New Therapy Using Sand Helps Grieving Children At Valerie’s House

Submitted By: Susan Bennett

Playing in the sand is no longer limited to the Southwest Florida beaches for children at Valerie’s House. The nonprofit that helps children grieve the death of a loved one is now specialized in a new kind of play therapy, called Sand Tray Therapy.

The new approach to counseling for Valerie’s House allows children to use sand and miniature figurines to express their emotions.

“We’re very excited to offer this kind of counseling to our children,” said Valerie’s House founder and CEO Angela Melvin. “This approach could be the very experience that allows us to have a breakthrough with a grieving child.”

The clinical team at Valerie’s House has spent hundreds of hours learning Sand Tray Therapy, traveling to various conferences around the state, with a goal of bringing the therapeutic specialty to the Southwest Florida grieving community. Sand Tray Therapy allows the child to build a world of their own in a box of sand that sits on a table. The children pick from a variety of miniature figurines to incorporate in the tray and arranges them however they would like.

“The miniatures have special, symbolic meaning to the children who choose them,” Melvin said. “The child may create a world that represents their internal struggles or trauma. When they are ready, the child will share with our therapist about the tray or the world they created and they process its meaning together.”

Valerie’s House child Bruce began coming to Valerie’s House joining the “littles” grief support group just months after his mother’s loss.

In addition to a support group with other elementary school children, Bruce began seeing a Valerie’s House trained mental health counselor to begin Sand Tray Therapy.

“It’s quite remarkable to see the amount of change in his behavior,” said counselor Heather Payne. “He ha stopped having as many outbursts at school and he can talk more about his mother.”

Valerie’s House offers counseling including Sand Tray Therapy, as well as peer grief support groups to children and families for free, as the organization believes cost should never be a barrier to healing.

One in eight children in Florida is predicted to lose a parent or sibling before the age of 25, according to the 2021 Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model.

Since its opening in 2016, Valerie’s House has helped more then 2,000 children grieve the loss of a loved one. Valerie’s House currently offers peer support groups and other activities at locations in Fort Myers, Naples, Punta Gorda, and Port Charlotte. Valerie’s House is a United Way partner agency and is fully supported by community donations. More information can be found at

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