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Why I love using Miniatures

I use miniatures in Sandtray worlds, family genograms, and individually. Clients tell me how they feel about their family, about changes in themselves, and what is going on in their world as they place each one. Just the act of choosing miniature taps into the unconsciousness of the client, showing me how they feel, what is going on in their life, or about their relationships with others. 

I use miniatures from the Disney store, fairy miniatures, houses, miniature food, miniature animals, rocks, coffins, and other small items to assist my clients in telling their stories.  Miniatures allow me to get to know my clients on a deeper level.

A client may choose a villain miniature to represent himself when he feels bad about himself or the direction of his life.  He may choose Tigger to represent a brother with ADHD because he bounces everywhere.  The clients tell me what the miniature depicts in their own view. I do not decide for the client.  

Many young female clients feel that they are a princess.  Many young boys will choose the Hulk for being strong or a young man to show his anger.  Sometimes Bambi will be used as a weaker family member. Sometimes a client needs to feel powerful, and says, “I like to scare others” as he chooses a monster. My favorite is when a skunk is used for a baby sibling because he needs a diaper change all the time.  

When we use miniatures to look at families, the miniatures can say “my dad is my Superman”,  “my stepmother is mean like Cinderella’s step-mother”, or “my mom is a nurse or takes care of me.” Miniatures can tell me more about a family system and my client’s place in that system than just asking them to tell me about their family. 

This is the moment that I look forward to as the client thoughtfully chooses a miniature for each family member and places it unconsciously on the table in front of me.  My favorite moment is when the client realizes she placed the miniatures that represent the people she felt closest to physically closer to her and the people she is in conflict with are farther away.  

Here is an example of how a client tells me about how their family system works by placing the miniatures on the table in front of me. Remember that the miniatures tell a lot about the family dynamics, relationship conflict, and who is close just by choosing a miniature for each family member and placing them on a table.

Let me share a few different scenarios about the picture below. 

Example of two Family Scenarios:

Story 1: The client identifies herself as Kanga, her baby brother as Roo, and three sisters, to the right of her. To Kanga’s left, the mother is the witch and the dad is the dragon.  Notice the spacing of the parents.  The client is probably the caretaker of the brother and the buffer between the parents and the three girl miniatures.

Story 2: Mom is Kanga, the client is Roo, three sisters, Dad is the dragon, and stepmom is the witch.  Mom may be protective of the client, she is close to her children, and she is protecting the children from their father.  

Clients tell me that they are blown away by how they told so much just with a miniature.  I love seeing who the client feels close to, who they keep farther away from, and why, and how the client reacts when they realize that the placement was unconscious but told the truth about how they felt.  

Many clients are so impacted by this visual representation of their family that it will come up in future sessions when we are employing more traditional talk therapy techniques.  

Written By: Lisa Parsons, LPCC-S, NCC, RPT-S