Sandplay Influences

Sandplay Influences

Founder of Sandplay Therapy     
Dora M. Kalff (1904-1990)

Before becoming a therapist, Frau Kalff lived in the mountains of Switzerland. One summer the daughter of psychiatrist C.G. Jung vacationed nearby and noticed her own children appeared unusually content when they returned from play at Kalff’s. Impressed with her gift of providing an environment soothing to children, Jung’s daughter suggested to Kalff that she study psychology and introduced her to her father. Kalff took the challenge and during the course of her training, with Jung’s encouragement, she spent a year in England working with the famed child psychiatrist Margaret Lowenfeld. Kalff adapted Lowenfeld’s “World Technique” (see below) and integrated it with Jungian principles for her work with children as well as adults.

Kalff had traveled on several occasions to the East and was interested in Asian philosophy. During her training in Jungian psychology, and on the day of Jung’s death, she had dreams about bridging Eastern and Western psychology in her work. When Tibet fell to China, Buddhist monks immigrated to Switzerland, and Frau Kalff was asked to house a monk in exile for one week. He was actually a Lama and lived in the Kalff home for eight years, during which time other Tibetan teachers visited. On several occasions Kalff met His Holiness the Dalai Lama. She became a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism and was instrumental in establishing a Tibetan center in a home adjacent to hers.


 Jungian Psychology     

Our dream life creates a meandering pattern in which strands or tendencies become visible, then vanish, then return again. If one watches this meandering design over a long period of time, one can observe a sort of hidden regulating or directing tendency at work, creating a slow, imperceptible process of psychic growth—the process of individuation….Gradually a wider and more mature personality emerges, and by degrees becomes effective and even visible to others.

… Since this psychic growth cannot be brought about by a conscious effort of will power, but happens involuntarily and naturally, it is in dreams frequently symbolized by the tree, whose slow, powerful, involuntary growth fulfills a definite pattern (Marie-Louise von Franz, 1964, p. 161).

Through the analysis of thousands of his patients’ dreams, Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung observed that the human psyche works towards its own healing and development. Jung realized that dreams and religious symbols leading to this healing and development have the same source—what he called the objective psyche. He witnessed in his research how the symbolic meaning of dreams can help resolve personal conflicts and neuroses as well as deep, religious quandaries. Because dreams appear of their own volition and often contain symbols and other information that is not available to the conscious identity, or “ego,” Jung realized that the psyche is objective and autonomous, that is, it acts of its own accord as a kind of involuntary system.

Jung’s research indicated that the psyche consists of a personal unconscious particular to the individual and his or her family, culture and time, and that the individual psyche is also connected to a deeper, cultural layer of the unconscious called the “collective unconscious.” An individual’s psyche is connected to the collective psyche—that vast, creative energy in the universe that continually promotes life and death and exists outside our waking experience of the time continuum. The collective unconscious contains archetypal energies that can arise in dream symbols, religious symbols, patterns of behavior, and human aspirations. Although there are somewhat standard archetypal patterns throughout cultures (great mother and father, the serpent, good and evil), each of us has a unique experience of the archetypal energies as they engage our individual lives.

The “hidden regulating tendency” that von Franz refers to (above) Jung called the Greater Self. The Self is like a greater personality that resides in the natural world, bidding the individual to become more aware of her or his potential and depth, and challenging the ego to realize its relatively small influence in the scope of the psyche. Through the process of dream interpretation and other forms of communication with the psyche, Jung saw that individuals could develop a conscious relationship with the Self. Through this relationship, the individual can experience what Jung called the “religious function,” a drive for living with a deep sense of individual meaning and purpose, and with a connection to one’s own mythological dimension.

Developing a conscious relationship to the Self and to the psyche is called “individuation.” Individuation leads to profound personal development and healing. It gradually frees one from the unconscious influence of conventional collective values, yet at the same time links one to humanity in all of its ordinary and mysterious aspects. Jung said that one can individuate consciously by strengthening the ego to participate in the life of the psyche and represent one’s personal standpoint. Or, a person can individuate unconsciously, as a plant or animal would individuate, through a natural but unconscious unfolding of individual psychic tendencies. Conscious individuation includes relating to the personal and collective unconscious through dreams, impulses, contemplation, active imagination, or expressive arts such as sandplay.

For more information visit:
C.G. Jung Page
C.G. Jung Institute of Los Angeles
C.G. Jung Institute of Colorado



Lowenfeld’s World Technique 

In 1928 Dr. Margaret Lowenfeld (1890-1973) opened the Clinic for Nervous and Difficult Children in London, using toys, art materials, matchboxes and other materials, including a bowl of water with rubber toys. Children played on the floor and were encouraged to create a ‘world’ using these materials that Lowenfeld kept in her “wonder box.”

Her technique was based in part on the Floor Games of H.G. Wells, which she enjoyed in her own childhood. The materials gave children a non-verbal way to express their ideas and emotions in a symbolic yet concrete fashion. Lowenfield sketched their ‘worlds’ made visible in play, abstracted their meaning, and used this information to understand the child’s situation and needs. Kalff heard Lowenfeld speak in Switzerland and decided to study in England with Lowenfeld. When Kalff later designed the tray, added sand, and integrated Jungian principles in her work with children, she requested Lowenfeld’s permission to call her modified World Technique “sandplay”


Tibetan Buddhist Wisdom 

Sandplay therapy founder Dora M. Kalff became a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner in the 1950s, though she continued to appreciate her European and Christian roots. She recognized that a sandplay scene was a three-dimensional glimpse into the sandplayer client’s mind and heart. And in particular, she saw what is called the sandplayer’s “Self tray” as a mandala. Carl Jung too had noted the circular or square form of mandalas in the dreams and drawings of his patients. His research showed that this form appeared in all cultures and he acknowledged that the mandala was most highly developed in Tibetan Buddhism.

Kalff was introduced to Buddhism when she provided a home for a Tibetan Lama in exile following the Chinese invasion of Tibet. These two outwardly different people, Dora, a therapist in the West, and the Lama, a holy man from the East, connected around a universal truth. They understood that one’s wisdom or inherent health and basic goodness could be witnessed in the form of a mandala. Through the use of sand, water, and small figures the elemental energies of earth, water, fire, air and space are activated by the sandplay client and brought into balance. And it is in this way that harmony is experienced and embodied. For as Kalff said:

 “When we succeed with this work of bringing about an inner harmony which defines a personality, we can talk of grace” (Kalff, 1980).

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