Dr. Judith D. Bertoia, Registered Psychologist, Registered Play Therapist - Supervisor

Sandplay Therapy

Part of the inspiration for sandplay began early in the last century with H.G. Wells watching his sons as they played with miniature figures on the floor. He realized they were working out their problems with each other and their lives in general. Two decades later child psychiatrist Margaret Lowenfeld remembered reading about Wells' experience with his sons when she was looking for a technique to help children express their difficulties, so she added miniatures to her clinic's playroom. The children began adding these figures to the sandbox. Lowenfeld called this method the World Technique.

In Zurich, Jungian Analyst Dora Kalff heard about Lowenfeld's work and went to London to study with her. Kalff recognized the value of sandplay for helping both adults and children work through very difficult life situations. She integrated Jungian concepts into this work and called her approach to the technique Sandplay. In 1985 she was joined by analysts from other countries in founding the International Society for Sandplay Therapy.

At first sandplay appears rather simple: sand in a tray of specific dimensions, optional water, natural elements - rocks, shells, sticks - and miniatures such as people, animals, buildings, vehicles, bridges, vegetation, culturally significant figures, mythological characters, and much more. Therapists have unlimited choice in what they make available.

There is no single or correct approach to being a sandplayer. One person may prefer to work with dry sand, another to sculpt wet sand. Some sandplayers place various figures in the tray creating a scene or picture. Others create a dynamic unfolding story filled with action and changing arrangements. One sandplayer may start by slowly sifting dry sand, then move into other ways of working with it. Another may quickly begin choosing figures from the shelves. Sometimes individuals will comment on their work as they proceed or have a story about it as a tray feels "finished." At times children, especially, will seek to engage the therapist actively in the sandplay, but usually the therapist acts primarily as a witness only, silently very attuned to the sandplayer's mood and activities. For many individuals a series of trays over a longer period are integrated with verbal or other therapies, while other people feel drawn to create only a few trays in shorter term work.

The therapist provides a safe, non-judgmental space but does not interpret the tray. A reductive interpretation is not used because the images often come from deep within and are uncensored by the ego. Interpretation can actually inhibit the process. Rather than projecting our limited concepts, theories, or models onto the images, we wait for the wisdom of the client's psyche to unfold through the series of sand pictures. The process of touching the sand, adding water, or creating scenes activates the sandplayer's capacity for healing and transformation. The non-intrusive emotional container created by the trained therapist encourages sandplayers to experience their inner issues, often at very deep levels. Over the course of a therapy process, new developments and healing can be seen. Carl Jung believed the human psyche has the ability to regulate its own path toward wholeness, and healing comes from this deep level of the psyche rather than from the outside.

In addition to all their other psychological training, it is essential for sandplay therapists to have extensive training in understanding the archetypal levels of the unconscious. As a sandplay process moves forward the images seem to come from progressively deeper levels of the human psyche, or the collective unconscious. An effective sandplay therapist must also have enough self-awareness to be able to 'step aside' while allowing the psyche of the patient to begin to heal. For the trained eye, a map for the healing process can be seen in the sandplay images.

Through the act of making images in the sand there is an integration of unconscious material, and internal relationships can undergo profound changes which move the personality toward wholeness.

A trained sandplay therapist will have taken courses, written papers, experienced a personal sandplay process, undergone extensive supervision, and remained current through continuing education and readings — all specific to sandplay. National organizations such as the Canadian Association of Sandplay Therapists (CAST) and the Sandplay Therapists of America (STA) as well as the International Society of Sandplay Therapists (ISST) offer on-going training and conferences. STA's journal, regional newsletters, and many books specific to sandplay provide excellent resource material.

The answers lie within. The challenge is listening to their wisdom and then creating change.

A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.
— Antoine De Saint-Exupery