Wednesday, 22 November 2017


We do not expect everyone who does the training to be as steeped in CUSTTAD as we are but we do expect them to know as much as possible about where the approach came from and what circumstances led to it being considered necessary.

Based on our training experience, those who subsequently became the most effective Custtad workers had a thorough knowledge and understanding of both its long held aims and its continuing aspirations.

Anyone who might view Custtad as a possible easy fix for children who are experiencing profound and complex difficulties is likely to be disappointed It is an approach which requires to be employed with much sensitivity, care and attention.

And we believe that those with a genuine commitment to the approach (one which is based on a full appreciation of what Custtad is about) are the workers most likely to provide children with the kind of response they most need. 

Monday, 30 October 2017


The picture which we have adopted as the CUSTTAD image was produced by a boy from Royston PrimarySchool. Robert had been having bad dreams in which the main protagonists were Dracula and Freddie Krueger. As he began to talk about the dreams and other concerns at home and at school he added Superman and declared that he would not be watching any more scary videos.

CUSTTAD is an acronym derived from the two core procedures of the approach which are called Talkand Draw and Making a Tray. More exactly it is taken from the words the Combined Use of Sand Trays and Talk And Draw. The name was devised in 1996 to assist with the write up of an evaluation of its use in a clinic setting.

During a period of several years in Canada I had a number of experiences in education which proved to be relevant to the work I am commenting on here. They included teaching Guidance in Olds, Alberta, a year as a Grade 7 class teacher in Masset, Haida Gwaii, British Columbia and fifteen months in a nursery school in the nearby village of Old Massett.

They were experiences which influenced my decision, on returning to Scotland, to take up a position in one of Glasgow’s two Primary Day Units for children who were considered to have emotional and behavioral difficulties. There, for seven years, along with other colleagues, I was run ragged dealing with children whose underlying difficulties were rarely understood or addressed.

During a year out on a Special Educational Needs Course at Jordanhill Training College Glasgow (where again the focus was more on how to modify behaviour than to understand what was causing it) I accidentally discovered the existence of sand trays.
This led to the writing of a dissertation on the development and use of small toys in making therapeutic contact with young children.

On returning to the unit I introduced sand trays into a classroom already well resourced with creative materials. The change of emphasis in how I wanted to work was supported by the Principal Educational Psychologist in Strathclyde with the proviso that it did not interfere with my duties as an Assistant Head Teacher.

The materials proved to be a catalyst in the gradual transformation of the classroom into a ‘special’ facility which subsequently became a resource available to all the children in the unit. The whole school population was usually no more than twenty four and consisted of four classes with five or six children in each. That facility was the fore-runner of the one in which the practice of CUSTTAD now takes place.

That entire phase of the work’s development lasted about eight years during which practices and procedures were modified in deference to the task which slowly emerged as being central to the children’s needs. The nature of the task and its perceived relevance to CUSTTAD will be commented on later. Almost everything that was made, said and done during that period was recorded in words and photographs.

And, alongside an extensive reading program, it was to these records I continually returned to appraise the applicability of various theories and ideas to the children’s work.

By the end of that time I had taken the work as far as I could and on leaving the unit I wrote an account of my experiences there. The purpose was twofold; to make my own sense of all that had happened and as a means of explaining the work to others.

That explanation became a book entitled BALANCING THE REQUEST TO BE GOOD: an account of a visit to the outskirts of child psychotherapy. And it comes with a caution. The approach has gone through numerous changes, from slight adjustments, to the total discarding of some practices and, whilst a reading of the book can contribute to an understanding of where CUSTTAD came from, it can be a hindrance to understanding what CUSTTAD now is.

Concurrent with writing the book, a facility, based on the one in the unit, was set up in Royston Primary School, Glasgow, Scotland. From its earliest days those of us who have been involved in the work have been convinced of its potential usefulness for children in a mainstream primary school setting.

Also, over the various stages of the work’s development I had given several presentations to small groups of clinicians in the Department of Child and Family Psychiatry, Yorkhill Hospital, Glasgow. Following the publication of the book and a further presentation to the Department’s Academic Research team, it was decided, in the spring of 1996, to try out the work in one of their community-based clinics.

With an initial budget of £500 I was asked to set up and resource a facility in a clinic in the north west of Glasgow. Based closely on those which had been established in the unit and in Royston Primary School there was however a major change in how it was used. Whereas in the unit I had worked mostly with groups of children and only occasionally with individuals, I moved to seeing children on an individual basis only.

During the next four years I met with over two hundred children in the clinic for assessment and treatment purposes. An internal evaluation of the work, covering issues of treatment, assessment and transferability was carried out by a Consultant Clinical Psychologist and one of her assistants. And the outcome was predominantly positive.

A number of clinicians tried out the approach in their own practice and, drawing on this experience, the foundations of a Custtad training program were established. This was subsequently developed further in co-operation between the Department of
Child and Family Psychiatry and South Lanarkshire Education Authority.

South Lanarkshire has played an important role in the development of the work and by the end of this year fifteen CUSTTAD facilities will be in use in the region and thirty four CUSTTAD workers will have been trained. The approach now functions as an integral component in the authority's special educational needs provision.

During that four year period I also spent one day each week working, on a voluntary basis, with children in the facility in Royston Primary School. The head teacher had by this time taken part in the Introductory Training Course and a senior teacher from the school had completed the full CUSTTAD training. As she began to work with the children in the school I moved to a more supervisory role. Two other teachers from the school were later trained in the approach.

In April 2000, the CUSTTAD facility in Royston Primary School was reconstituted incorporating the materials which had been employed in the clinic and the training program is now administered from the school.

To explain why CUSTTAD is seen as relevant to children within a mainstream primary school setting I need to return to the unit to comment on what I found out during my time there.

What occurred with the introduction of the sand tray materials had not been anticipated. As I see it now we had inadvertently created conditions which were conducive to the children sharing many of the concerns they had. And for some children they were concerns which they had been holding on to for years.

They also varied from the relatively easy to sort out, which could be managed within the unit (usually with the help of their class teacher) to the very complex, which would require the assistance of their parents, carers and/or workers from other agencies.

The concerns also had certain common features; a major one being the difficulty the children had in sharing them. And a significant factor in the not sharing was the fear of the consequences. Those fears ranged from being seen or thought of as bad to the expectation that they, or someone in their family, would be killed if the concerns were spoken of to another person.

The concerns were also in what might be described as an unmanageable state i.e. they were pressing for some sort of resolution or expression whilst the children did not have the appropriate means or strategies to do either. And the more inappropriate responses they adopted included making strange noises, shouting, swearing, being aggressive, sitting on fences, climbing on roofs - and all the other ingenious ways children find to let it be known that something is bothering them.

And although many of the concerns were available for conscious recall there was a noticeable deficit in the children’s ability to find the words they needed to give them verbal expression. This was however an ability which - we contend - can be nurtured through the use of materials which are provided in a CUSTTAD facility. And particularly helpful in this respect was Talk and Draw, a procedure which began to take shape in the unit and which has been increasingly formalized during all subsequent stages of the work.

That these concerns were capable of being talked about distinguished them from those which were expressed mainly through the sand tray materials -a widely accepted and excellent medium for nonverbal symbolic expression.

This form of expression also plays a crucial role in the CUSTTAD work, both in its own right and through its inter-related use with Talk and Draw. The employment of the sand tray materials has also been formalized into a procedure which serves our particular purposes. We refer to it as Making a Tray.Talk and Draw and Making a Tray are the two core procedures of the approach.

One other issue requires mention. This is not the place to comment on the subject in any detail but many of the concerns which were in need of being shared could be encompassed within a broad definition of trauma. Included in such a definition would be any incident or event which a child had experienced as painful, scary or horrible, and whose ‘impact’ had remained with them in a decidedly discomforting way.

And once such concerns had been shared (apart from the immediate relief which was often observed) there was usually a reduction in acting out behaviour. Children became more settled and showed both an increased ability to respond to the challenges of the school curriculum and an improvement in their relationships with members of staff and other children. On a more general level, in the unit overall, the atmosphere was much calmer.

I have been placing an emphasis here on those behaviours which manifest themselves in ways which are usually difficult to ignore, but the facility is set up to be just as accommodating of children who internalize their upset in ways which are likely to make them withdrawn or depressed or ill. And obviously it is just as important to be alert and responsive to the child whose difficulties are of a less demonstrative kind.

As to the prevalence of ‘traumatic concerns’: I am not suggesting that the experience in the unit in which I worked would pertain to the population of all such establishments. But it was noted, at one particular review, that 20 of the 24 children attending the unit, had brought, or were in the process of bringing, such concerns to the facility.

Their longer term impact also requires mention.

Much has been written about the degree to which unintegrated and unresolved traumatic experiences can become permanently established to form the basis of adult psychopathology. CUSTTAD’s claim to be an effective preventative mental health measure is based on its capacity to provide an on-going onsite means of helping children to deal with such concerns.

To return to the task, mentioned earlier, as being central to the children’s needs; in our view this is to provide and maintain the conditions in which they feel as supported and comfortable as possible about sharing any concerns they might have - if and when they feel able or inclined to share them.

BUT there is an important qualification: if children on a visit to a CUSTTAD facility choose merely to explore their ideas and concerns without sharing anything then that would also be an acceptable outcome - with whatever gains the child might make being theirs alone to contemplate. The bottom line in this work has always been to provide children with an opportunity to be constructively creative in a pleasant, well resourced and ordered environment.

I need to say more about that qualification. It may seem like just a difference in emphasis but it is much more a difference in ethos. The aim and purpose of the facility is NOT to probe or press to access any concerns a child may have but to CREATE A SETTING in which things can be shared if the child is so minded.

When considering which children could benefit from using a CUSTTAD facility this approach is not being presented as an answer to all the difficulties which might be encountered. There will be those children for whom traumatic concerns may be an issue but who are also in need of some very basic training and nurturing. CUSTTAD is being used alongside a Nurture Group in Beckford Primary School and in Robert Smillie Memorial Primary School, South Lanarkshire. There is now also a Nurture Group in Royston Primary School.

CUSTTAD is also unlikely to provide enough for the child who has been struggling within the system for far too long, for whom disruptive and anti-social behaviour has become more of a way of life than a means of expression and who, in every aspect of their life, is being overwhelmed by the negatives.

But even with the most troubled child there is always the possibility of making some gains, not perhaps in any significant life changing way but at least relieving some of their more acute difficulties. And, based on my own experience, unexpected and positive outcomes can not be totally ruled out.

As for those children who present a much more complex picture involving specific learning difficulties and constitutional or genetic factors; this does not preclude them from having the same kind of concerns as those identified here or exclude them
from the possible benefits of obtaining some assistance with them.

On the subject of nurturing; in the unit, issues relating to food and feeding were an important consideration and they are viewed as no less important in a mainstream school setting. But they can be effectively incorporated into a whole school policy and
taken up in relation to occasions like the morning break and lunch times.

Our position on this is indicated on the web site at where, on the page entitled CUSTTAD with milk or water or juice, it is suggested that the benefits of giving out and sharing food in companionable circumstances should not be underestimated.

CUSTTAD is intended to be an integral on-site, selfstaffed resource. Children, ideally, should become gradually familiar with the existence of the facility within the school and be as comfortable about the prospect of spending time there as they would be about going to the dining room for lunch. For some children, just knowing that there is a facility which they can use if they choose to do so, can in itself be a settling influence.

Each school, within certain criteria, works out its own particular way of informing the children and involving staff, parents/carers and all other agenciesof the intention to set up a CUSTTAD facility and how they plan to use it. The criteria, and working out a PLAN OF ACTION as regards all aspects of the work’s implementation, are covered in detail in the training program.

Describing how a CUSTTAD facility functions within a school or what exactly occurs inside a facility is a subject for another kind of presentation. However, the manner in which the room is presented to the child is representative of the overall character of the work and a few comments will hopefully be illustrative of this.

First it should be made clear that no child would be using the facility without their parents'/carers' agreement. After a brief explanation of the facility (and the words for this and for introducing the various procedures in the room have been carefully worked out) a child is invited to try out the room, to decide whether or not they think it might be useful to them.

Secondly, the room is purposely set up to be as attractive as possible, to assist the child’s engagement, but it is entirely their decision whether or not they take up the offer. A child is never told that they will be going to the facility or will have to go there or should go there. And the offer or invitation is never presented in the form of a bribe, an enticement, a reward or as a response to the child being upset.

But supposing a child were to listen to one’s explanation of the facility and decline the offer, or get as far as the door, look in and decline the offer, all would not be lost. The child would have understood something of what the room was about, noted the terms on which the offer was being made, and know, if they felt inclined to use it at some future time, it would be made available to them.

And, if a child should take up the offer, and if they did have concerns with which they required assistance, then this would be provided with as much of their involvement as possible. There would also be no hesitation in drawing on the services of anyone or any agency able to assist and this would be managed as speedily and effectively as possible.

There are many claims made for rooms which employ similar kinds of materials and procedures as those used in the CUSTTAD approach, and we accept those similarities exist, but in the way this method of working is now structured there are also distinct differences. We speak of THE LIMITED AIMS OF CUSTTAD because we are content to concentrate on those issues of concern which I have identified here and which in my experience frequently reveal themselves to be implicated in the kind of acting out behaviors which are difficult to manage in any setting.

By focusing on those concerns which can be talked about we are not reluctant to accept that other gains might be achieved through the believable if unproven benefits which are claimed for symbolic play, in safe protected spaces, with an appropriately skilled worker. But if they are we would consider them a bonus.

As to what might be expected from having a CUSTTAD facility in a school: at the least this would be an increased understanding of some of the more unsettled children and an improved prospect of making informed changes in what the curriculum, in the widest sense, should have on offer.

Too often it is still the children, in spite of the extreme problems with which some of them have to deal, who are expected to make the adjustments.

As regards counteracting the negatives - an essential element of this work- what more positive message can there be for a whole school community than to witness a very unsettled child begin to take control of their concerns and find a constructive focus for their energy and creativity. It is towards such an outcome that CUSTTAD aims to make a contribution.

Sheila K. Cameron

Saturday, 28 October 2017


The following comments have also just been posted on the CUSTTAD TRAINING site 

The words which we use in the CUSTTAD APROACH have been carefully chosen and honed through much experience

If they begin to be used without due care and attention during the training stage - and if their relevance to the procedures is not understood and fully grasped - they are NOT LIKELY TO BE ADHERED TO during the challenges of being with a child in CUSTTAD FACILITY or on the way there

As a consequence the child may not be provided with the maximum opportunity to understand what is on offer

CUSTTAD TRAINEES have been known to make a confused presentation to a child as they begin their four practice sessions We have usually suggested that if this happens they admit it to the child at Session two and make the presentation again

In such circumstances children have been known to be amazingly tolerant and patient with CUSTTAD TRAINEES!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017


Children who are in need of assistance with their concerns require it from grown ups who can 'be there' for them ONE HUNDRED PERCENT - and with NO BUTS 

CUSTTAD may not always achieve it but it has been devised to get as close as possible to providing as much as possible of what children need

The CUSTTAD TRAINING has also been devised to produce workers who are well prepared to 'be there' for children - with as few buts as possible 

We think that the training is demanding of a trainees time, energy and commitment There are several assignments which take a lot of effort and dedication At interview and on the various CUSTTAD sites information can be seen which cautions prospective trainees about attempting to take on other courses and commitments while doing the course 

If you are taking part, about to take part or are considering taking part in the training these comments are posted as a CAUTION

Those of us who have developed CUSTTAD do not have much tolerance for anyone who does not intend to take on this approach with as much care and attention as the training requires: i.e. the same kind of care and attention which children will receive from you - if you have given the training your best shot 

Saturday, 16 September 2017


TRAINEES are advised to regularly check on this site at CUSTTAD CENTRAL It is a site which can be accessed by anyone, anywhere, at any time and is being used to provide news and information of a general kind

It is also used occasionally to post information for anyone interested or associated with CUSTTAD

The site ON THE CUSTTAD TRAIN is being used for TRAINEES ONLY  The information on there is restricted to anyone who is, or has taken part, in the CUSTTAD TRAINING PROGRAM

Those workers who have been selected to take part in the training require an invitation to access the site. To become an invited reader TRAINEES are required to obtain a google email address The link to do this is

Once you have obtained your google email address it should be sent, along with your name, to An invitation to sign in to the site will then be provided

Friday, 25 August 2017


This book is a follow up to BALANCING THE REQUEST TO BE GOOD and it can be purchased as a Kindle Book at a cost of £3.18 at 

It is also available as a printed book at

Copies of BALANCING new and second hand are available on AMAZON and other on line sites 

CUSTTAD also has some new copies which, if you use Paypal, can be sent to you for £10 each - including postage To order a copy please send your request and your address to 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017


Much has been written about CUSTTAD and most of it has been by me BUT, as I think about it today, I am hoping I have always omitted to make any specific claims about what CUSTTAD is capable of achieving for a child

The only acceptable claims would be those made by a child who had spent time in a CUSTTAD ROOM and, unsolicited, had commented positively on the experience

And if anyone coming across this work for the first time is wondering what CUSTTAD is about, the following comments - which have been made often - get close They have been taken from a paper entitled THE LIMITED AIMS OF CUSTTAD 

'In our view Custtad's central task is to provide and maintain the conditions in which children feel as supported and comfortable as possible about sharing any concerns they might have - if and when they feel able or inclined to share them

BUT there is an important qualification: if children on a visit to a CUSTTAD facility choose merely to explore their ideas and concerns without sharing anything then that would also be an acceptable outcome- with whatever gains the child might make being theirs alone to contemplate. 

The bottom line in this work has always been to provide children with an opportunity to be constructively creative in a pleasant, well resourced and ordered environment.

I need to say more about that qualification It may seem like just a difference in emphasis but it is much more a difference in ethos The aim and purpose of the facility is NOT to probe or press to access any concerns a child may have but to CREATE A SETTING in which things can be shared if the child is so minded'