A progressive therapeutic process accessibly by children, young people, and adults of all ages.
It is not unusual for people to assume that a therapeutic medium involving the use of sand and including the word ‘play’ would sound like it is specifically for children – perhaps indicating something not very serious nor profoundly insightful. Sandplay might sound like a form of therapy that is soft, gentle and simple, assisting the development of young children who may have experienced trauma or be struggling with some behavioural concerns. This is true, however Sandplay is far more than its simplistic appearance. The creative experience that is ‘play’ and the tactile use of a primordial material that is sand, can engage people of all ages towards the possibility of reaching into and connecting with their own internal experience.
The use of the sand tray itself has many applications in different settings, the application here is Jungian and the setting is psychotherapy. Jungian is the term used to indicate the essential consideration of the analytical psychology of Carl Jung. This is crucial to the value of the created image and the experience of its creation in Sandplay. Analytical psychology brings the depth and meaning of the created sensory images within the sand tray into an understood language.
The process of Jungian Sandplay introduces you to two sand trays – one is wet sand and the other dry. This choice allows the client to select the sensory experience they would like to work with, the flow and softness of the dry sand or the more sculptable wet sand. For different individuals there are different sensory experiences of the wet and dry sands and this in itself can create a focus of insight.
You cannot enter a sandplay room without noticing that there is a vast array of miniature figurines and objects on display. These are made available to support the creative process, by providing forms of expression for sensory and felt experiences. Simple though they may be in their plastic, wooden, metal and stone etc forms, they are invaluable in their ability to be evocative in the process of the work. They can help to act as conduits to bring expression to the fore and allow it to be explored visually, spatially and from an observing distance. The creation of an image and the very process of its creation gives the client perspective, time and space to consider their own experience beyond describing and talking about it. It is not necessarily the creation of the completed image that holds the most value but how the client finds the experience ‘speaks’ as they focus on creating. The use of the word ‘speaks’ here refers to the internal voice of spontaneous idea, thought or realisation, it is also the sensory response or felt sense that might arise internally to be acknowledged. This is not interpreted, as no interpretation can be allowed to interfere with the emerging conscious awareness at this point. The aim is to support and facilitate the unique expression of the individual as they formulate and shape their world view from inside themselves – to hold a free and protected space where this can find a firm foothold. While any contribution of interpretation, of psychological theory, ideas or hypothesis may hold a lure of interest and insight, it is important not to intrude. Working through Sandplay requires holding with not knowing, there is an absence of immediate answers and conclusions in the normal way that we often expect. There may be a desire to understand the meaning of the creative experience that unfolds in a session, a need to seek reassurance of value and positive effect. The absence of this can for some feel frustrating and disappointing for others a relief and this in itself is worth observing. However, it is essential to the method that we do not intrude or prematurely attempt interpretation during the ongoing creative process, as it risks undue influence on the unfolding and evolving work which must be the untainted expression of the individual client. Once the ongoing work in the sand comes to a natural finish it can then be reviewed with possibilities of interpretation added. At this stage the client will have solidified their own experience and can shape any interpretation or analytical ideas around that rather than vice versa.
The meaning and integration of the process is important but this takes place after the process of Sandtray work is felt to have reached a completion point. After each session a photograph is taken of the final image. These photographs can then be reviewed together by the client and therapist. It is at this stage that interpretation possibilities are discussed. It is very important that the client can consider interpretative aspects while also protecting and speaking for their own personal experience. Personal insight and experience is always the priority – interpretation and psychological ideas are intended to lend support, more context and ground new development.
In Jungian Sandplay we talk about symbols and symbolic language. The figures and objects are considered to carry broader meaning possibilities and are sometimes referred to as symbols. For example the client sees some small cakes on a shelf and comments ‘oh they remind me of baking with my mother as a child’. This can raise feelings, memories and ponderings – the actual objects of the miniature cakes on the shelf have no direct connection to the client’s experience but rather, act as a focal point through which the aspects of the original experience can emerge. In the free and protected space of the therapeutic process clients will find themselves curious and surprised by the salient thoughts, ideas and memories that arise, as they engage with the materials and allow themselves to play freely. To play freely is to allow yourself to be affected by experiences that arise and to follow them – to enter the rabbit hole as Alice did in the tale by Lewis Carroll. This is Sandplay.
“I’m not strange, weird, off, nor crazy, my reality is just different from yours.”
― Lewis Carroll
Dora Kalff a Swiss Jungian Analyst founded the method of Jungian Sandplay. Below is a video where she describes the method. The video is focued on her work with children but many of the concepts are the same for adult Sandplay. For more information on Dora Kalff and the professional development of Sandplay please click on the button ‘About Dora Kalff’.