New therapy using sand helps grieving children at Valerie’s home

Sandbox therapy can help children mourn the death of a loved one. COURTESY PHOTO

Playing in the sand is no longer limited to Southwest Florida beaches for kids at Valerie’s House. The charity that helps children mourn the death of a loved one now specializes in a new kind of play therapy called sandbox therapy.

The new counseling approach for Maison de Valérie allows children to use sand and miniature figurines to express their emotions.

“We are very happy to offer this type of advice to our children,” said Angela Melvin, founder and CEO of Valerie’s House. “This approach could be the very experience that allows us to make a breakthrough with a grieving child.”

The clinical team at Valerie’s House has spent hundreds of hours learning sandbox therapy, traveling to various conferences across the state, with the goal of bringing the therapeutic specialty to the bereaved community of the southwest Florida. Sandbox therapy allows children to build their own world in a box of sand on a table. Children choose from a variety of miniature figures to incorporate into the tray and arrange them however they like.

“Miniatures have a special symbolic meaning for the children who choose them,” Ms. Melvin said. “The child can create a world that represents their internal struggles or traumas. When ready, the child will share with our therapist the plateau or world they have created, and together they will process its meaning.

Bruce started coming to Valerie’s house, joining the bereavement support group just months after his mother passed away. In addition to a support group with other elementary school children, Bruce began seeing a mental health counselor from Valerie’s House to begin sandbox therapy.

“It’s pretty remarkable to see the amount of change in her behavior,” Councilwoman Heather Payne said. “He’s stopped having so many tantrums at school and he can talk more about his mum.”

Valerie’s House offers free bereavement support groups for children and families because the organization believes that cost should never be a barrier to healing.

According to the 2021 Childhood Bereavement Estimation Model, one in eight children in Florida are expected to lose a parent or sibling before age 25.

Since opening in 2016, Maison de Valérie has helped more than 2,000 children mourn the loss of a loved one.

Valerie’s House currently offers peer support groups and other activities in Fort Myers, Naples, Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte. La Maison de Valérie is a Centraide partner agency and is entirely funded by donations from the community. More information can be found at www.valerieshouse.org. ¦

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