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Through play, therapists can help children learn more adaptive behaviour in situations where the child presents emotional, or social deficits.

Sandplay - what does the term mean and where does it come from? Definition and history of Sandplay Therapy

Have you ever heard of the Sandplay method and would like to explore the topic further? Or is it a new term that intrigues and interests you? On our blog, we are starting a series on Sandplay, in which we will try to introduce this concept both theoretically and practically. From the content of this post, you will learn what Sandplay Therapy actually is and where this technique has its roots.

What does the term Sandplay mean?

Sandplay is a highly expressive, flexible, adaptive and projective therapy that integrates multiple theoretical approaches.

  • Its expressivity is based on the possibility of non-verbal expression of thoughts, feelings, emotions and experiences, which are difficult to express in words, but easy to express in images. The client's expression becomes a picture in a sandbox, and we know that 'a picture is worth a thousand words'. The image also acts on the therapist and thus enables him or her to empathise with the client's emotions.
  • Sandplay's flexibility is based on its ability to be used with children, adolescents, adults, individual clients, couples, families or therapy groups. The flexibility of Sandplay also refers to the integration of many psychotherapeutic techniques and theoretical approaches within the method.
  • Sandplay's adaptability is linked to its ability to adapt quickly to changing customer needs.
  • Sandplay is a projective therapy that allows the client to express intra-psychic content.

We feel that all the above aspects of Sandplay are beautifully encapsulated in the definition of Dora Kalff, considered to be the creator of this therapy:

"Sandplay is a Jungian-oriented, non-verbal form of therapy that facilitates the psyche's natural ability to heal. In a free and therapist-protected space, the child or adult creates a concrete manifestation of his or her inner imaginary world using sand, water and miniature objects. In this way, Sandplay illuminates the client's inner symbolic world and provides a space for his or her expression in the safety of the sandbox."

History of Sandplay - the roots and development of the Sandplay Therapy method

It all started with playing on the floor.

In 1911, Herbert George Wells wrote the book 'Floor Games' based on playing on the floor with his sons. The book inspired many people working therapeutically with children to use play in therapy. Among them was Margaret Lowenfeld - a British doctor, paediatrician and pioneer of child psychology and play therapy. And this is where our Polish theme begins: during the Polish-Russian War in Eastern Europe in the 1920s, Lowenfeld provided medical services to those affected by the typhoid epidemic and to those in prisoner of war camps in Poland. In parallel to this work, she was involved in helping thousands of Polish children suffering from the aftermath of the war. On her return to London, Lowenfeld observed children whose 'facial expressions, posture and gestures resembled those she had seen in the camps and in the areas affected by starvation as a result of the war'. These intense experiences led her to create a method to promote children's mental health, to discover a way to enable children to share their inner experiences and worlds. Thus was born a working method called 'The Word Technique' with a collection of small figures and trays filled with sand.

The year is 1928: 3 months of using 'The Word Technique' with children at the Clinic for Neurotic and Difficult Children in London was enough to observe positive changes in their behaviour. The Lowenfeld Technique quickly crossed the borders of the UK and, in fact, European psychotherapists and analysts began to appreciate the effectiveness of the Lowenfeld approach in child therapy. In a letter to the British Medical Journal in 1938, Lowenfeld explained that there were "two clearly formulated methods of play therapy, each with its own history and technique", referring to her own work and that of Melanie Klein. In this letter, Lowenfeld clearly defined her work as play therapy and those she trained as play therapists.

The work with children in the sandbox was extended and popularised by the achievements of Dora Kalff, who was a Swiss Jungian analyst. When Dora Kalff learned about Lowenfeld's work, she began studying with her in London in 1956. Already during her studies, she adapted Lowenfeld's method, calling it Sandplay to clearly distinguish the term from 'The Word Technique'.

The concept of Sandplay is still identified with the Jungian approach, although it is widely used outside Jungian circles. Despite this, Dora Kalff is considered to be the founder of Sandplay, and few people know or remember the work of Margaret Lowenfeld. It was the Swiss Jungian analyst herself who recognised the importance of Lowenfeld's contribution and wrote of her: "She completely understood the world of the child and created with brilliant intuition a way of enabling the child to build a world - his world in Sandplay".

Sandplay today

Nowadays, Sandplay can be a stand-alone therapeutic tool or, as in Play Therapy, one of the components of the Play Tool Kit. Sandplay can also be used in their work by therapists from other strands - from psychodynamic and behavioural, to humanistic and cognitive, to constructivist or systemic.

It is well known that Sandplay has great power. To harness this power for the client, training, clinical practice and supervision are essential. After all, theory without technique is only philosophy, and techniques without theory can be dangerous.

To ensure that our series is not just about philosophy, we will continue to present both theory and practice. For the sake of order, we will also describe the differences between Sandplay and Sandtray. Then we will also give reasons why Sandplay is suitable for children, among others..

Look forward to reading the next episode in our series on Sandplay next week!

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