Sandplay Therapy

The protected space of the Sand tray

sabbierabigThe spontaneous process of healing that emerges from the unconscious must be met with an attitude of respect and a sense of wonder. As therapists what we offer our patients is a protected space where they can encounter our human presence, our intuitive capabilities and a form of emotional protection. Sandplay therapy can activate a process of transformation in our patients only if a deep empathic transference develops. Both the protected space of the sand tray and the personality of the therapist represents aspects of the alchemical vessel ; from this will emerge the transformation of the elements arising out of the patient’s unconscious.

I must admit to a great deal of difficulty in writing about a case study in which sandplay therapy was used. A page of written text cannot contain or communicate the feeling participation that is present in the room during such a session. I feel that only an oral presentation can, through the use of the therapists voice, capture something of the original experience. For those who know how to “listen” with their both their eyes and their ears, photographs of the images produced during the therapy can be shown; the eyes aand the ears of the heart and not of the rational mind will thus be able to catch a glimpse of the profound therapeutic and analytical value of this therapy which Dora Kalff left us as her legacy. The roots of this therapy sink deep into the spiritual and analytical search Dora Kalff herself was involved in, into the research into the human psyche carried out by C. G. Jung and which cost him so much pain and suffering, and in the transformative value of sandplay therapy itself.


Dora Kalff and the sequence of “sand pictures”

Dora_KalfEvery single patient is a case unto himself or herself, and thus generalizations are difficult to make. Despite this fact, the therapeutic process I will present shortly manifests in the sequence of images which were created the validity of Dora Kalff’s observations.

• the contingent problem of the patient becomes visible and the therapist can formulate both a diagnosis and a prognosis

• the main complexes of the personality emerge

• a transpersonal images emerges which immediately connects the Ego of the patient with the deeper levels of the collective unconscious

• a series of images then appear which indicate a process of transformation (images which are similar to the ones that illustrate the alchemical process, for example, or the passages of the initiation process in the ancient religions of the mysteries). Finally the Self appears as a unifying image which is able to re-establish harmony within the personality and produce a healing effect. This can be seen in the disappearance of symptoms.

• a process which leads back again to the Ego begins, with images that indicate a reconstruction of ego consciousness. These include images of vegetation and of animals, representations of the Anima or Animus and of the Shadow. All of this is integrated into a wider personality.


The unconscious leads the way along the road to healing

02_SABBIABy observing the sequence in which these various emerges emerge, we can appreciate how the unconscious takes the lead in a spontaneous process of healing. This will happen if the therapist has provided a space which is free, protected, welcoming and non-judgmental, and characterized by a spirit of participation on the part of the analyst. The psyche itself will decide the time and rhythm of what happens and will indicate the end or conclusion of the process with appropriate images. It is very important then, especially when working with adolescents and adults, that the patient become aware of what has occurred.

(Taken from Adriana Mazzarella, “La storia di Bianca. Il processo di individuazione nell’analisi di una donna depressa con il gioco della sabbia” in Il “Gioco della sabbia” nella pratica clinica, a cura di F. Montecchi, Franco Angeli ed. 1977, pp. 237-8 [“The story of Bianca or the process of individuation in a depressed woman carried out with Sandplay therapy”])

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