Sandtray, a safe means of storytelling.
The child is invited to create a scene in the sandtray, choosing from a selection of themed miniatures. This creative experience provides the client with sensory expression while ensuring for the child a safe distance from their pain or trauma and encourages transformation and abreaction by providing clients with a safe means through which
“they would find their way to communication of their interior experience” (Lowenfeld, 1993).
ST Therapy is an effective intervention for traumatized clients as it does not rely on verbal narrative or explanations, a capacity often impaired through trauma (van der Kolk, 2015).
Dora Kalff is recognised as the founder of Sandtray Therapy. Kalff studied the ‘World Technique’ with Lowenfeld at her clinic after being encouraged to do so by C.G. Jung and his daughter, Gret Jung-Baumann (Friedmann & Mitchell, 2002, p. 48).
Born in 1890, Dr Margaret Lowenfeld, a paediatrician and Freudian psychoanalyst was probably the first to incorporate sand play with psychotherapy. From her work with children incorporating the use of sand and toys in the therapy room, Lowenfeld developed a form of play therapy called ‘The World Technique’. Lowenfeld “understood how to place herself in the world of the child. With ingenious intuition, she created a game that enables the child to build a world, his world, in a sandbox” (Kalff, 1980). The technique was developed by her to allow children to engage in a nonverbal therapeutic process by encouraging them to build a picture of their world using wet or dry sand with a selection of miniatures that the child would select.
Children and adolescents operate, think, process and communicate in ways vastly different to mature adults. Dr Margaret Lowenfeld understood that action, not language, is the natural mode of expression of children and the use of objects for expression and feeling is much more natural to them than the use of words (1979).
Play is a primary developmental process in the more primitive parts of the brain (Pankskepp, 1998), and
“… also serves as a language for the child, as a symbolism that substitutes words” (Oaklander, 200).
Sand tray therapy is well suited to providing an opportunity for children to process and work through issues (including developmental issues) just by allowing the child to create scenes in the sand tray, externalising the distress and allowing for a reintegration of split experiences.
It should be noted that there is a difference between Sandplay therapy and sandtray therapy. Both include the use of sand and miniatures for therapeutic movement; Sandplay therapy is rooted in Jungian psychology whereas sandtray therapy may incorporate various approaches. Sandplay therapy is more focused on the unconscious where the client is allowed to communicate non-verbally. Sandtray therapy is more relational and humanistic in its basis; an attuned therapeutic relationship is required for this treatment to be efficacious as the the relationship provides for attunement, repairing ruptured attachments and providing cues of safety to the child so they can begin to experience and move past the issues that they may have.