Sandplay therapy is an effective and proven therapy to use in counselling children, young people and adults. In simple terms, the sandplay therapist asks the client to choose miniature figures from shelves and put them into a box of sand. This creates a free and protected space. The client can express feelings, memories and traumatic experiences without needing to talk about them or explain them.
Non-verbal therapy is an unthreatening way of working. This makes the sandplay process ideal for helping children and other people who may find talking therapy difficult. It is an evidence-based way of accessing the unconscious, but it feels like playing. So, sandplay is both effective and accessible.
What is Sandplay Therapy: why is it becoming popular in schools?
It is an accessible form of therapy in schools and counselling environments all around the world. Teachers and other mental health staff also use it. There is increasing interest in all of society for sandplay therapy. Most therapists working with sand have a counselling or play therapy qualification. Many people, like me, started off working with adults and were drawn to the sand by its creativity. Sandplay work can be long or short term. It is a very flexible, person-centred way of working. Sandplay is also easily combined with arts therapies and talking therapy.
Creativity can make it easier to be with a client
One of the things I found surprising about sandplay and creative arts is that it provides holding for both the client and the therapist. The sand is in effect a safety blanket or sponge which absorbs a client’s feelings and starts to clear them. This means that a day of sandplay clients can be more fun and less draining than a day of talking therapy. For both client and therapist.
It was my first child client that led me to train in sandplay therapy
My first experience of using sandplay was with my first child client after years working as a talking therapist with adults. Sean was 5 years old and had witnessed terrible abuse in his home. He didn’t want to talk about it, so I offered sandplay as there was a tray in the therapy room. He loved it. For ten weeks, Sean showed me battles between dinosaurs and Batman, crashing cars together. Without telling me about his traumatic experiences, he was showing them to me.
Then, one day he came into the room, drew a circle in the sand and said, “I don’t need to come anymore”. Sean’s behaviour in class had improved, he was sleeping better and his mother felt that she had her baby back. I was intrigued. I had no idea what had happened. He was processing his traumas in a way that was safe for a young child (but I didn’t know that then).
What is Sandplay Therapy: we will teach you key skills and share our stories of working with clients
It was children coming to see talking therapists in London in the 1920’s who ‘invented’ sandplay. Margaret Lowenfeld was using play therapy. She realised that children in her waiting room were putting miniature toys into boxes of sand. She saw that the children were telling stories in the sand, to help them express and process feelings. Lowenfeld realised that she could engage with the child’s inner world and get past the frustrations of trying to get small children to talk to her.
Lowenfeld called her way of working “The World Technique”. At the same time, Melanie Klein was beginning to use play therapy with young clients (though she did not use sand tray therapy). The big break through was when Lowenfeld talked about her therapy to a group in the 1930’s, which included Carl Jung and Dora Kalff. There was soon a place in international society for sandplay therapy.
Jung realised that the children were accessing what he termed the Collective Unconscious in the sand. This is a place where all our stories, myths and memories are stored. It is the home of what Jung called Archetypes – potential energies we can all call on (the Hero is one) when we need help in our lives. Lowenfeld’s child clients were accessing Jungian archetypes in the sand.
What is Sandplay Therapy: how is it different from Sand Tray?
Dora Kalff went on to design Jungian Sandplay Therapy, which is the basis of the courses that we teach. You will sometimes hear the term sand tray therapy – the difference is that sand tray comes from the Gestalt play therapy model. Sandplay uses the work of Jung to enable clients to tell their own stories, sand tray means using sand during a counselling session – it is more of a generic term.
Being a sandplay therapist works well when counselling children. Sandplay has also been adapted to be used with teenagers, as well as adults who find this an easier way of expressing themselves than in talking therapy. I’m thinking here of young people and adults with Autism. It is also being shown to be a great way of working with adults with learning difficulties and Dementia.
Frankly, sandplay is also effective with adults who think too much. I found that many adult clients tried to avoid showing feeling in talking therapy by talking at me. You can’t do that in sandplay therapy – there is a wisdom in that sand tray and a connection to the therapist that just brings the healing. Whether you realise it or not!
So, how do you become a sandplay therapist?
If you are curious about sandplay and what to know more, the Introduction to Sandplay weekend is a good place to start. Our benchmark training is the Certificate in Integrative Sandplay, which is five weekends over a year. You will learn adaptable techniques to encourage children and adult clients to use sand. We will also teach the research and theory behind sandplay. Much of the training is about doing sandplay therapy yourselves in a small, supportive group. Once you are comfortable using sand in therapy, you will find it easier and more rewarding work with clients.
It looks spontaneous and free, but there are key skills to it. We will teach you those, and introduce Jung’s archetypes, object relations’ theory and how to tailor sandplay therapy to different age groups. After the Certificate, you can do the Diploma in Integrative Sandplay which looks at working with parents, in families and in groups. It also explores the connection between creativity and our True Selves (Winnicott’s term).
Many people using sandplay work in schools and in private practice. This can be pretty lonely at times, so we will also introduce you to a community of fellow sandplay therapists. Sandplay is a gentle way to look after yourself, as well as your clients.
You can find more details of our Integrative Sandplay, Working Creatively Trauma, creative supervision and Expressive Arts trainings on our website jillcartertraining.co.uk or by emailing us email@example.com.
We offer courses face-to-face in the UK and online for counsellors and therapists as well as others in the mental health field.
Our courses are offered at introductory, certificate and diploma levels. You can apply online via the website.
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