Frequently Asked Questions
For ease of reading, references to ‘Sandplay’ refer specifically to ‘Jungian Sandplay’.
What is Sandplay?
Sandplay is a sensory and symbolic form of therapy that is primarily non-verbal or in other words, not ‘talk’ dependent. What the client will notice on entering the therapists room is that there are shelves of objects and figurines along with two trays of sand. One tray has wet sand and the other has dry sand. The client generally chooses their preferred tray. Then, using the sand and adding objects if they so wish, they seek to create images through sensory exploration. The word 'image' is interpreted broadly here, as once the sand is touched it holds an image expression for that person, images can therefore be a specific scene, a depiction or an abstract form. Findings from neuroscience have shown that if we want to access deeper levels of awareness including the effects of trauma and experiences that have been damaging, we need to use methods that work though symbolic and sensory processing. Sandplay supports positive psychological development and the addressing of issues, symptoms and their resolution. This method provides individuals with a means of creating, expressing and processing through visual, sensory and symbolic modes, which are together, conducive to deep reaching therapeutic effect. For a more detailed description see Jungian Sandplay -What is it?
Why ‘Jungian’ Sandplay?
While this method is often simply called ‘Sandplay’ – it refers specifically to Jungian Sandplay. Sandplay draws from the analytical psychology of Carl Jung. It is through the far reaching lens of Jungian psychology that symbolic meaning and possibilities that emerge through this are explored in a Sandplay process. Jungian Sandplay therapists are required to have a deep understanding of Jungian psychology. This method of Sandplay is designed to access and work with implicit experience (experience that is known but not conscious) and it is Jungian psychology that provides the framework to facilitate this.
How can Sandplay help?
Sandplay, while a deeply engaging process, is a gentle and creative form of therapy. The language of Sandplay is primarily symbolic and consequently non-threatening to conscious experience. This provides more space and ease for safe self-exploration, allowing the process to be both open and deep reaching. Resolution often arrives initially as an internal felt and/or sensed experience, and later may be articulated through cognitive understanding. Sandplay doesn’t depend on conscious ‘working out’ or ‘deciphering’ of experience. Positive change and increased awareness often happen ahead of the ability to ‘put into words’. Sandplay works well with integration of implicitly held memories. This is where much of our unconscious learning (including early life experiences), that underpins our experience of the world, is sourced.
How do I know if Sandplay is for me?
Sandplay is for anyone who is curious about or interested in engaging in a creative, non-verbal form of therapy. It can be used by children, adolescents and adults. Sandplay is a method that can offer scope for people who are seeking to address difficulties and/or those who would like to discover more about their depths and work on their own internal development. The method offers sensory and symbolic exploration of experience in a safe and protected space for anyone who would like to work that way. It is primarily a space and medium for people who would like to further their own self-understanding, whether they arrive to therapy through crises and difficulty or curiosity. No previous knowledge, skill or artistic ability is required.
What can I expect?
When you enter a Sandplay room you will notice that there are two sand trays, one with wet sand the other with dry sand, along with an array of objects and figurines. These are the primary materials of Sandplay. Your approach to this method is individual. You may find yourself drawn to the sand first or to the objects or both at the same time. You might decide to begin working with the sand straight away, prefer to take some time with the setting first, or wish to talk with the therapist, with some questions perhaps. There is no wrong or right way to proceed but noticing your responses and experience is often helpful. Clients are invited to choose the wet or the dry sandtray. In their own time they begin to play with the sand and/or objects to create an image. This image may emerge from a particular idea or focus of attention, or be more instinctive or sensory in its creation etc. It may, for example, involve playful exploration of the sand, be something that evolves and changes through the session or it may be a single defined image. Some clients find it easy to begin using the sand, for others it takes a little time to connect with this way of working. What is most important is that the client experiences the space for free and open expression.
Does the therapist interpret the images?
In Jungian Sandplay the therapist does not interpret the images. The emphasis here is on protecting the free space to allow symbolic resonance to arise and manifest naturally, uninterrupted. This 'free and protected space' is an essential aspect of the method as it supports positive outcomes, trauma resolution and development. The therapist attends to the containment of the therapeutic experience, holding the space open and safe (in its practical and therapeutic meanings). This allows the client to be able to focus fully on his or her own process and immerse their attention there. The space needs to be kept available for the client’s world which may contain fragile aspects and experience vulnerable to misinterpretation if a therapist assumes meaning too early. At the end of a process the client and therapist may arrange to review the work . At this stage the client has a more grounded sense of self and has build their own interpretation and meaning of the work. This is the optimum place from which to consider any possible insights suggested by the therapist.
How will I know if it’s working?
The effectiveness of Sandplay depends primarily on the provision of good containment and safe, competent therapeutic holding. As Sandplay is a medium that essentially offers boundless exploration, it follows that it has the capacity to ‘work’ to the extent that the client feels able and free to explore within it. Many clients describe a growing sense of their own self-awareness, identity and internal self-confidence as they work using Sandplay. This development can then support the exploration, understanding and addressing of other issues. If a client is uncertain about the effectiveness of the process they should address this with their therapist.
What issues does Sandplay help to address?
Sandplay is an open and exploratory sensory process, and as such there is no restriction or limit on the particular issues a client may bring. The process is based on the Jungian idea that issues and difficulties often arise because of an internal imbalance, block or traumatic experience. Presenting issues while significant in themselves, may also be an opportunity to address wider perception and interpretation and address possible impeding restrictions there. Sandplay offers a method that provides key supports such as the ‘free and protected space’ of the therapeutic environment, creative sensory materials and an approach that can access internal connection and developmental potential. While image creation may focus on conscious understanding and conscious struggle, it will also hold symbolic resonance of deep seated implicit and unconscious aspects. This may explain why presenting issues often lead clients to gaining greater awareness of their own needs and development and in this way discover what is needed for resolution of issues also.
Are all Sandplay therapists the same?
No as the term ‘Sandplay’ and ‘Jungian Sandplay’ are not protected, anyone can use them. We recommend that clients check out the qualifications, training and membership of any prospective Sandplay Therapist.
How often do I attend?
While the classical and most common frequency of attendance is weekly some therapists will offer a more flexible attendance arrangement. It is best to check this out with the individual therapist.
"Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain"
- Carl Jung