4 Ways to Engage Your Sense of Smell with Self-Care!

Did you know that smells are often

associated with memory?

YLEO smell

My former colleague, Heather, was recently walking through the grocery store and was absolutely certain that she smelled her Grandmother (who passed away in 2009).

Even though she KNEW it was not her Grandmother in the store, Heather still did a few peeks down the aisles just to be certain. And after a few “walk throughs” around the store, she finally determined that someone in one of the aisles must have been wearing the same perfume her grandmother had worn every day of her life.

So what does this mean?

Think back to a time that you remembered something based on smell alone. Whenever I smell vanilla, I am brought back to the times I spent baking with my grandmother growing up. When I smell a barbecue, I think of roasting (or burning) marshmallows at camp. And when I smell cinnamon, I don’t necessarily associate a memory, but feelings of calm and peace.

Just as smells can be associated with positive memories, they can also be associated with negative memories. Situations that evoke feelings of pain or fear can be stored in our bodies. We may not have the words to describe what we felt or experienced, but a smell, taste, sound, or touch can bring up very strong reactions.

In my mission to help others incorporate the 5 senses into self-care, I was able to connect with Heather and learn 4 ways that she incorporates the sense of smell into her self-care!

1. Enjoy nature

Heather explained, “I like to hike or do nature walks. There is a certain smell to the outdoors- pine, sunshine, rain, leaves, cut grass, lakes/ponds…they all have their own distinct smell. I love taking the dog and kids for nature walks or “bug hunts” during the fall! I love being outdoors…the smells remind me of some of my favorite places…Colorado, Yellowstone, West Virginia. I love it!”

2. Get a Massage

One of my favorite self-care techniques is getting a massage. I love being in heat, so I always add hot stones to the menu. Heather loves massages with essential oils, which can be very beneficial due to Vita Flex Points all over the body (specifically on the hands and feet).

3. Savor smells

Bake, cook, or BBQ. Burn candles. Buy (or make your own) face or body wash with your favorite scent. Color with scented markers. The list is endless!

(There are some affiliate links included.  Should you use them to make a purchase, they won’t change your price, but will share some commission with me).

4. Use essential oils

Essential Oils (EO) are the most condensed version of a plant (usually made through distillation) that still contain the core properties of the plant. EOs contain the same vibration as the living plant; therefore, they can be used for a variety of purposes from cleaning your home to supporting your digestive system to helping you establish healthy sleeping habits. Learn more here!

Essential Oils are used in three different ways:

[Warning: read the labels before using any oils and seek medical advice when necessary].

  • Aromatically: You can aromatically use essential oils by diffusing, inhaling directly from the bottle, indirect inhalation (adding a drop or two to a piece of fabric or a diffuser bracelet or necklace), in a vapor/steam tent (a few drops on a washcloth while you take a shower), or as a natural room deodorizer spray.
  • Topically: EOs are categorized as NEAT, SENSITIVE, and HOT.
    • NEAT means that an oil is safe to apply directly to the skin without a carrier oil (or any plant-based, v6 oil).
    • SENSITIVE means that while SOME people can use an oil topically, some others may experience sensitivity. If this happens, immediately dilute the area with carrier oil.
    • HOT oils should always be diluted. These oils will cause irritation to the skin if applied directly to the skin. They almost always should be diluted at a 1:3 ratio, possibly higher depending on a person’s age or sensitivity.
  • Internal use: Young Living Essential Oils can be ingested with food/water or in a capsule with a carrier oil. The guidelines are much more strict than aromatic or topical use. Contact Heather to learn more!

Comment below with other ways that YOU incorporate the sense of smell into your daily self-care!

Interested in learning how Heather incorporates Essential Oils into her classroom and with her family? Join her Facebook group, You Put The Lime in the Coconut Oil or send her an email!

Sandtray Therapy

10 Reasons to do Sandtray Therapy

The Power of Sandtray Therapy

sandtray therapy
All right reserved. Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT.

Sandtray therapy is a creative method that does not feel “childish,” although it can be used with children, adolescents, AND adults!  A person is simply invited to create a world in the sand using “images” (also referred to as miniatures) that are provided by their sandtray therapist.

When a person places their miniatures into the sand, it is a representation of their inner world.  As a sandtray therapist, I am able to join with my client and their process, ask questions, and sit with the silence that often takes place while creating a sandtray.  It is a beautiful process to witness.

I collaborated with my trusted colleagues to create a list of the Top 10 Reasons to do Sandtray Therapy:

1) “Sandtray provides felt safety and therapeutic distance through the powerful use of metaphor.” Marshall Lyles, LPC-S, LMFT-S, RPT-S

sandtray therapy
Marshall Lyles, LPC-S, LMFT-S, RPT-S

Sandtray therapy is all about the use of metaphor. It allows you to tell your story and share your inner world without the vulnerability of talking about yourself in first person.

2) Sandtray therapy offers healing for past experiences of pain and fear which may be outside of conscious awareness.

According to Rita Grayson, LCSW, RPT-S of SageSource Learning Center, “difficult life experiences that overwhelm our nervous system are stored in our bodies and brains, possibly outside of conscious awareness.  Talk therapy can only access the things that we already know about our personal histories.  Sandtray therapy calls on our eyes to select the miniatures and our hands to place them.”

She adds, “many times when we encounter difficulties in our present-day life, we are actually under the influence of implicit memories from the past that have been awakened. The use of sandtray offers an invitation to bring these memories into conscious awareness where they can be healed in the presence of a sandtray therapist.”

3) Sandtray therapy connects both sides of your brain.

The left side of our brain contains logic, words, language, and science.  The right side of our brain contains pictures, stories, early memories, and creativity.

Melissa Watts, LPC, RPT of Growing Hope Counseling, LLC said, “I always tell my clients (no matter the age) that the design of our brains is amazing and working in the sandtray allows both sides of your brain to connect.  This enables the creative and logical parts of your brain to work together to heal.”

4) It is a powerful tool to process difficult life experiences.

Alyssa Caldbeck, LISW, RPT explains, “sandtray accesses the right brain and connects to the left brain where in the case of trauma, the left brain has shut down.  Sandtray helps create a visual picture for you to be able to work through feelings, thoughts, and behaviors you can’t verbalize or communicate.”

Essentially, sandtray therapy helps the brain get back “online” after it has shut down due to experiences of fear and pain.

5) ANYONE can benefit from sandtray therapy.

Sandtray therapy provides access to a deeper level of consciousness and allows you to process past and recent events.  Although it involves seeing a licensed therapist who is trained in sandtray, you do not necessarily need to have a mental health diagnosis to benefit from sandtray therapy.

6) Sandtray therapy takes the pressure off of traditional “talk therapy.”

“Sandtray therapy “goes in the back door” to get at the early feelings as well as trauma that can’t always be easily accessed in talk therapy. It feels less threatening than talk therapy because you get to “create” and talk only as little or as much as you want or need to” explains Karen Timmer, LPC, RPT of Affinity Counseling Center.

Melissa Watts adds, “sandtray therapy helps when you don’t know what to say, when you are stuck, or just when you need calm.  It can be used with all ages and takes the pressure off of talk therapy.”

7) You can create a picture without being an artist.

Through the use of miniatures provided by your sandtray therapist, you can literally “create a world” without having to be artistic!  Your sandtray therapist should ideally have miniatures in different categories such as people, animals, transportation, buildings/ structures, home items, nature, and fantasy.

sandtray therapy
Sandtray Therapy Collection. Liz Gray Counseling, LCSW, RPT.

8) Sandtray therapy has many benefits for your personal growth.

Through the process of creating a world, you can make connections, apply problem-solving skills, and create new insights.  All of this (and more) by simply placing miniatures into the sand and processing the scene with a sandtray therapist!

9) It feels like you’re dreaming… while you’re awake!

Lynn Louise Wonders, LPC, RPT-S, CPCS of Wonders Counseling explains, “It’s like dreaming while you’re awake.  Sandtray therapy shows what’s in the unconscious.  Just as whatever is rumbling around in your subconscious can rise to the surface in your dreams, so it is with the sandtray experiences.”

10) Sandtray therapy is great for ALL AGES!


Not only is sandtray an effective method for children, but it is fun!  Sandtray therapy helps children freely play out their experiences and resolve life challenges when they may not have the words or ability to adequately express their thoughts and feelings.

Adults and adolescents

Sandtray therapy provides an effective and safe way to share your inner world. It provides access to a deeper level of consciousness and allows you to “play out” your fears, hopes, dreams, and experiences.

And there you have it! 10 reasons to see a sandtray therapist.  If you are near Stamford, CT and are interested to see if sandtray therapy is right for you, please contact Liz to schedule a free consultation!


Self-Care Series: Engaging Your Sense of SIGHT

Engaging Your Sense of SIGHT with Self-Care


The other day, I woke up in a particularly bad mood.  It wasn’t due to one specific thing, but from the moment I opened my eyes, I felt “off.”  As the day went on, it was almost comical how everything seemed to go wrong.  I locked my keys inside my house, almost ran out of gas, and came home to a mess left by my pup!

We have all had those days.  Whether it was due to a bad day at work, miscommunication with a friend, or simply waking up on the wrong side of the bed, none of us are immune to those lousy days!

What got me through it was- first of all- humor.  I had to laugh at the ridiculousness of my day.  I also spent time indulging in some of my favorite things as a method of self-care, including a hot shower, chocolate covered pretzels, and taking my (naughty) pup on a nice long walk.

On the walk, I spent extra time paying attention to my surroundings.  Not only did it take the focus off the events of the day, but it truly made me feel better.

My challenge for you is, especially on those “my day was so bad that someone must be playing a joke on me!” days, is:

Find 1 beautiful thing to focus on. Easy enough, right?

Here are 15 ideas to engage your sense of SIGHT in daily self-care:

(There are some affiliate links below.  Should you use them to make a purchase, they won’t change your price, but will share some commission with me).
  1.  Browse a Magazine: When is the last time you looked through an art or yoga magazine or a National Geographic?  They are full of beautiful pictures- many of nature!
  2. Wear Glasses or Sunglasses: If you normally wear contacts, try wearing your glasses for a day (or vice versa).  If you don’t wear either, indulge in a pair of sunglasses.  Not only can it change your appearance, but it can literally change your perspective!
  3. Look At The Clouds: Remember doing this as a kid?  You watch the clouds and share what images you see.  Grab a blanket and lay on your lawn or at a park.  What do you see?
  4. People Watch: I truly mean this in a non-creepy way!  The next time you’re sitting on a park bench, notice the people who walk by.  There are so many things you can learn just by watching their body language- are their arms crossed?  Are they facing towards or away from each other?  How much space is in between them?  Not only can this be fun, but it is also a great way to temporarily distract yourself from everything going on in your world.
  5. Mandala/ Coloring Book: One of my FAVORITE ways to relax is to color a mandala (otherwise known as a coloring book)!  Don’t forget the markers and colored pencils!
  6. Take Pictures: I know we all have our iPhones and Androids to snap a quick picture, but there’s something about the act of using an actual camera to capture memories.  I use this camera (especially when I travel) to take beautiful pictures!  I also LOVE my polaroid instant digital camera!
  7. Visit a Museum, etc.: When you have some free time, check out your local museum, aquarium, zoo, botanical garden, or park!
  8. Watch Cute Animals: This could mean spending time with your own pet, watching cute animal videos, or volunteering at a shelter.  As a goldendoodle parent (aka “doodle mom”), my absolute favorite thing to do is scroll through pictures/ videos of goofy doodles doing doodly things!
  9. Funny Videos: When you’re in a bad mood, all you need to do is type “Funny Videos” into a google or YouTube search and I guarantee it will change your mood!  One of my favorites is the “Charlie Bit Me” video!
  10. Watch Satisfying Things: As a perfectionist, I cannot describe the joy I feel when things fit perfectly together, or I can watch an artist, hairstylist, or designer make something that seems to defy reality!  Just type “satisfying things” into YouTube and I guarantee the videos will leave you mesmerized!
  11.  Make a Scrapbook: In this digital age, it’s not as common to print out pictures anymore.  As an avid scrapbooker for many years, I absolutely adore the ACT of making a scrapbook, in addition to looking through it later.  Here is a scrapbook kit with all the supplies you need!
  12. Make DIY Artwork: My favorite DIY project involved 3 white canvases, mod podge, and PostSecret books (this PostSecret book is great, too)!  I cut out my favorite pictures and arranged them on the canvas, then mod podged over them.  It turned into a beautiful picture that looked professional and did not cost too much $!  PLUS, you can keep the books on your coffee table or bookshelf to read later!
  13. Create a Vision Board: It’s great to have goals.  It’s even better when you can SEE those goals!  This book is a great guide to making a vision board, and this cork board/ white board combination is a great starting place!
  14. Save Your Favorite Memories: My favorite picture is on the background of my phone and computer.  I carry around a printed picture of my family in my purse.  I save my favorite quotes on my phone’s “to do list.” When you find a picture, quote, or something else that you want to remember, find a way to make it easily accessible to you!
  15. Watch Your Favorite Movie or TV Show… again: There is something about watching FRIENDS that is so comforting for me.  I have probably seen every episode about 12,583 times, but I will never get tired of Chandler’s jokes or Phoebe’s songs.  This can be a great way to distract yourself, or to multitask when you want some background noise!

I would love to hear if you try any of these ideas!  How do YOU engage your sense of sight in self-care?  Drop a comment below!

Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist in Connecticut.  Liz works with children, adolescents, and young adults, and especially loves to use EMDR and sandtray therapy when working with clients.  For more information, contact Liz HERE!



Self-Care & the 5 Senses


by Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT

At my first job out of graduate school, I provided short-term crisis intervention to children and adolescents in their homes, school, and communities after they had been hospitalized for psychiatric and behavioral concerns.  I worked closely with their families and schools, with an average of 40-50 clients on my caseload at a time. I was on top of my game as a social worker, yet after a few months of this work, I remember asking my friends and family,

“Is it time to retire yet?”

I meant that half-jokingly, but the truth is, I was BURNT OUT.  I devoted almost every evening to my job, often not eating dinner until after 9pm.  I was so concerned about meeting my agency’s goals of a certain number of billable hours that I forgot to take care of myself in the process.  I only lasted 1 year at the agency.

Since then, I have done my best to maintain a more balanced life.  Something I love to use in my own life and with clients is to think of self-care in terms of the 5 senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.

One of my favorite interventions to use with clients, especially when we are resourcing coping skills through Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is the 5-4-3-2-1 activity to bring your attention to the present.

In the moment, identify:

5 things you SEE (i.e. currently I see my dog, TV, computer, lamp, and headphones);

4 things you HEAR (I hear birds chirping, TV in the background, air conditioner, and phone buzzing);

3 things you TOUCH (I’m touching my keyboard, smoothing out my hair, and petting my dog);

2 things you SMELL (I currently smell mints and my latte);

1 thing you TASTE (I’m swishing an ice cube in my mouth).

Here are some variations on using the 5 senses:

Turn the 5 senses into a fun competition!

While doing an activity (i.e. taking a walk) with a family member, significant other, or friend, see who can come up with the most ways to engage all of your senses!  Above, I listed 15 things I saw, heard, touched, smelled, and tasted while writing this article. How many can you find while taking a walk? Baking cookies? Exercising?

Make a list

Start a list of your favorite things, organized by senses.  Have this list be portable and accessible (maybe even on your “notes” list in your phone) so you can continually add to it!

Literally STOP- and smell/touch/taste/see/hear the roses

It’s so easy for us to go through our day without hitting “pause.”  Next time you’re out, take a minute to examine an object. Let’s stick with the rose theme.  Pick a petal. What color(s) is it? Does it look shiny and smooth or rigid? How does it smell?  Do you notice a difference with your eyes open or closed? Put the petal between your fingers and rub it.  Now scan the petal over your palm and back of your hand, maybe even on your arm or ears! How does it feel?  After that, see if you hear anything when you bend or fold the petal. And finally, if you’re adventurous enough, how does the petal taste?  (I might imagine how it would taste rather than actually putting it in my mouth, but to each their own)!

How do YOU plan to use the 5 senses in your own self-care?

Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist in Connecticut.  Liz works with children, adolescents, and young adults, and especially loves to use EMDR and sandtray therapy when working with clients.  For more information, contact Liz HERE!


Shopping for your therapist: helpful tips (and cute puppy pics)!

When I brought home my mini goldendoodle at 8 weeks old, I was completely unprepared for my naughty puppy.

Photos by Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT

Surprisingly, the majority of my stress as a new “doodle mom” wasn’t from Bailey’s shredding, or her accidents, or even when she escaped the back deck and ran into a stranger’s house! My stress came from finding her the right GROOMER.

I took Bailey to three different groomers until we found the right fit. Now, my only criteria for a groomer, other than treating my pup well, was to not “poodle my doodle.” Don’t get me wrong, I love the poodle in her (she’s 75% poodle, after all)-including her intelligence, major stubbornness (its amazing how a 15 lb dog becomes 100 lbs when she doesn’t want to go in the car), and loving personality. But I’m not a fan of the shaved face and paws, aka the traditional poodle cut.

Unfortunately, Bailey got “poodled” a few times.

Photo by Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT
Each groomer we went to had a different setup. One came to our home, one was at a grooming salon, one was at an animal shelter, and one had a small in-home salon.

Were any of these groomers bad? NO! They all treated me, and most importantly Bailey, with kindness. Was one a better fit than the others? Most certainly. How did I know? I knew I found the right fit when she:

  • Listened to my concerns,
  • Answers my questions,
  • Explained what she was doing (and WHY), and
  • Changed strategies when something wasn’t working.

When Bailey was upset while getting the full blast of the hairdryer in her face, my groomer kept the hairdryer on low and angled it away from her face instead. Because Bailey cried and screamed the whole time when I left, we both agreed that I would stay during her haircuts. We worked together to decrease Bailey’s stress and we became a team.

What does this have to do with finding a therapist? Everything!

Just like I shopped around for a groomer, it’s important to shop around for a therapist. In other words,



The most important part of a therapeutic relationship is just that- the relationship. Even if a therapist has the most outstanding credentials and experience, if you don’t feel a connection or comfortable with them, it’s just not the right fit.

Does that mean they are a bad therapist? NO! Are some therapists a better fit than others? Most certainly YES.

You see, Therapist A might not be the right therapist for you, but they are the right fit for many other people. Client B may not be the right client for me, but I am the right fit for many others.

When choosing a therapist, it’s perfectly acceptable to do your own research before you ever reach out.  You may have preferences about the following:

  • Gender/ age/ location
  • Availability (i.e. do they have evening or weekend openings)?
  • Are they in-network with my insurance company?  If not, does their full fee fit into my budget?  Will they provide me with a Superbill to submit to my insurance for out-of-network benefits?
  • Are they in private practice, a group practice, a nonprofit agency, or a community mental health agency?
  • What are their credentials? (i.e. Licensed Clinical Social Worker- LCSW vs. Licensed Professional Counselor- LPC vs. Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist- LMFT)
  • What is their theoretical orientation?  (i.e. do they practice Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)? Sandtray therapy? Are they trained in couples? Children? Anxiety disorders?)
  • Do they offer a free consultation? (many, but not all therapists offer this).

Once you have an idea of the type of therapist you would like, it may be helpful to narrow your search to 2-3 people who fit your criteria.  When reading their profile on websites such as Psychology Today or looking at their individual website, do you feel like they are speaking to you and your struggles?  Do they emit warmth and genuineness?

Do you think they could help you?

After finding the therapist(s) you would like to contact, give them a call or send a brief message to set up a consultation.  Make sure you don’t give too much detailed information in the initial message, as it is most likely not a secure form of communication.  If you are able to set up a consultation, think of it as a very informal interview, where both parties are seeing if it is the right fit.  If you don’t want to move forward, it is okay to say so.  If the therapist thinks someone with a certain specialty may be a better fit, hopefully they will provide you with some referrals.

If both of you agree that it is a right fit, your therapist will most likely suggest to set up an intake session.  They may have paperwork for you to sign electronically before the session, print out ahead of time, or fill out when you arrive.

I wish you the best of luck in finding the right therapist.

Now, go ahead and start your search!

P.S. I recently moved, so I need to start my search for a groomer all over again!

[Bailey’s reaction when I told her the news.]

Photo by Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT


Liz Gray, LCSW, RPT is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Registered Play Therapist in Connecticut.  Liz works with children, adolescents, and young adults, and especially loves to use EMDR and sandtray therapy when working with clients.  For more information, feel free to CONTACT ME!