"OUR DEEPEST FEARS ARE LIKE DRAGONS
GUARDING OUR DEEPEST TREASURE" Maria Rilke
S A N D P L A Y T H E R A P Y
The Earth's natural elements combined with human attunement and relational skill building. Children are learning social reciprocity and self-regulation if it does not come naturally.
Dry sand, wet sand ('mud') and water trays are an important part of my therapy room, offering children a nonverbal, artistic and intrapsychic experience to precede articulation, expression and attunement to 'other'. I am trained in using the pre-Sandplay method of wet and water tray therapy, in addition to a more traditional Jungian Sandplay therapeutic approach. In the Developmental Play Therapy model, sand and water provide sensory input and an elemental and tactile experience for children who are emotionally disconnected from their nascent 'self'- what Psychologist Carl Jung called the locus of self-regulation. Jungian Analytic Psychology is a foundation of my work with all children 17 and younger.)
SANDPLAY was developed after WW II to assist children traumatized by their experiences. It uses a wooden tray of sand and miniature toys to create scenes which symbolize events and thoughts, exploring aspects of the world and life experiences. Most of my work with children and teens includes Sandplay work. It is very common for the child to select objects and miniatures from the shelves and go directly to the dry sand tray. The natural elements of Sandplay are basic and extremely beneficial for most children. GROUPS page has details about social skills play therapy groups for children ages 4-tweens/teens on the ASD spectrum.
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Cognitive, music, visual & imagination: expressive arts building on a foundation of play
Play Therapy can be used to express feelings when children are at a place developmentally where they cannot verbalize emotion in a cognitive/spoken fashion (12 and under; older if on the Autism spectrum). Toys and miniature figures in my therapeutic playroom serve as a child's words; their play serves as their language. This is especially effective with young children who do not have the vocabulary or cognitive thought process to express their fears, challenges, experiences and feelings.
Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud's daughter, was the first psychologist to use a version of play therapy in her psychological work with children. I use art, vocal expression (music), story development as well as Jungian Sand Play to expand on the play therapy model. Most children respond very well to a developmental and experiential approach, since I can meet them 'where they are' and proceed from there. Parents of child clients share their experience.
A more in-depth understanding of Sandplay Therapy:
Lauren Cunningham, LCSW, is a founding member of Sandplay Therapists of America and the founding editor of the Journal of Sandplay Therapy.
Children have always delighted in playing in the sand, bringing their inner and outer worlds together through imagination. Different cultures have also used sand in imaginal rituals of visioning. The Dogon medicine men of Mali draw patterns in the sand and later read the paw prints left in the night by the desert fox to divine the future. Tibetan Buddhist monks spend weeks creating the Kalachakra sand mandala, which is used for contemplation and initiation into Tantric practices. Donald Sandner, in Navaho Symbols of Healing, wrote about the Navaho sand painting ceremonies in which images of world order are created to invoke the healing powers that bring the psyche of the people back into harmony with the universe. Upon the completion of all these rituals the sand is brushed away and dispersed.
Whether the makers of these sand creations are children, healers, or priests, potent and ineffable energies can be stirred on an intuitive, non-rational level. Sand opens the door to the unconscious world. In western European folklore, the sandman puts children to sleep by sprinkling sand into their eyes. Sand is impressionable, mutable, and impermanent: "Dancing on sands, and yet no footing seen," Shakespeare wrote in Venus and Adonis. The sand particles, created by the disintegration of the earth's rocks, are ideal for pouring and shaping into an image of the symbolic world. We can "...see a World in a grain of Sand" as Blake wrote in Auguries to Innocence.
So it's not surprising that psychotherapists as contemporary healers stumbled upon playing in the sand as a therapeutic method. Margaret Lowenfeld, a pioneering child psychoanalyst during the 30's, was the first therapist to put sand into trays with water and figures nearby in her consulting room. She graciously attributed the invention of what she later called the "World Technique" to the children themselves who naturally brought these materials together in play therapy.
Dora Kalff was initially influenced by Emma and Carl Jung and her immersion in Tibetan Buddhism. She also studied with Lowenfeld in London for a year in 1956. When she returned to Zürich Kalff developed another way of using these materials therapeutically which she called "sandplay."
Sandplay therapists who work in the way Kalff taught differentiate sandplay from sandtray therapy. Sandtray therapy is a more generic term referring to a variety of effective ways of using sand, figures, and a container from different theoretical perspectives. Sandplay therapy emphasizes the spontaneous and dynamic qualities of the creative experience itself. The essence of sandplay is non-verbal and symbolic. In what Kalff called the "free and protected place" provided by the tray and the relationship with the therapist, children and adults play with sand, water, and miniatures over a period of time, constructing concrete manifestations of their inner world. When energies in the form of "living symbols" are touched upon in the personal and collective unconscious, healing can happen spontaneously within a person at an unconscious level. As a more harmonious relationship between the conscious and the unconscious develops, the ego is restructured and strengthened.
Sandplay may open the person to re-experience pre-verbal and non-verbal states. Children understand (recognize) language before they can speak (recall) language. An adult may have forgotten or never learned words for some inner experience. 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 figure pick you!"
The quiet tray with its smooth sand and a trusted therapist nearby allows images to arrive for the maker. The variety of figures and the sensory experience of sand and water also stimulate the unconscious. The elemental nature of sandplay evokes the body and touches the mother within. Sand can be molded, water poured, fire ignited, and air blown. The elemental flow and balance that is created in the tray mirrors processes in the psyche as well as in the natural world.
The size of the tray itself is meant to hold a person's steady gaze which may encourage a concentration and intensification of the psyche's energies. The sand and blue bottom and sides offer the concrete possibility of digging down to the depths or building up to the heights. The three dimensional figures also offer a fullness of representation that requires no skill. Even a three year old can build complex, multidimensional scenes. These figures can facilitate both differentiating and linking together different pieces of meaning and bringing them further into consciousness. Like the alchemical vessel, the tray within the relationship between the person and the therapist contains and intensifies the heat and pressure so that a change can happen.
Sandplay's efficacy comes from creating the sand picture itself, as a form of active imagination, not in focusing on cognitive processing or on the completed production. Sandplay pictures are generally not interpreted while a process is going on so that the maker can stay close to the living experience in their body and imagination. The therapist is a witness who primarily reverberates empathically to the person playing in the sand. When both simultaneously experience the inner world of the sandplayer through the medium of sandplay a synchronistic moment happens. This helps both to contain and to honor the experience so that it continues on working in the person. Sandplay is usually done adjunctively to talk therapy which carries the interpretive aspects of the psychotherapeutic work. Review and more analytic discussion of the trays themselves can happen years after the process is completed. The heart of becoming a sandplay therapist is in the experiencing of a personal sandplay process with its cycles of getting lost, waiting, and coming home. It is a deeply held Jungian principle that the therapist as wounded healer has to have been initiated themselves before becoming a guide for others.
Although the use of sand in ritual practices exists on a continuum from ancient traditions through Jungian and other psychotherapeutic methods, sandplay therapists are now concerned about the economics of healthcare and the impact of modern day values on the future of sandplay. Sandplay therapists also need to continue to relate their work to ongoing developments in understanding the psyche. In the midst of the thrust and rush towards the future, the simplicity and depth of sandplay may help it maintain its integrity as a place of sanctuary and healing.
Journal of Sandplay Therapy, Volume 6, Number 1, 1977.
Written by a father of an adopted child:
My daughter has experienced numerous losses in her short years on this planet. Many of these losses pertain to core issues around safety, security, mortality of loved ones. In short, she is challenged to express her full range of feelings, highly reticent to touch her grief, anger, fear and sadness.
Lisa Tretout recognized my daughter's inherent goodness, beauty, health, and magic from day one. In doing so, Lisa's entire approach was shaped by fostering my daughter's inherent strengths, and bringing compassion and patience to her vulnerabilities. Combined with clarity, insight, and a vast array of experience with children and adolescents, Lisa established a foundation of trust from which positive change could occur, based on my child's readiness.
We continue to see Lisa to this day. My daughter values Lisa as a person of trust, sensitivity and awareness. As a result, I see my child beginning to express a wider range of emotions, without the same judgments and fears that she once held towards her feelings. I thank Lisa, from my heart, for bringing her skillfulness, genuineness, clarity and kindness into my daughter's life. I remain forever grateful. I strongly encourage anyone who is considering Lisa's resources, to meet her and know her directly. Her service to my child is tremendous."