Sandplay therapy for adults and kids

Sandplay is a therapy modality suitable for all ages. Play is the natural language of the child and can be used to access the creativity and healing capacity of the psyche of adults, adolescents, and kids. I had the good fortune to train in Sandplay with its originator Dora Kalff in the late nineteen seventies when she came each year from Zurich to the University of California at Santa Cruz Dora was a Jungian Analyst whom Jung asked to develop a way to access the healing power of the psyche through a symbolic method that would benefit all ages. Verbal capacities often do not serve us well. It is unrealistic and developmentally inappropriate to ask children and young adolescents to participate in verbal therapy and be asked to talk about their feelings and behavior. This is because the part of the brain that has the function of observing and commenting on feelings and behavior doesn’t mature until the age of fifteen or so. How often do we ask a child or teen why they behaved as they did and receive the completely natural and honest answer, “I don’t know”? Additionally, older teens and adults often have a very well developed capacity to talk about themselves and their feelings with explanations that have grown over time into self-generated “story lines.” These “story lines” can actually limit the ability to see oneself clearly. These patterns of thinking and feeling are familiar but not helpful in finding a fresh solution to the problem at hand.

Sandplay accesses the same level of the psyche as artistic expression and dreams. As in the creation of art, music, and dreams, new and sometimes surprising material comes into awareness during Sandplay and energy is released that can be used for generating a new approach to one’s situation.

During Sandplay a “world” is created in a small sandtray that encompasses exactly the player’s field of vision. The bottom of the tray is painted blue and can be used to represent water. Water can also be added to the tray so the sand is moldable and can become, for example, the rampart for a castle or a mountain range. Miniature figures are added to the world according to each player’s imagination: people of all types from various times and cultures; animals primitive, wild, or domestic; creepy crawlers; buildings of all kinds; vehicles; symbolic figures; bits and pieces from nature such as seed pods, leaves, and sea shells. The sandworlds are created from the therapist’s collection of miniatures and from items brought from the player’s own collection or gathered in nature.

A progression of sandworlds develops over time and proceeds through stages recognizable to the trained eye. The “problem” is laid out in early worlds. A series of “struggle” or “working through” worlds follows. A key moment in the therapy is the creation of a world symbolic of the Manifestation of the Self. This is a Jungian term which describes the emergence of a sense of unity with the totality of one’s being which brings a burst of creative energy. Finally come worlds which represent the individual “solution” and the capacity emerges for integrating oneself productively into the classroom, career, relationship, or larger community depending on one’s stage of life.

What is most exciting for the experienced Sandplay therapist is the opportunity to witness the joy of transformation with very little need for verbal processing.

Carol Weiss, MA is a Jungian therapist with over thirty years experience. She has been consultant in sandplay and play therapy to the Primary Intervention Program (PIP or Special Friends) on three islands for fifteen years. Weiss can be reached on Lopez at 468-4006.