Struggling to Dig Deeper? How Sandplay Therapy Targets Major Barrier to AAPI Mental Health Treatment - Little Tokyo Service Center

Struggling to Dig Deeper? How Sandplay Therapy Targets Major Barrier to AAPI Mental Health Treatment

Hands playing with sand

Struggling to Dig Deeper? How Sandplay Therapy Targets Major Barrier to AAPI Mental Health Treatment

In spite of growing awareness surrounding mental health in recent years, the needs of the AAPI community have been largely overlooked. Factors like cultural stigma and language barriers contribute to Asian Americans being less likely to report mental health problems, highlighting a wide disparity in the availability of appropriate resources and culturally-sensitive care.

“There were really few Japanese-speaking mental health professionals back when LTSC started,” LTSC social worker Akiko Mimura-Lazare said, reflecting on the progress that’s been made since the organization was founded in 1979.

While LTSC now boasts a team of 11 mental health professionals, Akiko notes that there is much work left to be done in creating a network of care to best serve this community. As such, LTSC continually seeks out the best methods of care for clients who often struggle to connect with traditional psychotherapy modalities.

“[In] our culture, Asians may have difficulty verbalizing what they’re thinking or feeling. We’re not used to identifying our feelings,” Akiko said.

It is for this reason that LTSC mental health workers recently received training on a technique known as “sandplay therapy,” a nonverbal therapeutic intervention developed by Swiss psychologist Dora Kalff in the 1950s. Clients are given the use of sandboxes and toy figurines to create a scene of their own design, and while the premise is simple, the potential insight gained from these sessions can be effective in accessing a client’s emotions.

With LTSC training sessions conducted by sandplay therapy practitioner and advocate, Sachiko Taki-Reece, EdD, LMFT,  the hope is that mental healthcare providers and social workers are able to use this method as a way to circumnavigate cultural and linguistic barriers which make it difficult for some individuals to voice their innermost thoughts and concerns.

“One could manipulate the sand, and touching the sand itself has such a sensory stimulant. It evokes your childhood, playing with the sand at the beach. It opens up our deeper feelings. We’re not asking them to make a story purposefully, we’re asking them to go with their gut,” Akiko explained.

Akiko further recalled the portion of their training which placed them in the client’s position by having the trainees create their own personal sandplay scene.

“During the training, we played with sand. We learned what it’s like to do that therapy… we went through what clients go through, we experienced it firsthand,” said Akiko. “I think that’s an important part of our training, to be on the other side of the couch, what it’s like to be helped.” 

Akiko appreciates the unique perspective this training gave, and she believes that this insight will allow her and her colleagues to better understand their clients’ needs and how to best serve them, once again fulfilling LTSC’s mission to provide culturally sensitive services.

For more information on how sandplay therapy can positively impact communities in need, check out Sachkio Taki-Reece’s recently-published book detailing her experiences with sandplay.

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