Sandplay Therapy Vs Sandtray Therapy

Nancy B. Alston

I can live and breathe sandtray. It is a form of play therapy that is exciting. It was started in the mid-20th Century. It was first started as “The World Technique” by Margaret Lowenfield and it was known as sandtray. It was expanded on by Dora Kalff who was greatly influenced by Karl Jung and Tiberian Buddhist Meditation and became known as sandplay. Sandplay therapy and was mostly practiced in Europe. It was brought over to the United States of America where there was a derision of thought. Now, there are two different schools of thought-sandtray and sandplay.

I thought I would talk a little bit about the differences between sandtray and sandplay as they are particularly quite different. Sandplay was developed out of Jungian thought and focuses on the unconscious processes at work. It takes on an analytical conceptual framework and tends to follow a Child-Centered approach to therapy. It is non-directive in nature. The therapist is a silent observer during the process of the making of the tray or “sand picture.” The therapist studies the tray for clues and metaphors (primarily later). Therapist may ask clarifying questions. The tray is seen as part of a process. The therapist photographs the tray and writes down as much as possible what the person says for later review. The tray is seen as the primitive expression of the psyche. It is never done in the presence of others. There is a free and protected space surrounding the tray.

The therapist tries to understand the image piece as a process. It is an accepted process meaningful to the person, but not understood by the therapist. The client views more then what the ego mind sees in choosing figures for the tray. The healing is seen more in allowing the unconscious to manifest within a conscious state. The tray is to a specific size. Focus is on the co-transference. To become a Sandplay therapist there is emphasis on training and having the therapist complete their own sandplay process.

Sandtray on the other hand is psychodynamic in nature and is more in line with talk therapy. The therapist may be more directive and more active in the tray. They may suggest a next step or suggest something for the person to do. The therapist may talk during the process of making the tray. The therapist may ask questions for further insight into the tray. The individual trays “stand alone.” The therapist typically tries to understand as much as they can cognitively. The therapist may have a group do a tray or have someone do a tray in public in the presence of others.

The therapist tries to understand the image as an image and there is emphasis on what the person has created and how to cognitively understand it now. The tray is seen as the creation of the client. The healing is seen more in insight and verbalization of what is in the tray and is appreciating of the scene in the tray. Focus is on transference and counter-transference.

These are just rudimentary differences between sandtray and sandplay. It is encouraged before you do your own sandtray/sandplay therapies, that you get extensively trained in one or the other. Above just highlights some of the differences, but they are not extensive or all inclusive in the different caveats. Personally, I combine some of the sandplay with the sandtray techniques. I find it more helpful. That is why I emphasize training-not just one training, but several or on-going sandtray supervision.

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