What is Sandtray Therapy?

Helping People Dream.

Helping Families Heal.

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. — George Bernard Shaw, playright

Sandplay Therapy, also sometimes referred to as “sandtray play therapy” or just simply “sandtray,” is a way to explore and deepen your relationship with the world, yourself and other people around you. It grew out of the Jungian movement in the 1920’s and can be applied in many different ways. Using figures and objects the builder creates a “World” in a special tray which contains either dry or wet sand. Through building and exploring this “World,” the builder gains insight to their authentic self.

I have received all of my training in Sandtray from Dr. DeDomenico. She has been instrumental to the way I now practice and thus, it is her explanation that I chose to explain the Sandtray process. — Elizabeth Sawyer Danowski

The following article was taken from the Sandtray Network Journal, 1998, Volume 2, Number 3. The Sandtray Network is an organization that promotes the dissemination of the many creative and helpful ways of using play in the sandtray in diverse settings for the benefit of our communities.

What’s in a Name?

An overview by Gisela Schubach DeDomenico, Ph.D.

Sandplay or sandtray therapy, or Worldplay or the Lowenfeld World Technique was born in the 1920’s when Margaret Lowenfeld MD used play with miniature figures, sand, and water in a blue bottomed, aluminum metal tray container in her 1920’s London Play Therapy Clinic. She had been inspired by a childhood reading of H. G. Well’s Floorgames (1906). H. G. Wells and his sons played Floorgames; they chose miniature play materials stored on bookshelves to create dramatic play scenes on the floor of a room cleared of all other furnishings. These games allowed the Wells family a means of exploring a world beyond war. Wells recommended that all politicians, national leaders, and children have access to a good course of Floorgames.

Lowenfeld, like Klein, Freud and Winnicott understood that children need tools other than language to communicate and make sense of their experiences. She also recognized the innate capacity of play to transform and integrate limited worldviews. In her wisdom she not only added the container that holds and magnifies the play but also the elements earth (sand) and water which allow for the expression of very complex biological and metaphysical states. The apparatus allowed a child to make sense of his/her life experiences. It was not used to facilitate the therapist’s ability to interpret the child’s reality.

Lowenfeld’s child clients used the materials with great enthusiasm. The apparatus was inviting, versatile, and multidimensional. It required no particular skills. In fact, one child called it, “a whole World to play with” which inspired her to sometimes refer to it as Worldplay (Weltspiel). She herself also referred to it as the World Apparatus, and the Lowenfeld World Technique.

During the more than 75 years that have passed since Lowenfeld integrated sandplay into her clinic therapists, teachers, consultants, and researchers with very diverse theoretical orientations have provided the apparatus to their clients and research subjects. Over time, sandplay has been used to help people connect and be mindful of the personal, interpersonal, archetypal, terrestrial, and transpersonal realms of reality. Practitioners have used it to promote increased capacity for consciousness, self-healing, teaching, learning, creativity, communication, and healthy interpersonal relationship.

Because sandtray is such a powerful and exciting tool, it is not surprising that many have invented their own name to describe their particular way of approaching play with images in the tray of sand. Such “names” often reflects their particular way of seeing the sandtray process. Here are a few of the namings

Hanna Bratt called it sandbox play. Goesta Harding renamed it the Erica Method. Charlotte Buehler transformed it into the World Test. Van Wyllick, although still calling it the World Test, actually converted it to Table play when she excluded the tray of sand and water. Ruth Bowyer referred to the play as Sandtray World, while Louise Eickhoff referred to it as Formation Dream in Sand. Hedda Bolgar affectionately called it Little Worlds, while P. Mabille preferred the Village Technique. Mucchielli named it Le Jeu du Monde or the Game of the World. Dora Kalff chose Sandspiel or Sandplay. She also referred to it as a Waking Dream. Kawaii and Okada called it Hakoniwa or box garden. Janette Reed honored it asSand Magic, Sandtray Play and Sandplay. Louis Stewart called it Sandworld. William Goodheart preferredthe World of Sandplay. John Hood Williams referred to it as Sandtray Therapy, Sandplay and the World. Lois Carey called it Jungian Sand Play

I myself have called it by many names: it began with Sandworldplay, chosen because the name covered all the significant research databases during a word search. Eventually I settled on Sandtray-Worldplay. This name contains all the essential elements: a tray of sand that promotes the creation of many possible worlds (realities), that magnifies awareness of self as creating reality, and allows people to penetrate the many different dimensions of consciousness in a visible and memorable way. Now, I use Sandtray-Worldplay to signify my particular methods of training sandplay therapists and the specific manner in which I conduct individual, family, couple and group sandplay sessions. Sandtray-Worldplay Methods go beyond the psychotherapeutic/counseling setting: look to their use in education, transformational community, spiritual quests, business and wherever people from different backgrounds and cultures gather in an effort to get to know one another from the depths of their being.

Names are very special. They evoke specific realities. They tell their own story:

A 12-year-old boy in Juliet Harper’s Australian Sandtrayplay study called the Lowenfeld World Technique a sand picture and a thinking picture. He said:

I talked lots about everything that happened but here I have been very quiet, I been thinking. Thinking is hard coz no one hears you but this sand picture is a sort of thinking picture isn’t it and you can see it out loud.

Some of my own clients and students have called it a shamanic journey, a looking into the Mirror, a place to find self, a meditation, trance work, a spiritual quest, a journey to the ancestors, a private drama, inventing my life, genesis play, a place to talk to Mom, God’s time, and playground earth.

For more information on this article, please contact Dr. DeDomenico.

Play in the Sandbox of Life.