What is Sandplay Therapy?

By January 22, 2015

Today’s psychology focus is on Sandplay Therapy. You will love this approach if:

  • You are curious to explore how your unconscious is expressing itself through symbol, image, and story.
  • You enjoy the process of self discovery using active imagination.
  • You are a “verbal processor” and would like an alternate form of resolving interpersonal issues.
  • You keep a dream journal and want to deepen your understanding of your dreams.

sandplay-therapySandplay is sometimes also referred to as Sand “tray” therapy. It was developed by Dora Kalff, a Swiss Jungian Analyst, in the 1950 – 60’s based on her studies at the C.G. Jung Institute, Zurich and in Tibetan Buddhism. She was also influenced by British Child Psychiatrist Margaret Lowenfeld’s work using “sand world” with children.

Sandplay therapy is a method used in addition to talk therapy. In Sandplay, a scene is made from figures and objects placed in a box of sand. The process engages the symbolic, mythic, and non-verbal intra-psychic life that is waiting to reveal itself to you. The scene is created entirely by your hands and imagination while the analyst silently witnesses. The process gives you an opportunity to portray, rather than verbalize, feelings and experiences often inaccessible and/or difficult to express in words.

The basic assumption of this approach is that the psyche possesses a natural tendency to heal itself, and the Sandplay gives a space for this healing to occur through symbolic resolution to the unconscious conflict that is causing distress. The goal of the Sandplay is to activate this natural tendency by using the language of the unconscious, symbolism, to express itself.

Kalff did a series of sand trays with clients over several sessions, photographing each until the process felt complete. She would then engage dialogue and reflection capturing the overall nuances and impressions of the entire series. The use of this technique has shifted and changed over time. You may find an analyst who will do a single Sandplay session with you alongside other methodologies.

What are the psychological tools a counselor might use during a session?

  • Action Imagination
  • Extended Sandplay
  • Storytelling
  • Digestion, Reflection, and Insight

Resources for further exploration:

Sandplay: A Psychotherapeutic Approach to the Psyche by Dora Kalff

Psychology Today: Find a Therapist Who Does Sandplay

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