Sandplay therapy is a nonverbal, therapeutic approach that makes use of a sandbox, figurines, and sometimes water, to create scenes of miniature worlds that reflect a person’s inner thoughts and world. This form of therapy is practiced along with talk therapy, using the sandbox and figures as communication tools.
Sandplay therapy takes place in box-like containers referred to as sand trays. The trays are filled with sand that clients use, along with miniatures, to create a world that may reflect some aspect of real people and real experiences in their own lives. The client chooses from a large collection of figurines and builds a small “world” in the tray. The therapist observes the choice and arrangement of figurines and miniatures without interruption, allowing the person to find answers within themselves. After sandplay is completed, the client and therapist might discuss the client’s miniatures, their arrangement pattern in the sand, and their symbolic or metaphoric meanings. Upon discussion, the client often chooses to make changes to the world they have created in sand. Sandplay therapy may consist of a single session or last as long as several years.
Sandplay therapy was developed in the late 1950s by psychotherapist Dora Kalff, who combined several techniques and philosophies to come up with her own therapeutic approach. Kalff learned what became known as the World Technique from pediatrician and child psychotherapist Margaret Lowenfeld, who developed the original sand-tray intervention. Kalff incorporated the use of sand trays into her own form of therapy, which was based on her Jungian training and Eastern philosophical beliefs. With the help of sand trays, clients, guided by the therapist, begins to understand the connection between the world they created in sand and their own inner world. By making changes in their make-believe world, clients are often empowered to make similar changes in their real world.