Minecraft: A new way to Sand Tray

Wow! It has been a really long time since I’ve written a post. Sorry about that, everyone. The end of the semester, deep cleaning the apartment for visitors, and wedding planning managed to get in the way. But now I’m back, with 2 years of grad school under my belt, a less hazardous writing environment, some wedding details pinned down, and I am ready to talk geeky awesomeness!

This week one of my co-workers told me about a technique he’s trying out which he likes to call “Minecraft Sand Tray”. For those of you who have no idea what Sand Tray therapy is, I’ll give you a very basic rundown.


(Image via Cypress Holistic)

It’s a tray, filled with sand, which clients can use a variety of toys to play in. Usually through their play, a therapist is able to get a peek at the client’s inner world. The play ends up representing whatever issues are going on for them. Sand Tray is usually used with children, but sometimes teens and adults are open to it too.


(Image via Psychology Today)

The main mechanism that allows this to work is the openness and freedom given to the client. Usually therapists who use a sand tray have a large selection of toys for the client to use, so that they can play out any scenario they wish with any kind of representation they would like. Action figures, animals, houses, trees, rocks, strong characters, weak characters, and the list goes on. If you can imagine it, it can happen.

For those of you who don’t know Minecraft, the game incorporates this same freedom to explore. You can craft whatever you want out of 8-bit, pixelated blocks…as long as you have the materials. Some players are very elaborate and build realistic buildings. Others want to build the most ridiculous things they can think of.


(Image via Minecrafter Camp)

My coworker uses Minecraft with his client (a boy who enjoys the game), to explore what is important to him and the themes that comes up when he plays. He told me about a session in which his client did not want to kill one of the animals for food, but instead he wanted to keep it as a pet. So he built a home for it. He returned to playing during another session and his pet had died. He was sad about it, and dug a grave for it with a tombstone and everything. The boy even said that it was too dark there and put a torch next to the grave to keep it lit.

My coworker told me he was surprised because he personally never would have thought not to kill the animal for food, because it’s a mechanic of the game. His client, however, was very adamant about protecting the animal and making it a continuing part of his play.

I think it’s a brilliant idea, and a modern (less expensive) way to conduct Sand Tray type therapy. I don’t play Minecraft, and know little about it, but if I had a client who was interested, I would love to try this out. It would also allow my client to teach me something and be the expert, which is also empowering and healing.

For now, it’s time to start prepping for the next semester. No more 2 week hiatuses…I promise!

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