Psychological therapy

Dr Lara Lagutina, London NW3, UK

 


Sandplay was developed by a Swiss Jungian analyst, Dora Kalff, based on the principles of analytical psychology of C.G. Jung, Margaret Lowenfeld’s World Technique and Buddhist philosophy. The method is used both with children and adults.


The following if an excerpt from the introductory part of my doctoral dissertation, which explored use of Sandplay with adults with physical problems.


The session starts with the person creating a three-dimensional picture in a sandtray with dry or wet sand and a variety of objects, which they either pick from the therapist’s collection or create from materials available in the room.


Sandplay Collection:




The blue inside of the tray represents water and sky. The process of creating a composition is usually followed by a verbal exploration of its meaning with the therapist. The composition is left intact until the client leaves the room, with the therapist then taking a photograph of the tray.

 

Sandtrays:












Kalff believed that the psyche has an innate tendency towards healing, which can become activated under the appropriate conditions, and saw the general direction of sandplay as a progress “towards a union of opposites through the act of playing” (1990, p.viii). This notion means that the therapist relies on the client’s unconscious to guide the therapy.


She emphasised the importance of not interpreting the emerging symbolism in order to allow the symbols to influence the client in their own unique way. This process is seen as continuing after the end of therapy. For this reason, one or two years after the completion of therapy the client and the therapist usually meet for a review, where they look at the sequence of sandplay pictures and discuss the client’s experiences.


Jung (1912/1990, p.124) made an important differentiation between a symbol and a sign: “A symbol is an indefinite expression with many meanings, pointing to something not easily defined and therefore not fully known. But the sign always has a fixed meaning, because it is a conventional abbreviation for, or a commonly accepted indication of something known.” Understanding of symbols in sandplay follows from Jung’s definition.


Martin Kalff (2003) observed that “the therapy really gets started at the precise moment the client is able to surrender to the play” (p.xi). This view resonates with Winnicott’s (1971) in thinking that an important task of the therapist was to enable the client to play. The primary role of a sandplay therapist is to create a safe and protected space by holding the attitude of openness and acceptance (Kalff, 1980/2003), and to be a witness, who participates empathically “in the act of creation ... establishing a profound and wordless rapport” (Weinrib, 1980, p.30).


Kalff’s concept of free and protected space is similar to Roger’s (1951) notion of unconditional positive regard, Winnicott’s (1965, 1971) holding environment and potential space and Kabat-Zinn’s (1990) attitude of acceptance and non-judging. Bion’s (1970) notion of containment is also essential in sandplay, with containment seen as provided both within the therapeutic relationship and by the sandtray (e.g. Bradway, Chambers & Chiaia, 2005).


Boik and Goodwin (2000, p.10) suggest that unique qualities of sandplay are that sandworlds “can be viewed, touched, experienced, changed, discussed and photographed”. They observe that “the connection with the sand itself helps to ground, center, and/or regress the client to a place that needs healing” (p.4) and note that sandplay symbols can serve as a common language, meaning that sandplay “can be used across languages, cultures, races, ages and developmental levels” (p.11). Thompson (1990) suggested that an important advantage of sandplay was that it allowed for the easy creation of complex multi-layered expressions without any artistic skill.



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Jungian Sandplay Therapy