Sandplay therapy is a largely non-verbal therapeutic approach, devised by Dora Kalff, a Swiss Jungian analyst. Its roots lie in Margaret Lowenfields work, Jungian Psychology and Tibetan Buddhism. You may have come across terms ‘sandplay’, ‘sandtray’, or ‘sand-story’
techniques, and it can be confusing, however Kalffian Jungian sandplay focuses on Jungian psychology and the importance of symbolic expression. A key concept of Kalff's was the ‘free and protected space’ which emphasised the non-verbal/nondirective aspects of the therapy and the containing and non-judgemental therapeutic environment.
Whilst many associate ‘sandplay’ with work with children, it has been effective with adults, often in conjunction with talking therapy. Recent findings from neuroscience suggest exciting results for the therapeutic effectiveness of the technique due to the sensory element connecting to the way in which the brain processes trauma, aiding developmental growth.
The client is given the chance to work with two sandtrays (one with wet sand, the other dry) and a choice of a multitude of small miniature figures. Miniatures relate both to the real external and the imagined world (trees, animals, real life and fantasy or religious figures, buildings, etc). Using the sand and the miniatures the client makes a scene or world in the tray, thus relating to their inner state and their internal world. Sandplay provides a bridge between the conscious and unconscious and a place where both healing and dialogue can
take place. Children often gravitate naturally to working and ‘playing’ in the sand. Within the session they may also talk, draw, paint or work with clay.
For adults the process of sandplay therapy may feel at first ‘silly’ or ‘self-conscious’, or there may be anxiety about what may be ‘revealed’ in their tray, however, the non-verbal, sensory and symbolic form that sandplay therapy takes can also stir one's curiosity and help express something that is hard to put into words.
"the fact that the hands can give shape to the powers active in the unconscious, that they can connect the inner and outer, spirit and matter is the reason for using sandplay as therapy" - Ammann (1991)
This is a deep and powerful form of psychotherapy, the integrity and rigorous training of Jungian Sandplay therapists is protected by the International Society for Sandplay Therapy (ISST). ISST functions as an umbrella organisation for many member societies around the world. I am a fully accredited member and current Chair of the British & Irish Sandplay Society (BISS).
“psychic development can be compared with flowing water…. It flows on and on, and merely fills up all of the places through which it flows; it does not shrink from any dangerous spot nor from any plunge, and nothing can make it lose its own essential nature” - I. Ching, in Kalff (2003 p140)
For more information -
- Ryce-Menuhin, J (1992) Jungian Therapy - The Wonderful Therapy. Routledge.
- Kalff, D,M (2003) – Sandplay – a Psychotherapeutic Approach the Psyche. Temenos Press