Sandplay Technique: For Therapists, Educators and Teachers

Sandplay is a philosophy of wellness. It allows the therapist to look at the individual and think what is the best process for this person, what will get them to good psychological health in the quickest way, where all taught skills will be of a lifelong benefit, leading toward new sources of learning, growth and self-development.

We often project onto others what we need to see for our own learning. We’ve all heard people saying others are mirror images. The lessons we learn, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so, are played out in our private playgrounds in which we learn and grow; birth, school, separation, trauma, becoming a parent for the first time, all this changes our lives dramatically, the loss of a loved one can take our emotions to places we never knew existed, then at later stages in life we may experience financial difficulties, social issues or changing family dynamics.

As we get older we look for a sense of connection, some choose to ground their faith in religion others go deep into their psyche and explore their soul-equation in search for answers. This is a guide for those who want to explore this in others, however, as we know we cannot even begin to understand another until we fully know ourselves. Sandplay Technique adopted into your centre or practice is another means to guide clients through psychological processes, thought provoking and deep, but the underlying concept is that of the stages of development and achieving self-growth and good psychological health and wellness.

We attract what we put out, law of attraction 101 and those we choose as partners, lovers, or friends become our best teachers. The people in our immediate circle push our buttons and become mirror images of what we don’t like about ourselves and for better or worse our best teachers! These are the very people who helped us to make our self-equation. So next time someone pushes your buttons, be grateful for the lesson!

Consider for a moment, that your life consists of a multitude of memories. Think about your childhood and all those memories. Now look at you as an adult. Do you hear yourself saying things, repeating your parent’s words as they echo: “You can’t do that, you’re too short, too tall, too thin, too fat, too dumb, that’s a boys’ job, girls can’t do that” and on it goes – all these words we took in to our being, they formed part of our belief system and those words were stored in our unconscious mind, in the form of images, attached emotions are warehoused in the very cells of our body. This concept forms a part of the theory of psychosomatics, which is a very real area of health and wellness in which unhappy people will undoubtedly create or manifest pain within the body. This is the body mind connection; it is how our system communicates to us that there is a dis-ease building up. This could be an issue from childhood which was left unchecked, pushed away.

Do you get a headache at the mention of someone’s name or a task? Do you feel sick in your stomach from nerves if you have to do public speaking? Does your ankle hurt when you need to step up, move forward, and take control? This is your body reacting, saying “no I can’t do it, I won’t do it, you told me I couldn’t, shouldn’t!” You get the picture; our resistance is entirely stored within us. This is the mind body connection. This is the depth at which the child ego pushed down the hurts and pains in order to protect us. It served us then, but as adults, it no longer serves to hold the pains of yesteryear. Left unchecked this stagnation can erupt into dis-ease, illness or even death in extreme cases, because it was easier to manifest cancer or heartache, than to look at the issue that has caused you so much discomfort.

This is the power of psychosomatics. No issue, no disease! Harsh words, yes, but I want to show you that you have more control over your Self-Equation than you think you do.

Here’s why; as adults, capable of change, growth, wisdom and knowledge we still sit with our deep seated beliefs (think the iceberg effect) where the traumas are pushed down into the unseen realm, this is your unconscious mind. Only a small part of our true self is exposed to the outer world, the conscious aspect which is functional a mere 5-10% of the time. On average we function more from this unseen realm, the unconscious mind 90-95% of the time.

We often behave according to our complexes, if these have not been looked our attitudes reflect this in our behaviour, thinking and way of doing. This is the nagging voice in your head, rumination, the monkey mind, the wounded ego, the one that confirms to you as an adult that ‘No you can’t do that, remember!’, and so we don’t! We have our conscious mind, our unconscious mind, this is where deep psychology is found and this is where we work using Sandplay Technique, Mindfulness and other valuable counselling skills, to work through those childhood traumas that are still affecting behaviour to this day.

Sandplay pieces represent memories of fragments in time, stored in a memory, whereby you pushed your emotions down in order to cope in dealing with a situation or a person’s behaviour towards you as a child. This is the job of the ego; however, what we need is a healthy balance and that is why presenting issues to the Sandtray can open up that deep part of our inner self and gently allows an exploration into our self-equation. Archetypes are used for this process, these are given meaning by the client and become the symbol in the tray. An example could be a Dinosaur used by a child, not as a dinosaur, but as the hero that rescues the mother and child from the enemy. Now the Dinosaur as a symbol has taken on the character strengths and virtues of Courage, Bravery, Hope and Fairness.

Mindfulness allows us to be present here and now in the moment, a great tool to integrate into your practice and works well together with Sandplay. Mindfulness helps to ease the burdens of the mind, to relax the inner thinking to allow a space, encouraging the character strengths of Wisdom and Knowledge and Transcendence. Once you have mastered Mindfulness you will be amazed at the change in your overall health and wellbeing. You will remember to breath, to smell the roses, to see that with every situation, challenge you have a conscious choice.

I am here to let you know you can steer your own ship and yes there will always be a strong wind blowing you off course, dangerous undercurrents and rips, shark infested waters, but isn’t this a wonderful metaphor for life, because on the other hand you will also experience perfect sun filled days, calm waters, gentle breeze, dolphins playing and sails billowing in the gentle breeze. This forms of Polarity of Balance, we need to experience the extremes in order to find our best place.

Here also you find two polar opposites, duality, and a shadow side neither can exist without the other. The more you experience adversity with an open mind the more you get to know the many sides of you. The more you relax into the joy of profound synchronicity the more you attract good health and wellness to YOU. The key is Self-awareness and the courage to climb from the depths of Self-indifference to the heights of Self-awareness.

Carl Jung the famous psychoanalyst who worked alongside Dora Kalff, the initiator of Sandplay Therapy, would have loved our modern day Star Wars characters as archetypes, the fusion between fantasy, reality, the present and the past and the person we perceive ourselves to be our persona and our shadow Self, behind the mask! I mean who doesn’t want to be the hero or heroine in their own story?

The rest is how we got to be the characters in our life’s story. Just like our dream state, we are connected to each and every character or piece in the sand picture, our unconscious mind playing out our unresolved issues, childhood traumas, leading us to the experiential centre of ‘who am I?’ and ‘what is my purpose?’


Allowing the space for opening up our inner psyche to place within the boundaries of the sand tray the story of our childhood. This is where we get to see the patterns of our parents, grandparents and forefathers/mothers. Here we can see if a significant other was a threat to us in our childhood, such as it is now the case with many victims of childhood sexual abuse – their memory has been triggered by another’s story, or seeing the abusers on TV. We use images, memory and story to get to the heart of the real issue, and allow the pain stored in the cells of the body to release. The event will never go away, nor will the memory; however, the pain can be eased.

Once here, Sandplay allows clients to step back and look at dysfunctional behaviour, set patterns and beliefs, for example are you one of those people who just never finishes anything, could it be, you were told by your father that you would never amount to anything in life, so what do you do? You proved him right, that’s how you showed your love. Or are you a high achiever, yet your mother thinks you can still do better. If you attract the wrong type of man into your life, you know the sort I mean, he’s just not the right person for you – you may develop a low self-esteem, why? This was a pattern you set up as a child to get attention from your father. These are also perfect examples of a father and mother complex. If you have as your mantra – “oh I can’t do it” and now you believe you can’t do anything, not even attract a partner that you desire or who desires you. In effect you have the law of attraction working against you, reverse this by changing your thinking and you attract positivity.

A client may have sexual issues, perhaps they were brought up to be a good Catholic girl and told that, feelings of sexual desire were bad, so they buried their sexual urges deep within. As a consequence, they may have experienced psychosomatic issues such as; invisible pregnancies, cancer of the ovaries or miscarriages. So be careful of what you are reading here, what I am saying we have already covered in this section around our cells holding memory and psychosomatics. Tapping into what actually set that idea into the mind of the child can set you free. Sex is good, good sex is great! No church religion or state can tell an adult what to do with their body or their natural urges.  As you listen to your mind listen to your body also, it’s speaking to you.

As a Sandplay practitioner I watch your body language and listen to your verbal language; with adults I listen for any incongruences, such as you saying, “I’m so sad”, with a smile on your face. What’s going on there? Once we narrow down a current issue, then I invite you to start processing in the sand tray, that’s where things start getting interesting. With the kids in Sandplay it’s a little different, they will choose their pieces and do their own processing in the tray, they do this by moving the pieces around, burying pieces in the sand, placing pieces together, boys in particular will have fighting battle scenes, girls in general tend to like fairy-tale archetypes. The idea is, they are working through issues from the unconscious, whether it is dealing with how parents argue often or dealing with the birth of a new sibling or more traumatic issues. Children use the sand tray as a preventative place of therapy, of sorting through the self-equation thereby releasing pent-up stress held in their body.

Carl Jung in his little red book talks a lot about our ‘other selves’, he shows us how we can be many personalities in one and I don’t mean schizophrenia, I am talking about our different persona’s, characters that we have as traits, such as the Rescuer, the Martyr, the Leader, the Enabler, these traits are found within our whole Self, they make up our personality. Tapping into character traits is what makes us all unique, although some traits have been adopted from our parents and because of this some children lose their own sense of identity. The key is to be aware of your personality traits, recognise them, as many as possible and find the balance. It’s important that if you are a rescuer, you allow yourself to be rescued or if you are a martyr you recognise that you can’t always save the world.

This is what the sand tray will reveal through the chosen figurines, patterns in the sand and other pieces placed seemingly randomly in the tray. This is your story! The story of your inner child, I am a reader and as I read I will be curious and ask questions, only you know the answers. Your unconscious is what drives most of your waking hours, and well into sleep, so it is necessary to tap into this vast iceberg in order to find the essence of you. Buried very deep beneath the ocean lies the true you, ready to be revealed and swim to the surface to finally begin to live a true authentic life, just as Mother Nature intended.

As a therapist, I have schooled in many different models of therapy, and had some great teachers along the way. Some techniques I use are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT), Person Centred, Mindfulness, Positive Psychology and Sandplay Therapy. It was when I started learning the latter, that I realised every other discipline and philosophy I adhered too, Sandplay was the glue.

It would be wrong if I had not been a part of the above processes as a client. The ideal therapist has preferably, before they open up their practice, gone through a personal process themselves, resolved major issues and is in a place of acceptance. It is advisable that all who are interested in Sandplay Technique in whatever capacity, to have experienced their own process for many reasons, but the major one is that you cannot walk in another’s shoes and show empathy if your mind turns the whole time to your own thoughts, memories and traumas.

It is also important for parents, those who want to be the best they can be for their children to undergo therapy to shift any patterns or beliefs inherited from their own childhood which does not serve them now. The therapists room is not the place for a therapist to resolve their own issues; it is a space to hold your client, a space to discover new perspectives and a place where what is said in the room stays in the room as part of a healthy therapeutic alliance. This relationship is like no other, for with whom can we trust to pour out our heart, to say things that are directed at others and in the same time explore the depths of where these words have sprung and who was involved in the planting of our pain.

In Sandplay Technique the ease at which the pieces in the tray become the pictures the unconscious mind has drawn; how this picture then awakens a part of the clients psyche and nudges them on to discover more, to go deeper, to reawaken a knowing and awareness that resides within them, this is self-resilience unfolding. Sandplay holds no barriers; it cares not your faith, beliefs, language nor culture, you can be 3 or 103 it does not matter.

What matters is that this method enables choice, resilience, awareness, perspective and it opens up your mind to other ways of being. Within these pages I have brought together knowledge from all manner of places in the hope that each and every individual may find something that resonates with your soul, some truth or knowledge that you can tap into and use as a base to further your learning. Younger children benefit by simply being able to play out their childhood issues in the sand tray. Wouldn’t it be great though if every child care centre, primary school, high school and any other place teenagers and adolescents frequented, had a Sandplay Technique?

Fiona Werle – Sandplay Technique Specialist