Margaret Lowenfeld originated Sandplay in 1939. She published a paper about this groundbreaking work, called The World Pictures of Children: A Method of Recording and Studying Them (Weinrib, 2004). Dr. Lowenfeld worked as Freudian psychiatrist at the Institute for Child Psychology in London, where she used a method called the World Technique. In 1954, Dora M. Kalff was impressed by Lowenfeld’s World Technique during a psychiatric conference in Zurich. Inspired by Lowenfeld’s work and encouraged by Jung, Kalff moved to London to work with Lowenfeld, Michael Fordham and D.W. Winnicott (Weinrib, 2004). Being a Jungian analyst, Kalff adapted the World Technique to Jungian theory and named it “Sandplay” (Labovitz-Boik & Goodwin, 2000). What is Sandplay? Sandplay is an expressive and dynamic process which allows clients and therapists to experientially reach a deeper insight into and resolution of a range of emotional issues in their lives. Self-awareness, emotional experience and communication are improved by this process. Without having to depend on words, the client can increase their ability to express through playing with the sandtray while being observed (Bradway, 2006). The client creates images in a tray partly filled with dry or wet sand, while the therapist sits nearby, apparently doing nothing. According to Labovitz-Boik and Goodwin (2000, p. 17), Sandplay is:

  • Imaginative activity in the sand
  • Natural mirror for the individuation process
  • Access to innermost feeling core
  • Observable manifestation of subliminal material
  • Symbolic language for communication
  • Safe and accepting environment
  • Within a circumscribed space
  • With or without water
  • With or without objects
  • Static or moving world
  • Adjunct to therapy
  • Used with children, adults, couples, families and groups

The Benefits of Sandplay The client is given the opportunity to feel increasingly safe and free, as the images created during Sandplay are silently and respectfully accepted. Therefore, the images come from the deeper levels of the human psyche or the collective unconscious, rather than the ego and personal unconscious. Jung believed that healing comes from a deep level within the psyche, rather than from outside and that the psyche can regulate its own path towards wholeness (Sandplay Therapists of America, 2011). The benefits of Sandplay according to Labovitz-Boik and Goodwin (2000, p. 17) are:

  • Facilitates the individuation process
  • Frees creativity, inner feelings, perceptions and memories, bringing them into outer reality and providing concrete testimony
  • Utilizes most of the senses, providing an expanded experience
  • Regresses the client to past experiences, allowing healing and integration
  • Creates bridges from the unconscious to the conscious, the inner to the outer world, mental and spiritual to physical, nonverbal to verbal, thus revealing hidden material
  • Invites spontaneous play; no right or wrong way
  • Allows defenses to diminish because it is nonthreatening
  • Functions as a natural language for children and a common language for use with diverse cultures and developmental stages
  • Empowers the client by allowing movement from the position of victim to creator and by impacting her/his own course of therapy
  • Serves as an adjunct to therapy, making sandplay available for use by therapists of various orientations
  • Provides therapist the opportunity to do personal work

Role of the Sandplay Therapist In order to allow for the psyche of the patient/client to heal, it is important for the Sandplay Therapist to have enough self-awareness to be able to ‘step aside’. The trained eye of the therapist will be able to see the healing process within the sandplay images. Archetypal images can overwhelm the weak ego, therefore, the therapist has to have sufficient knowledge about the symbolic material emerging. Labovitz-Boik and Goodwin (2000, p. 18) elaborates on the role of the Sandplay Therapist:

  • Psychological Container: Holding for the client what is happening in the sand tray and in the therapy room
  • Model: Modeling attentive listening, nonjudgmental behavior and being totally present
  • Bond/Link: Linking the client with his/her sandplay: the unconscious content with the conscious and the sandplay with the external world
  • Helper/Support: Supporting the emotions that are evoked and helping the client to experience those feelings
  • Co-explorer: Exploring with the client her/his creation and what it means to him/her
  • Witness/Mirror: Witnessing and reflecting back the client’s process. Validating and strengthening the experience

Therapists in the field need to have qualities such as theoretical knowledge, clinical experience, understanding of the psyche, commitment to self-understanding and personal growth, experience with his/her own sandplay, ability to tolerate new experiences, belief in symbolic internal images and knowledge of the body and somatic illnesses (Labovitz-Boik & Goodwin, 2000, p. 18). If you found this article interesting, why not subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter? Sandtray Therapy Reading List Sandplay Therapy: A Step-By-Step Manual for Psychotherapists of Various Orientations (2000), B. Labovitz Boik, E. Anna Goodwin, Norton Press, New York, NY. Sandplay Studies: Origins, Theory and Practice (1981), K. Bradway, K. Signell, G. Spare, C. Stewart, L. Stewart, C. Thompson, Sigo Press, Boston, MA. Sandtray Worldplay: Comprehensive Guide to the Use of the Sandtray in Psychotherapy and Transformational Settings (1988), Gisela De Domenico, Vision Quest, Oakland, CA. Sandplay: A Psychotherapeutic Approach to the Psyche (2003), Dora M. Kalff, Temenos Press, Cloverdale, CA 2003. Play in Childhood (1991), Margaret Lowenfeld, MacKeith Press, London. Introduction to Sandtray Therapy for Adult Victims of Trauma (1992), Roberta G. Sachs, PHD. , Dissociative Disorders Program, 9600 Gross Point Road, Skokie, IL 60076. Images Self: The Sandplay Therapy Process (1983), Estelle L.Weinrib, Sigo Press, Boston, MA. Journal of Sandplay Therapy, Sandplay Therapists of  America, PO Box 4847 Walnut Creek, CA