Mandala Health - Sandplay Therapy
"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." (C.G. Jung)
Sandplay is an experiential and largely non-verbal form of therapy where clients use sand and water in a sandtray with miniature objects, representing all aspects of life. The symbolic images created in the sand-tray gives concrete form to the tacit dimension of experience. Sandplay visually and symbolically displays the inner world experience of each client, and creates a unique transcendent bridge between inner and outer ways of knowing.
Carl Jung (1964), described 'symbolic imagery' as,"the universal vocabulary that constitutes the psyche and the primary language by which the unconscious communicate and expresses itself." Jung discovered that symbolic images and ideas are produced spontaneously and unconsciously and that they represent unknown concept - archetypes - that cannot be fully defined or comprehended. He claimed that, although human consciousness is unable to perceive events or phenomena completely, as the mind explores the symbol, it is led to those innumerable things beyond the range of human consciousness and understanding - unconscious phenomena, called archetypes, that lie beyond the grasp of reason.
Dora Kalff (2003), was the Jungian Psychotherapist who established the model of Sandplay therapy that is applied today in so many rich and diverse settings. Kalff demonstrated that Sandplay images progress through the same archetypal stages of development, described by Jung's psychoanalytical approach. By analysing the sand-tray images that emerged in hundreds of clients, Kalff was able to verify Jung's dynamic theories and structural models of the psyche (Weinrib, 2003, Neumann, 2014). She also observed that this deep, self-organising and experiential process, resulted in deep healing and transformation in many clients which reflected Jung's ideas about self-realisation and the individuation process (Bradway & McCoard, 1997).
Although its roots reach back into Jungian analytical psychology, Sandplay therapy is used today in many diverse settings that incorporate practices from existential, humanistic and experiential psychotherapies, that emphasise right brain processes that are non-verbal, implicit/tacit pre-cognitive dimensions of knowledge. Sandplay is a practical application of multiple intelligence theory, and a model for the dynamic emergence and self-organisation of the creation of symbolic scenes with deep inherent meaning. It builds on knowledge from Gestalt therapy, experiential-focusing, and other somatic-body psychotherapies, and from art and play therapy.
It provides a unique experiential forum for children, adolescents and adults; in individual therapy, couples and group-therapy.
The experiential philosopher Michael Polanyi (1966), described how much of our personal knowledge is pre-logical and tacit - meaning that it may be understood, felt or implied without easily being stated in words. He claims that, "creative acts - such as intuition, informed guesses, hunches and imaginings - are aimed at discovering deep truths and personal meanings. These exploratory acts are charged with intention - the strong feelings and commitment for self-knowledge, he calls ‘passions.’
Carl Rogers (1964), the father of Humanistic Psychology, also emphasised the"felt"aspect of experience in his theory of psychological change. He claimed that there is always an innate movement from the "felt-edge" of bodily experience towards self-knowledge and acceptance, which he described as the natural maturational process of development, self-discovery and self-realisation.
The existentialist Rollo May (1958; 1967) described this experience as,"a positive life-enhancing intention for self-knowledge, beyond individual self-deliberation, that all people must trust." He claims that, although the felt-sense is not already conceptually defined, it emerges into experience as self-knowing, if allowed to do so".
Eugene Gendlin's theory of personality change (1964), followed on from experiential philosophy. He developed the method of "experiential-focusing" to direct attention on the body and 'felt-sense', and process steps that allowed feelings, symbolic images, words and meaning to arise from it.
Sandplay is a form of active imagination, where hidden aspects of the self become apparent. It reveals new insights and meaning that can be related to and integrated into the personality in new ways. It is effective because the sand-tray images created are concrete, visible and tangible, rather than tacit, invisible and intangible.