Jesus, Sandtray Therapist

A few months ago, my sweet friend Margy led a class at St. Bartholomew’s titled,
Poems and Pilgrim souls: The Incarnational art of poetry.”  Not only do I love poetry, but I love my sweet friend, so naturally I was excited about it.  During the first session something hit me like never before.

There’s a passage in scripture, well known to many of us as it has been preached since we were children. It’s one of those, in our denomination, that has received a lot of speculative discussion.

In John 8, Jesus “appeared again,” for the second day, teaching in the temple courts during the Festival of the Tabernacles. But this time, he was interrupted when the “teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman to him who had been caught in adultery.  The story continues that the men pressed Jesus, trying to trap him, saying that the law required them to stone such women.  Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.  When the men continued pressing Jesus, he stood and said “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” and he stooped down a second time to write in the sand.

We paused in the class and people began to share openly about their historical views on what this meant.  Some said they’d been taught that Jesus was actually writing some of their sin down as a way to call them out, others focused on why only the woman was brought before him, since the act would’ve involved another person, and others spoke on his protection of the woman from condemnation of man.

Then it hit me!  I asked the group of strangers to bear with me as my extroverted brain had not yet taken time to process or think through the words I was about to speak.  BUT… If Jesus was really tempted in every way each of us are, I can just imagine that when these men brought this woman to him, attempting to shame and on the verge of taking her life, I can imagine he wanted to punch them in the face.  Yes, right in the nose! I would’ve wanted to; part of me still does.  Perhaps he wanted to look at the young woman and in frustration say, “Really? Again?.”  Or, maybe his heart ached and he wanted to wrap his arms around his daughter, knowing how deeply her actions were hurting her, and that the void she was trying to fill would ultimately not be found this way.  Maybe he was angry that the lesson he knew needed to be taught, had been interrupted by these bozos with their own agenda.

Instead of acting on these impulses, and having to make amends later, Jesus paused.  He paused and drew in the sand.  I imagine him thinking, as he knelt, “You have GOT to be kidding me… Lord give me strength!”

When people irritate, or attempt to embarrass or harm me, and when I see injustice happen to others, sometimes I have to pause.  I breathe, count, roll my eyes, adjust my ponytail, sip my coffee or a myriad of other coping techniques to prevent my frustration and anger from finding its way out my mouth.  I’m not always successful, then again, I don’t always have sand to write in.

Wait a minute, Jesus played in the sand, overcame a stressful situation and was then able to address the problem head on with clarity.  THAT’S SAND TRAY THERAPY! 

After just a few moments in the sand, he gathered himself and spoke directly, a statement that neither condoned the woman’s behavior, nor did it lead to further shame.  In essence, he leveled the playing field, reminding them that though this may not be their time, what about ____.

I believe (smiling but seriously) this story in John 8, may show the first example and indeed shows the power of Sandtray therapy.  

Sand play therapy, was developed in the 1920’s by Margaret Lowenfeld and became popular in the 80’s by a Jungian analyst, Dora Kaliff. It takes a non-directive approach with no real interpretations in the sand.  Sandtray on the other hand is a more directive approach, and while it can have interpretations in the sand, still relies greatly on the client’s inner world.

I incorporate Sandtray in my therapy practice with survivors of trauma, those with relationship issues and even those on a journey to find themselves, defining who they are.  It’s powerful and one of many wonderful tools we have available.  And now the skeptics or those who may doubt the power or need for counseling services… see… it’s even biblical! 🙂


Bio: Kaci Allen is an experiential therapist based in Nashville TN who focuses much of her practice time with trauma, grief and loss and family of origin work.  Helping clients from all walks of life find their voice, while creating a safe place to heal, is her passion, and her work truly comes alive in the group environment.  Kaci has advanced training in facilitating experiential/psychodrama groups as well as leading therapy groups from a modern psychoanalytic approach.  She is part of an ongoing training group in Nashville led by Jeff Hudson, M.Ed., LPC, CGP, from Austin, TX who is a Fellow with the American Group Psychotherapy Association and received advanced experiential training with Dr. Gerald Corey, Professor Emeritus, Cal State Fullerton and who is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (Counseling Psychology); a Fellow of the American Counseling Association; and a Fellow of the Association for Specialists in Group Work.

Kaci received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University and a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Lipscomb University.  She is an adjunct professor at Cumberland University where she has taught numerous Psychology and Counseling courses including Advanced Expressive Arts Techniques.


John 8: 1-11 “At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”



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