By: Andrea Sussel, MSS, LCSW
Nine members of the Pacific Quest team completed a 10-month long experiential art and sandplay therapy training lead by PQ Clinical Director, Dr. Lorraine Freedle. Sandplay is a non-verbal, depth-oriented, multi-sensory therapy wherein students use symbols and sand to express and work through their inner experiences. Sandplay rooms are available in both our adolescent and young adult programs. As a primary therapist in the young adult program, I have found this to be especially helpful at various points in treatment with students who are dysregulated and struggling with overwhelmingly difficult emotions. The therapeutic benefits begin as soon as we walk into the room lined with ceiling to floor shelves filled with objects, each of which contain symbolic meaning and energy. Students are incredibly drawn to the collection and it immediately stimulates dialogue, curiosity and expression. Students with trauma sometimes find this form of therapy provides them with a safe way to access and express memories through art, process the experience, and rejoin the world of others.
A Shared Journey
Lorraine held a space for each member of our group to learn concepts and to have a personal journey of healing through a variety of art mediums from pastels, to finger painting, to clay, to creating a “wholeness” project with collage materials. We began each session by making a group sand tray by choosing a personal object from among thousands on the shelves. Together, we created a safe space to go deep, heal and connect in an academically rich, learning experience that was indeed transformative. The experience prepared us to skillfully guide our PQ students on their unique journey.
In our final class, Lorraine prepared a slide show for each of us combining images from our process with her great insights. It felt profound to pause and witness each individual’s transformation in symbolic form.
As a Certified Gestalt Therapist, this training will live inside me in perfect harmony with my pre-existing “permission to be creative”, awareness of the here and now, and listening deeply to what emerges in my thoughts, feelings and messages from my body. The entire group expressed heartfelt appreciation for this unique experience to learn about ourselves first, so that we can serve our students well, as they travel their hero’s journey.
Art and Sandplay Therapy at PQ
We offer art and sandplay therapy to our students for many reasons: it’s fun and requires no artistic ability, it transcends verbal communication, and it is multidimensional, allowing for many processes from different levels in the brain and psyche to occur simultaneously. Art therapy is integrative, addressing emotional, cognitive, motor and sensory experiences happening in the here and now. It integrates right and left-brain functions, conscious and unconscious, past and present. And, it facilitates communication through processing what has been created, easing the discomfort that some experience from sharing purely emotional material.