the exercise. I would then sit quietly and allow Thalia to make her creation and fill the diagram on her development of the tray. Meanwhile, I observed every detail of the creation including the items placed on the island first and whether she removed any item from the island.

After establishing that she had finished with her creation of an island, and she was satisfied with it, I then asked her about particular pieces in the pictures and even had her describe the roles that was played by different features. While discussing about the creations in the tray, I ensured that all the discussions were kept within the context of the tray without making any direct reference to Thalia’s life. In so doing, I allowed her to process materials in the tray within her unconscious level, thus allowing her unconscious mind time to process issues when the environment is conducive for them to come to awareness (Turner, 2005).

During the interview, I ensured that the environment created a free and protected space as I accepted her fully and I was part of the activities going on in the art therapy room just as Thalia herself. This made Thalia feel free and protected in all her expressions. This effectively contributed to the effectiveness of the overall therapy. However, as the interview concluded, I was careful not to interpret the picture considering that in Sandplay, we focus on a living experience and we cannot possibly exhaustively describe the picture on a conceptual level.

The Ethical Dimensions

Amas (2012) says that working with sandtray therapy has a potential of increasing the importance of therapists’ examination of personal values and the part that they play to promote social justice and ethical practice. Through the interview had put into practice the knowledge and experience I had accumulated over the years regarding the client record keeping, the confidentiality rules and other ethical issues in private practice. The following are some of the issues that I encountered during my interview.

The first issue was that of confidentiality, privacy and the informed consent of the client. In Sandplay therapy, confidentiality and client privacy constitute major issues. Parkinson and Loue (2015), confidentiality and privacy are extremely important and are ethical requirements for sandplay therapists. The ISST’s code of ethics provides that ISST members as well as candidates should respect the rights of the clients’ rights to their privacy and they should avoid sharing their confidential information without their informed consent. In my interview, I informed both Thalia and her mother about confidentiality and my need to record the session was thoroughly explained. I confirmed to them that the information can only be shared with my educator. Thalia would later question my need to record the session, to which I responded that I didn’t need to record it if she felt uncomfortable and she could still play with the sand.

Transference and Counter-Transference towards the client is another issue that is often reported in sandplay therapy. In sandplay, the clinician-client relationship can be affected by issues of transference and countertransference. Warr-Williams (2012) says that understanding and articulating the issues a clinician brings to the therapeutic relationship is important. The figures as well as the scenes created by the client can represent the relationship the therapist has with the client and thus communicate with both transference, countertransference as well as co-transference directly. In my situation, I ensured that extensive reinforcement of an environment that was ‘holding’ as well as the creation of the ‘free and protected space’ to effectively manage these issues. Therefore, there was no transference or countertransference issues in the interview.

Thalia’s Location with regard to Geldards’ SPICC Framework

The Sequentially Planned Integrative Counselling for Children (SPICC) developed by Geldard and Geldard (2002) is a practical model that is based on a cyclic process, drawing on and integrating the theoretical concepts as well as practical strategies from the well-established approaches which may be employed to produce therapeutic change among other desired outcomes (Christie, 2007). According to Geldard and Geldard (2009), the SPICC’s first phase involves the use of a client-centered counselling that helps to join with the child and thus enabling the child to open up and tell her story.        Thalia is currently located at this phase.

From the interview, I was employing the sandplay therapy to help me connect with the child. Throughout the interview, I only focused on the sandplay context so that I can achieve my objectives of creating a holding environment for connecting with the child. Throughout the interview, I did not try to raise Thalia’s awareness and make her get in touch with the strong emotions within her. It implies that Thalia had not moved to the second stage in the S.P.I.C.C. framework. The Sandplay therapy works well in achieving the objectives of the first phase of this integrative counselling model. Also, Thalia will be with me for just this session.

How the learning gained will be applied to my developing approach to current and future practice

Warr-Williams (2012) says that clinicians that are working with sandplay need to should commit themselves to lifelong learning as well as experience in all aspects of life. The founders of the sandplay theory themselves committed to learning about other cultures, myths, stories and even practices in order to guide their work (Kalff, 2003). This assignment was insightful to my current and even future engagements with the children in several ways.

Through my engagement with Thalia, I realized that children seem to be attracted by their instincts to the things that make up the earth, such as mountains, water and even sand. These materials offer opportunities for the children to learn. As Smith and Pellegrini (2008) says that learning would not take if the children are not delighted in the substances they are handling. Children learn more through their senses, thus an experience with the sand and water gives a sensuous feeling to the child making him/her learn more. Therefore, the discovery of the pleasure which the children take in dealing the earthly substances like sand will influence my future practice with children as I will use them more frequently in my approach to learning.


Amas, D. (2012). We all love playing in the sand! Using sand play therapy in critical reflection with students in practice placement. The Journal of Practice Teaching and Learning7(2), 6-24.

Amatruda, K., & Simpson, P. H. (1997). Sandplay, the sacred healing: A guide to symbolic process. New Mexico: Phoenix Helm Simpson. Trance Sance Dance Press.

Campbell, M. A. (2004). Value of sandplay as a therapeutic tool for school guidance counsellors. Australian Journal of Guidance and counselling14(2), 211-232.

Christie, A. (2007). Childhood anxiety: Occupational disruption. New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy. 54(2), 31-39.

Crosser, S. (2008). Making the Most of Sand Play. Retrieved from

Davids, C. C. (2005). The sandplay therapy process of a thirteen year old girl: a case study (Doctoral dissertation, Stellenbosch: University of Stellenbosch). Retrieved from,%20C%20C.pdf?sequence=1

Geldard, K., & Geldard, D. (2002). Counselling children: A practical introduction. London: Sage Publications.

Geldard, K., & Geldard, D. (2010). Counselling adolescents: The proactive approach for young people (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.

Henderson, D., & Thompson, C. (2011). Counseling children (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.

International Society for Sandplay Therapy (ISST). (n.d.). Code of ethics. Accessed 19 July 2015.

Kaduson, H. G., & Schaefer, C. E. (2012). Short-term play therapy for children. (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Kalff, D. M. (2003). Sandplay: A psychotherapeutic approach to the psyche. Cloverde, California: Temenos Press.

Parkinson, J., & Loue, S. (2015). Ethical Issues in Sandplay Cyber-Supervision. In Ethical Issues in Sandplay Therapy Practice and Research (pp. 11-21). Cham: Springer International Publishing.

Turner, B. A. (2005). The handbook of sandplay therapy. Cloverdale, Calif.: Temenos Press.


Weinrib, E. L., & Bradway, K. (2004). Images of the self: The sandplay therapy process. Boston, Mass: Temenos Press.


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