What is Sandplay Therapy?
In the sandplay method, the client creates a “scene” by selecting from a large collection of figurines and arranging them freely in a tray of sand, in the presence of the therapist. The therapist initially acts as an observer, without commenting or providing any kind of guidance.
The miniature figures serve as symbols or archetypes which the client can select from, forming – in a sense – a kind of internal “alphabet” from which he can begin to express him/herself. For this reason, it is important that the collection be extensive, so that it includes representations of as broad a world – real or imagined – as possible. It is also critical that the client’s selections are made freely, so that what is generated in the tray has a chance of being significantly influenced by their inner world (“let the figures choose you”).
The goal is to have parts of the less conscious self, including fears, hopes and conflicts, become “visible” so that they can be shared and discussed with the help of the therapist, in a safe setting.
The effectiveness of sandplay lies in the fact that it gives the client and the therapist an artifact to work with which is three-dimensional. It has an immediacy which may be stronger than that of a verbal description and which may be helpful in cases where a verbal description of what pains us is difficult to construct. The therapist participates by helping the client use their creation in the sandtray in order to explore their inner issues, and work towards a better balance with themselves and with their world.
Sandplay with Adults
The bypassing of language that occurs by expressing oneself through sandplay is helpful for adults: it gives them a chance to move away from “set” ways of thinking about an issue, and access their inner world, together with the “root” causes of their conflicts, more directly.
Sandplay with children
Sandplay is a useful method when it comes to working with children, not only because it is a kind of physical play that appeals to children, but also because it offers a way to circumvent the child’s difficulty in understanding and answering questions about their feelings, or in explaining themselves verbally with sufficient precision. Sandplay helps the therapist guide the child through ways of expression which are less frustrating for the child, compared to a question-answer format.