• Sarah Turner, Support Worker, STAR Project

STAR Project – the benefits of Sand Tray therapy

Talking to a support worker or therapist helps many people who have experienced sexual violence to cope with the nightmares, flashbacks, challenging emotions and other difficulties that they might be struggling with. However, many survivors of sexual violence can find it difficult to talk about their experiences. They might not be able to find the right words, or the feelings that they experience whilst thinking about what has happened to them might be too difficult to bear.

Creative therapies allow survivors to explore and come to terms with their experiences in an indirect way, through producing images with art and craft materials, or by creating symbolic scenes and stories, sometimes also using objects. They also support survivors to express themselves in a non-verbal way, if they wish to do so.

Art therapy is the most well-known creative therapy, and this can be used successfully to support many survivors. However, perhaps as a result of experiences in school and elsewhere, some people can feel self-conscious about producing art, worrying that they are not doing it right. Sand tray therapy is a therefore a useful alternative.

Below is a photo of me with the sand tray we use at Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, and some of the objects that I am able to use to work with young people during support sessions.

Just like talking therapies and art therapy, sand tray therapy can be used with children, young people and adults. Therapists working with younger children often make use of small age-appropriate toys, and a plastic bucket filled with sand. In contrast, therapists working with young people and adults often use a high quality wooden tray, painted bright blue on the bottom and sides, to represent water and the sky.

Adults and young people are able to create a scene in this tray to represent their experiences, by moving the sand to create flat areas, ‘hills’ and ‘mountains’, as well as ‘rivers’, ‘lakes’ and ‘seas’. Miniature, realistic figures of animals, people and mythical creatures, as well as small stones, shells and other objects are also used to represent aspects of the client’s experiences. These may be placed on top of the sand or buried beneath it.

Below, I have also included two examples of the work of I have supported in the past. Both clients were young adolescents at the time they worked with me, and both have given their consent to allow me to show photos of their work to other people.

The scene above was created by a young male, who was sexually and physically abused by his father during his childhood. It represents a battle going on in the background, whilst a young zebra is being attacked by a tiger in the foreground. An elephant and a giraffe are also in the scene, but they are looking away, and do not notice that the zebra is being hurt.

This scene was created by a young female, who once experienced sexual violence whilst visiting her uncle. In it, a young girl sits in a corner, frightened and hurt. A wasp has just stung her. The wasp soon tries to sting her again, but this time, a dragonfly intervenes.

You can contact our STAR Project support for young people aged 12 - 18 by phoning/texting 07583 158 058 or email:


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Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre offers free and confidential support to women, all members of the trans community, non-binary people and young people aged 12 -18 who have experienced sexual violence at any time in their lives.


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