Integrating Play Therapy in the Home-Based Setting Module

Module Sections:

Setting up a Sandtray

Setting up a sandtray may be more difficult in a home-setting due to the fact that it can be awkward to transport, has many different pieces, and can be a bit messy. However, many of the benefits of using such a tool can override such deterrents. Some tips that may help make the therapy session run smoother include:

  • Find a tray with a tight lid for easy, no-spill transporting
  • Use a medium that allows for easy clean-up and bring a blanket/table cloth for placing under the tray to catch access water, sand, or toys.
  • Find miniatures that are truly miniature for easier storing, transporting, and use in a smaller sandtray.
  • Use a spray bottle of water for clients to dampen sand instead of a bottle of water. Lighly misting the sand will assist in keeping the sand from floating in the air when moved.
  • Make use of disposable items such as straws, toilet paper tubes (for sand tunnels and such), etc. that can be thrown away after the session.
  • Use a rolling suitcase to pack items in, instead of carrying the tray and items from home to home.


Ask the client or family to create a picture in the sand using the miniatures and the sand in any way they wish. The therapist should remain in the background positioned to view the development of the picture without intruding in the work space. The therapist should pay close attention to the selection of miniatures (including those selected and rejected), placement of miniatures, and the verbal and nonverbal expression during the creation of the picture. When creating a family sand tray the therapist should also attend to how the family works together, who takes leadership, how each contribute or does not contribute, and how members respect the contributions of each other in the development of the picture.


Types of Worlds :

  1. Empty World- 1/3 of the tray has no miniatures
  2. Unpeopled World- no people in the tray (excluding soldiers)
  3. Closed/Fenced World- uses fences to enclose parts of the tray and create boundaries
  4. Rigid World- rigid lines, rows, shapes
  5. Disorganized World- chaotic world, no order or organization
  6. Aggressive World- aggressive picture, full of battles, fighting, war, etc.

(Filley, 2005)

Processing the Sand Tray:

  1. Ask the client or family to title the picture
  2. Ask the client or family to tell a story about the tray
  3. Take time to silently look at the sandtray from several angles
  4. Discussion of the tray should actually only take about 15-20 minutes. When asking questions about the tray remain within the story told and in third person. Even if characters are identified as self or family members, continue to refer to them as "this character" or "this person" or "this lion". Ask questions about relationships between the characters, movement of the characters, obstacles present, etc. For example, "how would things be different if this lion went across this bridge." Always remain in character when processing the tray and hover above the tray. It is important to respect the tray as the clients and not move the miniatures. If movement is necessary, it is important to ask the clients permission to move the miniature. Remember, it is the client's tray!
  5. Have a poloroid camera available to take a picture of the sandtray for both the file and if the client would like a picture of the tray.
  6. When complete the home-based therapist should discuss dismantling the tray and ask if the client would like to assist in this process.
  7. Much of the work for the client in sandtray therapy is done after the process has been complete and throughout the week. The actual involvement is cathartic in itself and the client often will think about the work in the days and weeks following. It is not necessary to revisit the tray in subsequent sessions. Also recreating the tray typically is inadequate because the moment has passed and the story would be different.

Filley, D. (2005). Sandtrays in play therapy: beginner manual. KCPlay: Homeyer, L. & Sweeney, D. (1998). Sandtray: a practical manual. Royal Oak, MI: Self-Esteem Shop.

Audio Companion: Integrating Play Therapy