Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Relevance of Symbols in Sand Therapy: Heroines and Cultural Tenor

The Relevance of Symbols in Sand Therapy: Heroines and Cultural Tenor

Dee Preston-Dillon, Ph.D. 

·         What is the relevance of figurines in a sand scene beyond the story the client shares?

·         Why should a therapist research symbols?

·         How can we study symbols and avoid concretizing meanings or unethically project our own assumptions onto the client?

Nomenclature: I use the overarching term sand therapy to refer to a general use of sand no matter one’s theory lens. A bibliography is available at the end.

Imagination, and all forms of creativity -- art, icons, poetry, music, myths, storytelling, dance, and rituals -- are an integral part of our humanity, our shared cultural connections steeped in the symbolic.

We create symbols that serve our neurological, cultural, idiosyncratic, and aesthetic needs.

We bring this capacity to sand therapy, and, when the process is kept safe for unbounded imagination, spontaneous play, and witnessed with full, respectful presence

We have healing.

Download full article from Google Drive

Download Bibliography from Google Drive

©2016 Dee Preston-Dillon, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Download for educational purposes only.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Clinician's Journey: A Series on Sand Therapy

A Series on Sand Therapy  . . .  The Clinician’s Journey

What should we consider regarding ethical use of sand, principles and best practice guidance?
What is the role of the clinician using sand and symbols with clients?
What clinician preparation; professional-theoretical preferences, attitudes, and perceptual ability are essential for clinician use of sand?
What are the key distinctions in theory and practice among sand therapies?

These are a few of the questions I will address in a series of mini briefs on clinical use of sand and symbols in the Maryland/ DC Play Therapy Newsletter. These are critical questions, especially given the easy access to sand trays and objects. To understand an ethical context we have to unpack presuppositions that come with licensure across the mental health disciplines, the presumed authority and power that comes with various career positions, assumptions embedded in certifications, and careful discernment regarding training-marketing-CE features. We should consider purpose, power, and potential for both healing and devastation.

Problems with this remarkable projective process, sand therapy and its various approaches include where sand is situated within institutions and the authority related to its use, how we match theory with practice (this is a source of considerable client damage), clinician competency and preparation, and dilution of content in training/CEs. Too often we assume too much, rushing to use a projective technique, using sand as a promotional feature, dismissing potential problems, and remain unaware of the inappropriate, damaging use of sand. These are a few of the serious distortions in knowledge, skills, and practice that become problematic for clients, clinicians, sand specialists, and the profession.

There is a tremendous need for non-verbal clinical approaches such as sand that are healing for trauma, vital for non-verbal clients, and nourishing for clients with complex developmental issues. There is a need for the powerful healing, repairing capacity of sand therapy. However, if we do not slow down and examine this precious resource, what clinicians should be doing and should not be doing, we will continue to foster damaging unethical uses.

Reflecting on over thirty five years studying sand therapies and decades consulting with clinicians who use sand I see the exceptional compassion and healing qualities therapists bring to clients – the remarkable healing power of sand and symbol when the therapist is prepared – skilled in the use of interventions that follow the lead of the client, clinicians who invest time to hone their perceptual ability with a keen self-awareness. Unfortunately, I also hear the stories of children and adults who had the painful, re-wounding experience of sand – the therapist had his or her own agenda, the therapist tried to make the scene into something it was not, the therapist was more interested in the tray than the client, the therapist’s curiosity took precedence, the therapist did not know what to do with the scene and forced an issue. These stories reflect damage resulting from inappropriate use of sand and symbols. Hope rests on the integrity of all of us, graduate student to seasoned clinicians, to respect the power and preparation for using sand.

It is our responsibility to examine and set straight the misinformation and distortions resulting from diluted training and preparation, uninformed directives from management or supervision, implied readiness from internship/course instructors, and our own lack of self-awareness – presumed competencies. And there is also the waste of time with exasperating professional competition. Unfortunately we could inadvertently perpetuate these problems, generate misunderstanding, disregard the importance of clinician insights, blindly follow power or status, opt for convenience, and dismiss the vulnerabilities entailed in engagement with such depth when we choose to not question, when we avoid a reasoned unpacking. Better that we examine our rational, our reasons and practices – in training, clinical work, graduate education, and licensure.

I hope to strike a balance in this mini-series between offering tips for competent use of sand and still unpack the presuppositions, distortions, and alienating aspects of the use of sand. My goal is discernment. I hope to distinguish marketing objectives (toys, training) and implied permissions embedded in license, from essential attitudes-skills-insight – to offer light for attunement to the healing process.

©Dee Preston-Dillon, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.
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Symbols in the Sand - June 10-12, 2016

Dr. Preston-Dillon will be presenting Symbols in the Sand: An Interactive Exploration for Play Therapists and Others at the 4th annual Mid-Atlantic Play Therapy Training Institute, June 10-12 in Arlington VA. For details and registration, see or

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Friday, March 01, 2013

Upcoming Presentations, Retreats, and Training

March 6 – 10
West Virginia Clinician Retreat - Clinician Self-Care: Competency Grounded in Permission, Protection and Empowerment

April 12 – 14  
Alexandria, VA  First Annual Play Therapy Training Institute -- Nurturing the Clinician: Re-Energizing through Sand, Symbols, and Narrative

May 2 - 3  
Baltimore, MD  Advanced Psychotherapy Institute – Trauma and Countertransference: Through the Lens of Sand Therapy

Email sandplayvoices[at] for more info.

Friday, January 18, 2013

New Site and the rest of the Winter Schedule

Sandplay Voices is now a branch of Dr. Preston-Dillon's Creative Clinician site.

There you'll find information about Dr. Dee's work and training philosophy, as well as educational resources. This blog will stay open and in use so please sign up to receive email updates when we post.

Go HERE to see the January 2013 newsletter.

There is also a link to the right where you can subscribe to our free newsletter which comes out once a month. It will include the newest happenings, special events, and training opportunities.

Please note that our February 24th training listed in the schedule earlier has been cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. Following are our available workshops to be held in Brandywine, Maryland, with 6 or fewer attendees. Sign up while there is still space by emailing us at [dee at]

Narratives in the Sand: The Power of Metaphors
6 hrs.
$ 180. FEB. 9   Saturday 10 am – 4 pm

Advanced Narrative Sand Therapy
6 hrs.
$ 180.
MARCH 2 Saturday 10 am – 4 pm

Advanced Sand Therapy
12 hrs. $ 340.
MARCH 17 & 18 Sunday & Monday 10 am – 4 pm

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Winter Schedule 2012-13

Individual consultations and private groups are arranged separately from the Scheduled Training below.

    All training is kept to 6 or fewer participants
Ethics in Sand Therapy: Supervision and Clinical Practice  3 hrs.  $90.
NOV. 17 Saturday  1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Grief and Loss
: The Clinician’s Journey  6 hrs.  $ 180.
NOV. 26  Monday  9:30 am – 3:00 pm

Transformation: Spiritual Journeys in the Sand  6 hrs.  $ 180.
JAN. 5  Saturday  10:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Ethics in Sand Therapy: Supervision and Clinical Practice  3 hrs.  $90.
JAN. 13 Sunday  1:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Narratives in the Sand: The Power of Metaphors  6 hrs.  $ 180.
FEB. 9  Saturday  10:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Jungian Sandplay Therapy  6 hrs.  $ 180.
FEB. 24  Sunday  10:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Advanced Narrative Sand Therapy   6 hrs.  $ 180.
MARCH 2  Saturday  10:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Advanced Sand Therapy  12 hrs.  $ 340.
MARCH 17 & 18  Sunday & Monday  10:00 pm – 4:00 pm

Email sandplayvoices at for registration and information.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Essentials of Sand Therapy at Allegany College MD

 Essentials of Sand Therapy: Principles and Practice
Dee Preston Dillon, PhD 

Allegany College of Maryland
Monday, October 8

Contact: Christa A. Snyder, Human Services Coordinator
casnyder [at]  301-784-5530

Six Hour Training

Course Description and Objectives

itnessing, Containment, Reflection and Responding, Amplification and Facilitation are core components for effective sand therapy – both sandplay and sand tray. This workshop presents the basic theoretical foundation for sand therapy, the difference between Jungian Sandplay and sand tray therapy, and  demonstrates the skill sets for each of these four areas.

Our goal
is safe and competent sand therapy no matter the clinician’s theoretical orientation. This training presents both theory and experiential practice.
Through a graduated
process this training will help participants

* Conceptualize ways for using sand with diverse  populations.* Explore ways to understand and respond to sand scenes especially with a mindful presence.

Understand the role of the clinician to witness and contain activity in the sand.

Gain initial skills for creating a safe and protected space for client use of sand.

Appreciate the rigor, depth, skills, and process that ground sand therapy and clinician efficacy.

Upon completion of this workshop participants will:

*  Describe the function of symbols to bridge intrapsychic  phenomena with a client’s life world, and externalize trauma and developmental injunctions.

*  Point out how sand is a projective process wherein the  role of the clinician and the client differ from other play therapy approaches.

Describe the ethics for professional training, the role of the clinician, and the four grounding components for clinical use of sand: Witnessing, Containment, Reflection and Responding, Amplification and Facilitation.

-- Please register with Christa (contact info above) by 26 September to insure your space!