Is traditional Jungian Sandplay Therapy rising to the challenge of an increasingly trauma-focused world? Or is it in danger of being left behind by newer, shinier evidence-based ways of working? Jill Carter looks of the dilemmas that sandplay therapists now face.
When I first started teaching sandplay training courses 15 years ago, very few people knew what sandplay therapy was. I used to have an explanation ready which went something like this:
Sandplay therapy, that’s using figures in a box to help people express their feelings. Yes, it was designed for working with children but it’s very useful for all age groups.
Then, one day about five years ago just as I was getting into my stride, the person I was talking to said yes, I’ve heard of it. The growth in awareness and knowledge of sandplay and sand tray therapy has been monumental in the last few years. Our company, Jill Carter Training Ltd, has gone from running one Certificate in Integrative Sandplay a year to at least four a year to meet that demand.
I think that’s because it’s a very kind and effective way of working. You can see real results in sandplay with clients of all ages in fewer sessions than in traditional talking therapy. That’s especially true of children and adolescents, who don’t really respond to being talked at. Who knew?
When I first wrote my courses in 2018, I wanted to take Jungian ways of working a step further. I could see the juggernaut that is trauma training coming, and I didn’t want sandplay to be left behind. Also, in my own clinical practice, I was already using gestalt techniques, person-centred ways of working and object relations in trays with clients.
So, I could see the logic in integrating techniques from other schools with Jungian sandplay therapy, especially from the world of trauma such as Polyvagal and Internal Family Systems. These techniques are made for sand tray work.
There is room in sandplay therapy trainings for the magic of the Collective Unconscious and the evidence-based techniques of trauma and creativity.
Of course, there is also room for individuality in the therapy room too. The way that I use sandplay in my counselling room will be different to how you do it. That diversity is a strength, not a weakness. You can’t prove that playing your emotions out in a sand tray in front of a kind witness works, it’s just common sense. There is by the way research on the ways that sandplay works, just not enough of it!
Sandplay is a very flexible way of working, there is no set protocol. There is no set way of being an Integrative Sandplay Therapist. How can there be a protocol which fits all of us – therapists and clients – which does not in itself become a constricting box?
On our trainings you will explore yourself. What moves you, what makes your heart sing, how you use your intuition through your body. During these five weekends, you will do a lot of sand trays and feel very close to the other students, even online. There will never be more than 8 of you.
Working in schools as a counsellor or in other institutional environments can be very lonely, especially if you’re carrying the burdens of your clients. My dearest wish is that you find a community of fellow souls on our trainings.
So, where will Sandplay therapy training be in five years’ time?
Well, I believe it will be thriving. We are integrating more expressive arts techniques into our courses. I hope that more people will also use trauma techniques and creativity alongside sandplay. Helping other people to discover the joy of a wooden box with figures in it is still the reason why I get out of bed in the morning.
I hope that the sandplay world in general becomes more flexible and accepting of diversity.
And that trauma training is seen not as the enemy, but as Carl Jung would say, just another union of opposites.
Be as flexible as you like, follow your heart in the counselling room as well as in life. Be a rebel and be proud of it. Young people need to see that there are more compassionate ways of being an adult. Most of all, look after yourself.
There are dates for our Certificate in Integrative Sandplay courses online here. You will learn about sandplay therapy and about yourself in a small supportive group of eight. New dates added for January 2023.