Clinician Interview - The Art of Sandtray Therapy

September 27, 2023

Interviewer: Dr. Vassilia Binensztok

Interviewee: Katie Bullard, MSW

Dr. Vassilia: How does Sandtray therapy work?

Katie Bullard, MSW: Sandtray therapy is a therapeutic technique that uses a tray of sand along with miniature figurines to assist clients in expressing themselves when verbalizing their feelings may be challenging. Our sandtray room contains a variety of figurines and toys that have been carefully selected to symbolize situations, feelings, people, environments, and memories from the client's lives. Generally, I provide a directive and the client creates a scene that reflects their inner experience. Often, clients who have survived traumatic experiences may find themselves not yet ready to discuss what's going on, and sandtray provides a unique medium for communication without retraumatization. Together, we process the tray, make changes to the scene, and in doing so, empower the client to gain insight and make changes in their external lives.

Dr. Vassilia: Who is Sandtray therapy useful for? Is it specifically for children or adults or can anyone use it?

Katie Bullard, MSW: I'm so glad you asked! Often, my clients initially believe that sandtray sounds like a form of play therapy exclusively for child clients. It's actually a powerful therapeutic technique for adults and adolescents as well. This modality is based on Jungian psychology because it is image-focused. Carl Jung believed that symbols give us a window into the deep-seated and inexpressible portions in our minds. Unconscious thoughts are able to manifest themselves to the conscious mind through imagery and symbols in the physical world. By viewing a completed sandtray, we gain access to what is going on beneath the surface of the client's consciousness where trauma may be embedded.

Dr. Vassilia: Does Sandtray therapy require a specific number of sessions?

Katie Bullard, MSW: While the sandtray process involves creating a series of trays sometimes for months, some change may be experienced in just one sand tray session. Treatment timelines are hard to estimate, as certain traumatic events take longer to work through than others.

Dr. Vassilia: What do you love most about doing Sandtray therapy?

Katie Bullard, MSW: I am a trauma therapist to my core, and I've used multiple modalities and models to assist my clients in their healing journey. However, some of my most astounding and magical moments witnessed thus far in this field, were in sandtray sessions. When clients touch the sand, it can be very soothing to their nervous systems and their psyche, offering a healing experience beyond what we can visibly understand. But when clients can take control over their traumatic experience in a safe container, moving from being the once passive recipient to an active agent in rewriting their stories, they find healing and it's such an honor to witness.

Dr. Vassilia: What is your background and what kind of clients do you work with?

Katie Bullard, MSW: Many of my clients know that my first career was in the marine biology field. During a manatee rescue in the Keys, I stumbled across a dolphin-assisted therapy session by accident which first sparked my interest in becoming a therapist. Once I began studying the teachings of Victor Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, it was "game over." I knew I would find the most meaning in life by becoming a therapist and walking with others on their healing journeys. During my MSW studies, my first clinical internship was providing therapy to survivors of human trafficking and there, I fell in love with trauma work. Upon graduating, I continued working with human trafficking and domestic violence survivors until I moved into outpatient therapy within the community mental health field. Today at Juno, I work with clients of all ages who have endured trauma or any type of emotional or physical distress.