For child or adolescent therapy to be effective, it should provide structured, goal-directed activities but at the same time, allowing the child to bring spontaneous material to the sessions. This spontaneous material is more important than the stuctured, as it brings to the therapy a part of the child that I need to see to really know him/her. Too much structure or direction would miss the comments and actions that show me the childs beliefs and behaviors. On the other hand, some structure and direction is necessary to teach adaptive coping skills.
In my therapuetic interventions, I employ verbal and nonverbal modes of therapy, including modeling and teaching positive behaviors and self-statements, identifying and changing maladaptive beliefs, play therapy, and sandplay.
Sandtray therapy, more commonly called Sandplay therapy, is a form of therapy that was first developed by Dr. Margaret Lowenfield, a child psychiatrist in London who was looking for a way to help children express the "inexpressible". She recalled reading the writings of H. G. Wells, in which he described his observations of his two sons playing with miniature figures on the floor and had realized that they were using the toys to work out their problems with each other and other members in the family. She obtained several miniatures and put them on shelves in her office. The first child to see them, took several of the miniatures, brought them to the sandbox and began playing with them in the sand. She realized that using the figures in the sand was helpful to the child and she made this her standard practice in working with children. This became known as the World Technique.
Later, Dora Kalff, a Jungian Analyst in Zurich who had trained under Carl Jung, heard about the work of Dr. Lowenfield. She was very interested in learning about the World Technique and went to study under her. She soon recognized that the use of the World Technique helped children work out their feelings of anger, sadness and fears. In addition, she saw that it helped children resolve developmental issues, and provided for the process of individuation and transcendence, which are classic goals of depth psychology and Jungian therapy. She became the first therapist to use the technique with children in her practice, which later became known as Sandplay.
Sandplay is now used by therapists around the world in their work with children, adolescents, adults of all ages, families and couples. Some therapists even use sandplay in group therapy. The process of sandplay therapy is to use sand and miniatures to make a world of your own in the sand. I like to compare it to art therapy, where you make pictures or craft projects to express your feelings or represent aspects of your personal experiences and world beliefs. In sandpray therapy, you do the same thing, except there seems to be something more transcendent about this process. It is also similar to lucid dreaming. Again, the subconcious has room to play, to be expressed.. “When you’re playing and you’re just you, powerful things happen.”
Sandplay integrates Eastern meditative influences and Jungian principles. Through the process of creating a sand scene, an individual creates an outer expression of his or her inner world, bringing to light unconscious patterns and dynamics. By making the unconscious world conscious one is able to change unproductive behavioral patterns and go through profound transformations. Through the physical act of "grounding" one's experience in the sand and in the presence of a trained sandplay practitioner, an individual can recognize his or her own condition. Sandplay provides a safe space for the integration of the aspects of the self through the tangible process of play. It functions to help an individual organize and restructure his/her psyche and, in the case of early or extreme trauma, to express preverbal feelings or experiences.
When you first do a sandtray, I ask you to chose figures and place them in the sand. You are allowed to add water to the sand to make it wet if you like, so that the sand is moldable. The simple act of molding sand can be a powerful way to express emotion. I encourage you to "allow the figures pick you," and not to set out to make a specific picture, rather chose figures and toys that you are drawn to. Don't worry if they make no sense to you at the time. When people get into the process, they quickly figure out what this instruction means. They find themselves drawn to certain figures, repelled by others and some they just don't seem to see at all. As they arrange the figures in the sand, the magic begins to take place. A picture is formed; one that only the "sandplayer" truly knows about. Often a sandplayer doesn't even have an idea of what she/he is making, but rather, just lets the subconscious guide him/her and the end result is a very meaningful representation of what is happening just underneath the surface. The figures take on meaning that is highly specific to each individual sandplayer. A person typically knows when he is done with the tray. It is an instinctual process. As you peer into the tray, the meanings of the tray become more clear. Sometimes people have no idea what meaning is contained in the tray. This is okay too. Your psyche knows and will use the process to heal itself. This is the beauty of sandtray - just the very act of creating a sandtray with an experienced therapist who witnesses your sandplay is, in itself, the therapy.
Other forms of therapy I use include art therapy and play therapy techniques that are appropriate to children and teens. I may ask a client to draw a picture, use a crafts technique, or do a collage, for example. Art and play therapy techniques are used to supplement the therapy and provide alternative modes of expression as talk therapy can be limiting for many people. I have stuffed animals and puppets in the office that many people find comforting or engaging. I may use puppets in a creative capacity. In addition I also have creative therapy games that help children and adolescents express themselves.
"Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them."
Antoine de Saint Exupery, The Little Prince