"If ever there is tomorrow when we're not together.. there is something you must always remember... you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. but the most important thing is, even if we're apart.. I'll always be with you." Winnie The Pooh
Sandplay is a term coined by Jungian analysts to describe the process of using sand, miniatures and a free and protected space as therapy for children and adults. It was originated by Dora Kalff in Switzerland in the 1950's. It has evolved over the past sixty years and is currently being used in a variety of ways.
Sandplay and Play Therapy
My use of Sand Play is a modification of the Jungian technique. I have found that interaction during sandplay, in and out of the tray, can create another component of the healing experience. This aspect of sandplay has a similar theoretical foundation to that of Play Therapy. Children will often use the relationship with the therapist to recreate the conflicts in the room that represent conflicts in their lives. When the child can recreate their experience in play or sand and the therapist can show both compassion and accurate understanding of the child's experience, there is a reduction in symptoms. Play Therapy and Sand Play provide opportunities for mastery over emotions and assimilation of coping strategies. These tools work later on when the child faces new challenges.
While working alongside a child in the sand the therapist must recognize the impact of the scenes they are being asked to create. When a child asks a therapist to make a world in the sand it must reflect the child's needs. The therapist can achieve this by understanding the underlying emotional conflict and asking for direction. Children are patient and persistent in explaining what they need as long as the therapist is correctly attuned. If the therapist gets it wrong, the child will express discontent and the symptoms that brought them to therapy will likely continue. When the therapist accurately understands the child's conflict the child can experience symptom relief. Children who are emotionally met, witnessed and acknowledged frequently resolve their problems in therapy and feel better about themselves.
Not all problems respond completely to Sand Play and Play Therapy. It is particularly difficult for a child to fully recover from symptoms that are the result of an ongoing external stressor over which neither the child nor the therapist have control. High conflict divorce is an example of such a stressor. In these cases therapy focuses on stabilizing the child's internal stress so that they can function with less pain. Ongoing conflict between parents results in long term struggles for children. Sand, Art and Play therapy still remain some of the most effective ways of forming a bond with a child that allows them to verbalize their feelings and thoughts about divorce. It provides relief from chronic stress through understanding and acceptance of behavior beyond their control.
Children can be very direct in their conversations about what causes them the most pain. It is important for not only the therapist to accurately understand what they experience but also for their parents to understand, accept and respond to their distress. Collateral therapy with parents is a way for therapists to provide insight to the child's feelings. Parents must separate from their own feelings of frustration to accept and understand what it is that their children need. Even the most resilient children will suffer from unresolved, persistent conflict. The focus with parents is finding a way to co parent that affirms their relationship with the child without putting the child in a position of having to choose between parents. Sometimes parents put the therapist in the same position wanting them to choose which side to take. The therapist's role is to take the child's side as a support, an advocate and an anchor.