What is Sandplay Therapy?
Sandplay therapy is a non-verbal play, expressive, sensory-based and projective psychotherapy that uses sand, figurines and sometimes water. The therapist using sandplay therapy helps the clients focus on their inner struggles and conflicts by asking clients to build their world using the sand, symbols and figurines. Sandplay therapy is a powerful creative intervention suitable for children, youth and adults of all ages.
History of Sandplay Therapy
Some practitioners also call it sand tray therapy. While some may use the two terms interchangeably, there are key differences between sandplay therapy and sand tray therapy. One distinct difference is that sandtray is directive while sandplay is often non-directive.
Psychologist Dora Kalff developed sandplay therapy by integrating several techniques and philosophies in the late 1950s. Kalff learnt under Margaret Lowenfeld, a Child Psychologist from Britain who developed play therapy. Lowenfield is the originator of the well-known world technique, which is a way of engaging children in a therapeutic process by letting them express themselves non-verbally through play. The play includes allowing the children to express themselves by building a picture of their world using a sandbox filled with dry or wet sands and a selection of miniature toys.
Kalff's sandplay intervention is deeply rooted in her eastern philosophical beliefs and her training in Jungian psychology, which focuses on forming a harmonious balance between the conscious and unconscious. Sandplay facilitates the connection with the unconscious to uncover deeply rooted feelings and beliefs, which affect present thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Sandplay focuses on the person's wellbeing beyond the symptoms of the problems or concerns presented, leading to the natural healing process. Sandplay therapy is helpful for assessing and treating a variety of mental health challenges and psychological trauma.
How Does it Work?
A therapist who uses sandplay in their work with clients uses a rectangular tray several inches deep and blue inside, filled with clean sand covering about two-thirds of the tray. The client is free to shift or transform the sand to represent landscapes, mountains, or other preferred landscapes. Various figurines, small toys or decorative items are available for the client to freely choose and place in the sand to construct their “world.” The symbols include figurines of people, animals, plants, transportation, buildings or common items in everyday life.
Sandplay therapists do not direct the client the choice of figurines and arrangement. They observe silently the process of client forming the sand and choosing and placing the figurines without interruption, allowing the client to connect with their inner world. It is a free association process. After the client completed the tray, the therapist then process with the client any potential symbolic or metaphorical meanings by maintaining curiosity stances and without interpreting client’s choice. The client may make decision to rearrange, remove or add figurines during or after the processing.
Who May Benefit from Sandplay Therapy?
Sandplay therapy is beneficial for people for children, youth and adults of various cultural backgrounds and social statuses. It is constructive for people who experience trauma or grief and have difficulty processing their pain or communicating their emotions verbally. Sandplay is also helpful for people who find it hard to use words to express it through non-verbal ways.
There is no prerequisite for artistic or creative talent, and the client is free to create and manage their creations in a safe environment. Sandplay therapy has been effective for the following issues:
Grief and loss
Trauma and PTSD
Effectiveness of Sandplay Therapy
Multiple research studies have found using sand, and symbols increase emotional expression and reduces psychological distress. The sand provides a pleasurable sensory experience which promotes calm and connection with the inner self. Thus, sandplay facilitates the natural healing process.
Restoring Peace Counselling & Consultancy offers sandplay therapy as one of our psychotherapy and counselling services. Find out more about our therapists who offer sandplay therapy to complement other modalities by clicking below.