Sandplay therapy is a depth oriented psychotherapy where sand, water and symbolic figures are placed in a sand-tray to create scenes that reflect a persons psychological processes.
As a depth oriented psychotherapy, Sandplay therapy emphasises the development of a fundamental relationship to the self.
It involves the sandplayer in the creation of a series of sand trays that reflect the development of the subject’s intra-psychic process (Kalff, 2003, Weinrib, 2004).
Through this symbolic encounter the sandplayer discovers a wholly new psychological perspective of the self.
Dora Kalff (2003) established the Jungian school of Sandplay therapy based on the analytical psychology of Carl Jung and the structural and developmental model that he established of the human psyche.
Kalff recognised that the emerging images in Sandplay represented dynamic process of the unconscious. She developed the naturally therapeutic modality of play therapy that promotes the experience of inchoate, unconscious content to be symbolically represented and expressed in a visual, concrete and three dimensional way that is readily integrated into the conscious personality (Weinrib, 2003, p.2).
Through the interpretation of many sand-tray series Kalff (2003) demonstrated that Sandplay progresses through the same archetypal stages of development seen in Jung’s psychoanalytical approach.
Kalff observed that this symbolic process often resulted in deep healing and transformation in her clients, which reflected Jung’s idea’s about the individuation process and self-realisation (Bradway & McCoard, 1997).
Jung viewed symbolic imagery as the universal vocabulary that constitutes the psyche and the primary language by which the unconscious communicates and expresses itself (Jung 1990). He discovered that symbolic images and ideas are produced spontaneously and unconsciously and represent unknown concepts that cannot be fully defined or comprehended. 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 understanding—phenomena that lie beyond the grasp of reason (p. 21).
In Sandplay therapy, symbols provide a language for individuals to express their deep truths without the need for direct verbal or immediate conscious understanding (p.7). Symbols represent psychic content that is so deep and complex that it cannot be reduced to finite, verbal concepts because the unconscious source is archetypal and infinite and beyond conscious reckoning (Mitchell and Friedman, 2000, p.197). The power of symbols lies in their ability to represent elements of the psyche that integrate, transcend and mediate between alternative realms—i.e., the conscious and unconscious, outer and inner worlds; known and unknown; masculine and feminine; ego and the Self — enabling individuals to discover and incorporate previously unknown aspects of the Self into their conscious personality (p.197). It is precisely because symbols are not reducible to defined and limited language concepts that they carry this unconscious archetypal potential for revelation and the integration of new meaning, healing and transformation (p.198).
Jung (2010) developed his theory of the “transcendent function” of symbols based on observations that the conscious expression of symbols has the power to facilitate change at the intra-psychic levels where ideas and images are represented and stored.