What Is Sandplay Therapy?
Sandplay therapy is a non-intrusive and primarily nonverbal form of psychotherapy.It allows individuals to work through emotional and spiritual issues, and to grow through developmental roadblocks by naturally engaging their inner lives. As founder Dora M. Kalff said, sandplay can also become a way of life, facilitating an unfolding of profound meaning that deepens the personality. Sandplay therapy provides the space, freedom, safety and opportunity to work with the psyche’s capacity to heal itself and to move to a new stage of life. Because sandplay is primarily nonverbal and heals on a deep level, it has great success with children.
Sandplay therapy has a deep and permanent healing effect for two reasons. First, solutions arise organically out of the individual, and second, the sandplay process involves the whole person — body, mind, soul, and spirit.
Sand as a Living, Psychic Symbol
In European folklore, the sandman sprinkles sand into children’s eyes to put them to sleep. Dogon and Navaho medicine men, Tibetan Buddhist monks, Australian Aborigines, and healers in other ancient cultures have long used sand in rituals of divination, initiation and healing.
We find sand at the threshold between worlds – between the world of land and the world of ocean, just as between the world of conscious life and the mysterious world of unconscious, psychic life. To dig in the sand is to delve into the creative world beyond. To play in the therapeutic sandtray is to uncover the workings of one’s inner life, and to invite its healing secrets to arise.
The Psychic Language
In dreams, and in expressive arts such as sandplay therapy, the psyche communicates in a language of symbols. Symbols are specific forms of archetypal energy and are sometimes referred to as archetypes. Symbols can be animals, people, colors, numbers, words, sounds, feelings, bodily sensations, or even life events that have meaningful coincidence. A symbol is a living image produced by the psyche with a very specific purpose. A symbol has a meaning that is unique to one’s own life, yet also linked to a deeper, collective, even religious context.
When I dream of a lake, for example, I have personal associations that have meaning only to me. My personal associations may change from one day to the next, depending on my recent experience of lakes. When I interpret the symbol of a lake in a dream or sandplay image, my personal associations are crucial to that interpretation being accurate. The symbol of the lake also has a collective reference. Using this collective reference can help amplify and deepen the meaning of the lake symbol when it comes up in a dream or sandplay image. The collective meaning puts the symbol in a larger context.
As a whole, dreams, imaginative images and sandplay images may be compensatory, seeking to balance a view held by the conscious mind. Or they may reveal the psychic dimension of things as they are. Dreams and sandplay images may be about process, depicting the operations ongoing in the psyche. They may be prospective and point in directions the Self wants the individual to take. Or they may be predictive, indicating future events.