The first thing I say when introducing Jungian Sandplay into talk therapy is that I use it mostly for the ADULT mind that has lost touched with the inner CHILD, and in particular, the healing powers of pure play and imagination. Sandplay is an emotionally rich, mostly non-verbal, deep mirroring technique of “active imagination” (Jung). As a therapeutic medium, sand and waterare remarkably peaceful and calming, easily assimilated and malleable when mixed together, naturally plentiful, “clean,” totally tactile, and also quite ordinary–hence their natural appeal to children, vacationers, and earth-bound, intuitive cultures.
In the therapist’s office, Sandplay invites expression of the Inner Child– innate freedom, quietude, natural intelligence and creativity of pure play. Children, of course, have always delighted in playing in the sand, bringing inner and outer worlds together through touch, texture, movement, and imagination. But many indigenous cultures, historically, have also used sand more spiritually in various vision rituals. Tibetan Buddhist monks, for instance, spend weeks creating the Kalachakra sand mandala used for contemplation and initiation into Tantric practices. The Jungian analyst Donald Sandnerwrote about the Navaho sand painting ceremonies in which images of world order (See left) are created to invoke the healing powers that bring the psyche back into harmony with the universe. Upon the completion of such rituals, the sand is brushed away and dispersed signifying a return to the basic openness and formlessness of the present moment.
What is (Jungian) SANDPLAY THERAPY?
At my instruction, a client may be invited to “make a scene in the box“ often when the course of talk therapy has reached a plateau, gotten a little stale or disconnected from present emotion and future direction. This method emphasizes the healing properties of spontaneous play, non-thinking, following one’s instincts, and the creative experience itself. Its essence is non-verbal, imaginative, and symbolic. In what Swiss analyst Dora Kalff called the “free and protected space,” the client plays with sand, water, and miniatures over a short period of time, constructing concrete manifestations of her inner world. The effects are felt immediately at the core of one’s being. Interpretation is kept to a minimum.
The technique can open the client to re-experience important pre-verbal and non-verbal states of early development. Children understand (recognize) language before they can speak (recall) language. Adults may have forgotten or never learned words for some inner experiences, yet they may recognize a figure intuitively without being able to recall why or what it is. That’s why sandplay therapists sometimes say, “Let the object pick you!”
It is said that a full collection of objects represents:
EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD
EVERYTHING THAT HAS EVER BEEN
EVERYTHING THAT CAN BE
Sandplay therapy for (adults and teens) can occur in a series of boxes over an extended period of time (perhaps 10 sessions over a six month period), or more spontaneously and supplemental to talk therapy as the “need” arises (either in the patient or the therapist). Sandplay can help amplify dreams, access and unlock deep emotions, enhance intuition and creativity, reconnect to natural spirituality, and deepen therapy in ways that words typically hinder or bypass. As with other tools and techniques of active imagination, I introduce sandplay when a plateau period has “flattened” the current course of talk therapy, and a deeper approach or route of access is desired.
The creation process is mostly non-verbal, focused but unrushed, and satisfying not unlike a child’s playful and instinctive construction of a sand castle at the beach. The process, surprisingly, can be both richly emotional and calming in a profound way. I think of Sandplay as a kind of spiritual “inner child” work for adults who have disconnected from that essential, magical, and highly intelligent part of themselves.
“When you really ‘get’ I am not my thoughts, they get out of the driver’s seat.” Buddhist teacher
Contact Dr. Art Rosengarten at Moonlight Counseling for a free phone evaluation for individual psychotherapy and other services. (760) 944-6710