Graphic that shows the strengths of the right brain vs. the left brain. Learn more about how our brains process anxiety in Therapy for Teens with Anxiety in Metairie, LA.

Right Brain Solutions for Teens With Anxiety

Back in November 2021, I attended a weekend long training event that was hosted by the Southern Sandtray Therapy Institute. The training was online and consisted of two days of workshops. Additionally, it included lectures about various techniques and skills. These skills were used for incorporating sandtray therapy into counseling work.

What is Sandtray Therapy?

A shelf with different figures on it to use during sandtray therapy for teens in order to express their anxiety as part of Therapy for Teens with Anxiety in Metairie, LA.

Sandtray therapy utilizes a tray, often made of plastic, filled with sand to represent a canvas. Therapists, like me, who offer sandtray therapy have a collection of figurines. These include people and objects that can be used to create an image or story in the sand. 

The Sand Serves as a Calming and Grounding Force

You can see these figures in the photo of my sandtray shelf. I have plants, animals, buildings, and people. Additionally I have stones with LGBTQ+ flags/colors on them. When I use the sandtray with clients at Creative Counseling and Wellness, I will often start by having them touch the sand. I do this because it acts as a grounding and calming force. Sometimes just the sand on it’s own will unlock emotions that have been buried. 

Using Prompts to Visualize Anxiety in Teens

Most of the time I offer a prompt of some sort. I then ask the client to use the prompt to create a visual in the sand using the figures. I keep the prompt pretty open ended. For example, “what is a day in the life like”. Or “what is anxiety to you.” In addition, I have on occasion divided the sand into two halves. I then ask clients to depict where they are now and what they want to accomplish in counseling together. 

Seemingly Random Objects Hold Deeper Meaning

What ends up happening with sandtray therapy is clients think they are selecting random objects and placing them in the sand with no reason behind it. Frequently I hear things like “I don’t know why I chose this the sting ray and jelly fish, I guess I just like those”. But then it turns into a conversation about trust and wanting to protect themselves. This relates back to the two animals both using stingers for protection. In Addition, I have also seen stories created in the sand over multiple sessions that help a client express feelings of being an outsider with their peers. 

Sandtray Therapy for Teens helps bring the unconscious to the surface!, 

Sandtray therapy box with different items placed throughout it representing anxiety in teens that can be addressed through Therapy for Teens with Anxiety in Metairie, LA.

Left Brain Solutions for a Right Brain Problem

On the final day of the training, the keynote speaker was Bessel van der Kolk M.D.. He is the author of a well-known book called The Body Keeps The Score. In short, the book covers research on the ways in which trauma and emotions are stored in the body. Frequently, they show up in physical ways.

 A Lightbulb Moment About Teens with Anxiety

Being that the lecture was over zoom, I was half-listening while checking emails, working on case notes, and other tasks. But then, Dr. Kolk said something that really got my attention. He said we often use “left brain solutions for a right brain problem” when it comes to treating trauma and other internalized emotions like anxiety in teens. 

Trauma is Stored in The Right Side of Our Brains

Every job I have ever had before starting my practice shoved treatments like trauma-focused CBT down our throats. These were touted as the ultimate method for treating our clients with complex trauma. If you’ve read my other blog, Is “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Right for You?,” you know my thoughts on prescriptive, behavioral treatment methods. Dr. Kolk pointed out that because trauma is stored in the right side of the brain, therapies that require a lot of verbal processing are not successful. In fact, they can sometimes promote harm. 

Trauma is Emotional and Emotions are Physical

If you’ve ever experienced feeling scared, sad, worried, or any human emotion, you’ve likely noticed that your body will tense up, freeze, shake, sweat, produce tears, and more. After a traumatic event, thoughts or reminders of the event might result in heart racing, being jumpy or easily startled, and other physical reactions.


Physical Reactions to Traumatic Events

A lot of times, these physical reactions can appear without conscious awareness. This is because it is related to a trigger of the trauma. The more emotional the event, the more the mind wants to protect you from the memory. This is why victims of events like assault or abuse have trouble remembering aspects of what happened. But while the mind forgets, the body doesn’t. 

But Trauma is Not Anxiety… Or Is It?

You might be thinking: what does trauma have to do with teen anxiety? Trauma is a much more serious problem. But in my opinion anxiety and trauma are one in the same. 

Trauma and Anxiety Exhibit Similar Symptoms

If you think about it, anxiety and trauma exhibit similar physical symptoms. For example restlessness, fast heart rate, racing thoughts, and sleep problems. Anxiety is not always the result of a major capital “T” Traumatic event, like abuse. But rather can be a response to lower case “t” trauma that is more chronic and pervasive over the life span. 


Teen Anxiety Related to Perfectionism

For example, I work with a lot of teens who struggle with anxiety as a result of perfectionism. I believe that perfectionism is often a learned response. This is directly related to the trauma of being in environments with overwhelming and often unattainable expectations to meet. Or environments where mistakes are met with criticism and judgement. Perfectionists spend a lot of time in that left side of the brain. Here they are overthinking, analyzing, and planning. But to reduce the anxiety caused by perfectionism, we have to use the right brain to gain awareness of the emotions associated. 

Graphic that shows the strengths of the right brain vs. the left brain. Learn more about how our brains process anxiety in Therapy for Teens with Anxiety in Metairie, LA.

Right Brain Solutions for Teens with Anxiety

Between my experience of working with teens and my love for using expressive arts in therapy, Dr. Kolk spoke to something I had already inherently known. However, I didn’t know how to put it into words. Right brain solutions, like sandtray therapy, painting, music, storytelling, and more, are the essential place to start in treating teen anxiety.


Anxiety is trauma and trauma is emotional and emotions are physical! 


You have to start with the physical first. For example, “What does it feel like placing your hands in the sand?”. Or, “What comes up when you see those colors on the page?”. Further, “What image does your mind create with this music?”. We can then connect the physical sensations to an emotion “fear,” “anger,” “disappointment.” 


Over time, teens learn how to notice, name, and describe their experiences with anxiety! They also see the beauty in all emotions but creating something beautiful with them.


Begin Therapy for Teens with Anxiety in Metairie, LA Today!

If your teen struggles with social situations and the desire for perfectionism, Therapy for Teens with Anxiety at Creative Counseling and Wellness is here to help. As a Therapist, I have both personal and professional experience with these issues and am prepared to walk this journey of self-discovery with your teen. Follow the steps below to get started. Through ownership, balance, and practice, your teen can own the stage and the stage called life!


Other Mental Health Services Offered at Creative Counseling and Wellness

I specialize in working with teens and their families. I work with a wide variety of individuals such as: LGBTQ+ Teens, Teens with Anxiety, Theater Teens, Creative/Artistic Teens, Teens Questioning Gender Identity, High Achieving Teens, Teens with Social Anxiety, and Teens Struggling with Perfectionism. My own own life and experience gives me a unique perspective that lends itself to working with teens especially. Reach out today!

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