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Transforming the Fear of Abandonment through Sandtray Therapy

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Date : February 6, 2018


The following is a composite case study of several clients.

Joy is thirty-nine years old and is single. She is divorced and has a female child, age seventeen. She has been in a relationship with John for the past two years. She is a self-employed accountant and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is of mixed race. Her mother was white and her father, black. Her mom is deceased and her father lives nearby. She is easily triggered and seems to be in an ongoing state of grief.

Joy has been pondering the following:

The reaction is intense fury when someone disrespects me. Triggering initiates yelling at my partner and I believe that anger was the catalyst the outburst. Realizing that I am sensitive to perceived criticism causes anxiety and extreme self-doubt. I also feel like a stranger in my body and don’t feel that I am ever quite accepted by anyone. I don’t understand why this is happening and can’t seem to get my head around this experience. I am too ashamed and pissed off to share this with anyone.

I wish that I had someone to share my confusion regarding rage, depression and ever-changing moods. However, I am fearful that no one will understand the agony I am going through and will be discarded as soon as this personal information is shared. That is especially true with my boyfriend John who has no empathy for anyone; not that I ever gave him a chance. I wonder why I am still with him.

Yet I can function in society. I go to work every day, have some friends, enjoy exercising and listening to music. My life is not totally bleak, but this mess that happens inside on a regular basis has become disturbing. Becoming older has made me more aware of this feeling of impending catastrophe throughout each day.

I tried therapy before, but never really connected with her lectures about accountability. It was all a head trip and I kept cancelling till I stopped going entirely.

My friend suggested that I try Sandtray Therapy which sounded intriguing. Apparently, miniature figures are placed in the sandtray which is a small sandbox. The client is asked to create scenes that may be self-directed or suggested by the therapist. I have always wanted to understand how my relationship with my parents affected my lack of calmness and security. I think I will give this therapy a try.

I walked into the Sandtray therapist’s office and I was amazed. As mentioned earlier, I have been in therapy before, but I have never seen an office like this one. It had seven(I counted them) shelves of figures. There were miniature animals, people from diverse racial backgrounds, religious figures, bridges, stones, rocks, fences, trees and flowers to name some of what I witnessed.

The therapist’s name was Jan and she shared that she had been a therapist for many years. She said that Sandtray Therapy can speed up the healing process. She said that she had no research to back any of this up, but in her experience if Sandtray Therapy is effective, it will work faster than regular talk therapy.

Jan also mentioned that there was no quick fix to working through my feelings of rage. It will take me a while to understand my triggers, that it was important to be patient with myself and the process. She added that although there is no quick fix, it is possible to learn something powerful about yourself during each sandtray session.

I decided to create my first sandtray about my father. I felt the smooth white sand and let it fall through my fingers for a while. Then I looked at the shelves. The therapist told me I may choose figures that I knew would bring up specific issues for me. She also said that I may pick some that move me in some unidentifiable way but seem to have no specific purpose or story line. The figures may come alive once I begin discussing them in relationship to others in the tray.

I was instructed to place all the figures in the tray and then notify Jan when I was done so she could ask me questions about them.

I only chose one figure at first. The Black Man Holding his son in his arms spoke directly to me and I placed it in the middle of the tray.

Jan asked me to share my feelings now. The Black Man and his son were my father and brother. My brother is two years younger than me and while my father doted over him, he virtually ignored me. The pain of the memory caused me to reach for the first tissue of the hour. He treated me like I was invisible, and I never really got to talk to him about this. I was afraid to ask him why he treated me like an outcast. I thought he may tell me that I was a loser and didn’t deserve his attention. I suddenly realized that I believed that I was a loser. I must be a loser because my father didn’t love me.

I wanted to connect the dots here. I felt that my father didn’t love me and therefore I didn’t love myself. Matter of fact I hold myself in contempt.

I brought another figure into the tray. She had long flowing black hair and brown skin. She had a smile on her face. I called her the calm woman.

I told Jan that the calm woman was me and that although she was calm, she was also distraught that her dad rejected her. She asked me to say what the calm woman was like. I said that she was strong, a loyal friend, and fearful that disaster was going to happen every minute of every day.

Jan asked me what the connection between the father and calm woman was. I said that the calm woman really wants her dad’s affection and approval. I started crying from a place deep down in my stomach. My throat ached as I moaned out in anguish and intense mourning.

Jan asked me who could help the calm woman and asked me to choose another figure. I chose the surfer dude because he could get lost in the freedom of riding the waves. I now felt light and could breathe.

I imagined a bright sun falling down on the surfer creating joy and fearlessness.

It was almost time for the session to end and Jan asked me if I wanted to talk to my father about my feelings. The jury is out right now, but I feel that for the first time I have a choice about what steps to take. I want to keep doing Sandtray Therapy to see what other stories will unfold.

Please share your experiences here https://www.facebook.com/HealingEmotionalPain Thanks!!!

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Letting Go of Grief
Move Your Body to Rock and Soul

Letting go of Grief: Move Your Body to Rock and Soul teaches you how to work through your losses. These losses could be the death of a loved one, the end of an important relationship or other trauma. Grief is an evolving process and you will learn what the term acceptance means. It means that you will always have the option of honoring your loss, but you don’t have to be continually consumed by it. In this book, you will learn to find a landing place in your heart for grief. You will learn to embrace the pain instead of being afraid of facing it.

Written by

Bob utilizes his life experiences as well as professional ones to connect and assist with clients. Bob holds a Masters Degree in Social Welfare that he earned at the University of Kansas in 1979. His California License number is LCS 11087.He has been featured in The San Francisco Chronicle, The Miami Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The Hartford Courant, Natural Health Magazine, The Library Journal, Grand Magazine, Lee’s Summit Journal and Womansday.com. He is an expert on the Oprah/Dr. Oz owned Sharecare.com and he is a frequent contributor to the highly regarded Mentalhelp.net.

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