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S & SYMBOL w o r k

Emotional Healing Personal Development with Children, Adolescents and Adults

Mark Pearson

Helen Wilson

S & SYMBOL w o r k
Emotional Healing Personal Development with Children, Adolescents and Adults

Mark Pearson

Helen Wilson

S & SYMBOL w o r k
Emotional Healing Personal Development with Children, Adolescents and Adults

Mark Pearson

Helen Wilson

First published 2001 by Australian Council for Educational Research Ltd 19 Prospect Hill Road, Camberwell, Melbourne, Victoria, 3124 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Copyright 2001 Mark Pearson and Helen Wilson All rights reserved. Except under the conditions described in the Copyright Act 1968 of Australia and subsequent amendments, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or otherwise, without the written permission of the publishers. The material in the photocopy masters may be reproduced by individuals in quantities sufficient for non-commercial application. Edited by Jane Angus, Writers Reign Cover and text design by Polar Design Cover photography by Lindsay Edwards Sandplay photographs by Helen Wilson and Tess Pearson Printed in Australia by Shannon Books National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication data: Pearson, Mark. Sandplay & symbol work: emotional healing & personal development with children, adolescents and adults. Bibliography. Includes index. ISBN 0 86431 340 3. 1. Sandplay Therapeutic use. 2. Play therapy. 3. Psychotherapy. I. Wilson, Helen. II. Title. 616.89165 Visit our website:

Introduction Chapter 1
The language of symbols The development of sandplay
1 4 4 6 8 10 11 12 15 15 18 20 21 23 23

How does sandplay work? Differences between sandplay and symbol work The evolution of sandplay as used in ERC Sandplay and symbol work in ERC Basic principles underlying ERC and sandplay practice What supports emotional healing? Sandplay literature and research Sandplay as an aid to counselling in schools Sandplay and multiple intelligences Sandplay and academic improvement Sandplay with abused children Sandplay and grieving Sandplay, symbol work and ERC in Australian group programs

Chapter 2

A gathering of wisdom the Jungian heritage and contemporary sandplay

24 24 26 29 31 32 33 34 36 37 38 41 41 44 45 46 46 48 50 50 50 51 51 53

Some aims of sandplay Emotional and psychological safety How can sandplay help clients? The value of play Dealing with aggression The role of the therapist Stages in the sandplay process After the sandplay The contribution of play therapy Sandplay and transpersonal psychology

Chapter 3

Sandplay and symbol work methods

Elements of the process Some uses of sandplay Trusting the inner healer The free sandplay method Overview of the process Some ways of beginning Gestalt role-play with sandplay figures The focused method Directed methods Stages in sandplay sessions Sandplay for families and groups Sandplay with couples

Chapter 4

Symbol work exercises

54 55 60 61 63 67 69 72 72 74 75 77 78 80 82 83 84 85 86 88 88 91 92 93 94 95 96 99 101 103

The basic steps of a counselling session Relationships Families and school Emotional and physical release Self-esteem Spiritual direction and personal review

Chapter 5

Expressive support processes

Bioenergetics Music to support bioenergetic exercises and movement work Energy release games Drawing after sandplay and symbol work Other media

Chapter 6

Professional orientation

Basic rules and advice for facilitators Guidelines for facilitators Learning to observe Preparing the counselling room Integration Evaluation, review and recording Equipment Sandplay with different age groups Contraindications Sandplay and nature Using symbols in professional supervision Getting started with sandplay a six-point plan Advice for parents of child clients Training

Sandplay stories Appendix I: Appendix II: Appendix III: References Glossary Index of exercises General index
Self-discovery worksheet: The different parts of me Gestalt role-play exercise Record form for sandplay sessions

115 116 117 119 125 129 130


The authors
Mark Pearson
Mark has been conducting Certificate Courses in Emotional Release Counselling (ERC) and sandplay around Australia since 1989. He was a primary school teacher, then founded a remedial reading clinic. He has worked briefly with handicapped children and conducted individual and group programs for emotionally disturbed children and adolescents. For five years Mark held a senior staff position at the Living Water Centre, Blue Mountains, NSW, as lecturer in Emotional Release Counselling for Children, Breathwork Therapy, Dreamwork and Sandplay, then directed courses at The Portiuncula Centre in Toowoomba for eight years. He has completed further studies in Transpersonal Psychology with Dr Stanislav Grof, and is completing M.Ed. studies, majoring in Behaviour Management. He now works as a psychotherapy and counselling trainer in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney through Turnaround, and for the Australian Council for Educational Research in Melbourne. He regularly runs programs for various welfare agencies and education departments around Australia. He is the co-author (with Patricia Nolan) of Emotional First-aid for Children (1991) and Emotional Release for Children (1995). He is also the author of Emotional Healing and Self-esteem Inner-life Skills of Relaxation, Visualisation and Meditation for Children and Adolescents (1998) and for adults: From Healing to Awakening (1991) and The Healing Journey (1997).

Helen Wilson
Helen is an emotional release counsellor in private practice in Brisbane. Together with Mark, she also conducts training in ERC, sandplay and transpersonal therapies in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Helen has completed all three levels of training in Emotional Release Counselling and Transpersonal Studies and holds the PostGraduate Diploma. She has a Certificate in ERC with Children, a Certificate in Sandplay Therapy, and a degree in Human Resource Management. She was, for several years, on the staff at The Portiuncula Centre, Toowoomba. She is the founder of Turnaround through which she and Mark offer personal and professional development programs. Helen completed training in transpersonal psychology and holotropic breathwork with Dr Stanislav Grof in 1998. She has used sandplay and symbol work in a wide range of applications with individuals, couples, families and groups. Helen and Mark are both recognised as Senior Trainers by their professional body and are foundation members of the Queensland Transpersonal and Emotional Release Counsellors Association Inc. and members of the Queensland Association for Family Therapy.


We are grateful to the many clients over the years who have entered willingly in great trust and faith into the realm of the symbolic and given us the privilege of witnessing their journey of transformation as well as giving us valuable learning experiences about sand and symbols. We would like to thank our clients who have kindly given permission for photographs and stories of their exploration to be used. Many thanks are also due to our trainees, whose inner journeys, probing questions and generous sharings have enriched our experience of sandplay. Special thanks go to Pru Beatty and Alana Vaney for contributing stories of their use of symbols, and to Kathy Halvorson for the exercise on page 62. We would like to acknowledge the initial training from Patrick Jansen, a student of Dora Kalff, and all the writers on sandplay who have supported and enlarged our understanding.


The language of symbols

round the walls of the sandplay room are shelves filled with small figurines: little people, animals, fish, birds, trees, buildings, military equipment, miniature household items, model cars, trucks, buses, flowers, jewels, skeletons, funny things, frightening things, endearing things, religious things, primitive dolls and much, much more. In the middle of this treasure trove of figurines silently waiting to become symbols for our inner world is a sandtray, similar to the ones we may have used in kindergarten. The sand calls out to be touched, moved, shaped. We may begin our session by arranging the sand heaping it into hills and valleys, rivers or coastlines. We play and add figurines, gradually seeing them as representing our feelings, thoughts, attitudes, longings and unconscious drives. We may begin to understand ourselves more clearly, or we may simply begin to feel better. We share what we wish with the sandplay facilitator, and grow within the warmth of their acceptance. The figurines on the shelves can represent parts of ourselves; they become significant symbols for us as our inner meanings are projected onto them. As we look at the shelves we may feel that some of the symbols reach out. We might feel greatly repulsed or attracted thats usually a clue that a symbol is important. The repulsion or attraction can be an expression of the unconscious. Sometimes we will choose symbols to represent themes about which we are already conscious. At other times we simply allow the symbol to call us. We take the figurines that we like, and start to arrange them in the sand. We probably do not realise it at first, but the symbols stand out for us because something inside us resonates, recognises itself in them. When the sandplay figurines become symbols they begin to express the language of our unconscious. Connection to what is unconscious in us supports emotional healing and personal development. Sandplay is a hands-on, expressive counselling and psychotherapy modality that has been in use for well over fifty years. It has been used with children, adolescents and adults in schools, hospitals, welfare agencies and private counselling practices. It forms a bridge between verbal therapy and 1

the expressive therapies, combining elements of both. Sandplay allows the deeper aspects of the psyche to be worked with naturally and in safety, and is highly effective in reducing the emotional causes of difficult behaviours. It can be used both for diagnosis and as a treatment, and to support the use of a variety of Emotional Release Counselling (ERC) modalities. In dreaming, our unconscious invents its own symbols, sometimes choosing from our memories, sometimes apparently following its own intricate fantasy codes. Dream imagery has been used since the development of psychoanalysis as one of the main ways of exploring and healing the psyche. In almost every culture throughout time people have sought understanding of dreams and the symbolic language of the personal unconscious, as well as the collective unconscious. Symbols are regularly used in popular culture in films, video clips, computer games. When we see dark clouds in the sky in a movie we know that something gloomy or difficult is about to happen. Another scene with a bright, sunny day usually conveys to us a sense of hope, even though we are not aware of thinking about it. We even hear clients use imagery for describing their inner processes: I feel as if the sun has just come out from behind a cloud! The language of symbols has been used by poets and writers, who employ images in an effort to convey exact nuances of feelings, moods and energy states. Like the ocean, our unconscious is continually washing up both treasures and less appealing items. This is an in-built mechanism in the psyche that, if acknowledged, listened to and attended to, can support personal healing and beyond, to individuation. Working with sandplay symbols helps us develop language for this inner process and we become more articulate, using metaphors from our newly forming personal mythology. Sandplay is a unique way to allow form to be constructed around unconscious material. Sandplay and symbol work processes are a little like working with dreams, but the symbols are not stored away in our unconscious. They are outside us, ready to be selected. However, our unconscious emotional state if we allow it selects the symbol figures, arranges them and begins to make itself known. We can be surprised by what has been created in the sand and the way in which our unconscious, given the opportunity, autonomously expresses itself with freedom. Each of us has a constant drive in the psyche that wants to make sense of our inner and outer worlds, wants to bring harmony with all parts of ourselves. Working at the sandtray facilitates this sifting and integrating process and exposes much that may previously have been hidden or buried to us. Sandplay and symbol work make time and space for our deeper selves to emerge. Kalff (1980) writes about the need to allow images of the Self to emerge as part of the healing journey for clients. Sandplay and symbol work help create congruence between our inner world and outer worlds. Strengthening this connection is therapeutic. 2
Sandplay and Symbol Work

Transformation can happen at the level of metaphor, as the figures are related to and arranged in relation to each other. Intrapsychic changes are facilitated which might remain unexplored in a more cognitively focused session. Many clients initially regard sandplay as a bit of a lark and so commence work in the sand with ease and a feeling of safety. They soon begin to contact deeper parts of themselves or gain significant insights. The client and facilitator soon leave behind the world of intellect-based labels and descriptions and enter a realm where the self-development process unfolds. Because the sand picture can be created without words it is a very supportive medium for clients who may find verbal exchanges difficult or who work best in a visual, non-verbal mode. The ERC method of using sandplay described in this book has evolved from the original Jungian approach and mirrors Jungs theories. Incorporation of some Gestalt techniques has expanded its efficiency. Greater freedom and healing potential have been gained through use of other expressive ERC modalities such as bioenergetics, art work, energy release games, body focus and emotional release process work. Our particular approach to using and teaching sandplay within a wider context is to prepare facilitators to deal with the range of emerging feelings and outcomes. The multi-modal approach of ERC is ideal for safely allowing the psyche to open through work with symbols. The experiential nature of ERC training creates understanding of the different levels of the psyche, as well as providing comfort and competence in supporting any possible dramatic emergence of emotions. Essential skills to support client integration are also gained through experiential training. Around the world different approaches to sandplay have emerged. The ERC method is client-centred. It does not impose a framework or ideology. At its core are the skills of suspending judgement and interpretation, refraining from imposing these onto the client, coupled with the use of our own inner analysis as a basis for offering the client open-ended self-discovery questions. One aim of this book is to excite the readers interest in using the sandplay and symbol work process for personal development: for self-discovery, for emotional healing and for the spiritual quest. From these experiences may emerge a professional interest in training to support others using these methods. This book is designed to help the reader use the language of the unconscious. It can help us explore the treasures of the inner world, let go of what is no longer needed and begin to be able to support others more effectively, while constantly expanding our understanding of the psyche.


The language of symbols

Chapter 1
The development of sandplay
A basic postulate of Sandplay Therapy is that deep in the unconscious there is an autonomous tendency, given the proper conditions, for the psyche to heal itself. This work heals wounds that have blocked normal development. It is a prime facilitator of the individuation process. Estelle Weinrib, Images of the Self, Sigo, 1983

andplay can contribute to satisfying the souls longing to know and reveal itself. This process of revelation cuts through our sense of being trapped in a superficial world. This linking between inner and outer can bring meaning into the way we live our daily lives as well as supporting us in shedding the inherited emotional loading. Sandplay allows us to drop into a mythic realm of our psyche. Most clients find the process deeply satisfying as it creates clear links between their personal life, the mythic or symbolic realm of the unconscious and an intrinsic spirituality. Creating the symbolic structures in the sand adds the dimension of depth to the process of self-discovery and healing. Problems can be seen in a larger context. The use of symbols allows the unconscious and conscious mind to project multiple meanings. As we work with the symbols our issues, feelings, longings, fears and hopes can emerge, take tangible form and become clear to us. The symbols, laden with our meanings, can then be moved about, forming new relationships, new connections. While allowing issues to emerge for clarity and release, the connection between our inner and outer worlds helps us recognise direction in our lives and become more complete. This bond between inner and outer, and between client and facilitator, is often felt as a sacred space; the usual ego certainty and control is gradually suspended. The symbol work acts as an intermediary, opening the way for a sharing of complex ideas and personal issues between client and counsellor.

How does sandplay work?

Acceptance of the concept that the psyche has a self-activated in-built, corrective, healing drive and organising principle (inner healer) means that we are able to regard the contents of the psyche as needing to be released or containing dynamic tensions that are seeking expression. With children, this need is manifested in acting-out behaviour. Unpleasant or negative experiences in the psyche that need to be released or healed might include blocked feelings, 4

unresolved conflicts, specific and non-specific dissatisfactions, negative beliefs, attitudes and scripts about self, defensive attitudes towards the world, agitation, frustration, disappointment, anger, sadness, hurt, disconnection, armouring, unfulfilled needs. Much of this unresolved material is contained in the shadow, Jungs word for the part of the unconscious to which material that cannot be accommodated or integrated by the ego is relegated. Along with these so-called negative aspects, there are positive qualities, skills and talents that have similarly not been developed or expressed. For our progression to psychological health, it is essential that these positive energies find expression. It is clear then that clients come to the sandtray or the symbol shelves with their own unique blend of therapeutic needs. When they begin to touch the sand or inspect the figurines a recognition and resonance begins, unconscious at first, and is felt as either a positive or negative attraction to a symbol or sand formation. Next comes some satisfaction with either the sand shaping or the gathering of a collection of figurines which may at this stage seem to have no connection or relevance to each other. In the free sandplay process clients are encouraged to avoid planning their symbol selections or sand formations. The play element of sandplay is important. The freedom to create anything they wish enables clients to drop any defences. For the facilitator this means not having to work or plan a strategy to overcome defences. Sandplay provides visible form for what is already inside the client. This enables the client, with support from the facilitator, to observe, explore, comment, reconstitute and heal destructive and sabotaging tendencies. In the quiet concentration that follows the first steps of shaping the sand, a story or picture emerges as the figurines are arranged. As the client surveys the scene, associations between the symbols begin to appear. Meanings may become clearer at this stage, or the story may seem to the client to be entirely imaginary. Children usually create a story or movie-script type play, whereas adults normally create a static scene rather than act out a dramatic sequence of events in a single sandtray. Sometimes there can be more immediate feedback from the picture or story, in the form of insight, enhancing cognitive understanding of self and of the issues expressed in the sandtray. The free sandplay method provides the client with a protected context in which unconscious resolution can take place more freely than in verbal articulation and exchanges. It is a space where there is safety for the relaxation of automatic filtering of inner material and where the client grows more comfortable in trusting that the fantasy, pictures and stories created will bring relief. Forming the sand supports a shift in awareness from cognitive and verbal to kinesthetic involvement. This allows relaxation of defence mechanisms and frees set ways of thinking. The kinesthetic focus on the sensation of the sand and the movement of the hands also opens new ways of communicating and knowing the self. This supports the emergence of emotional issues,
Chapter 1

The development of sandplay

blocked feelings and whatever else may be waiting for resolution in the unconscious. Frequently a process of transformation begins to take place. There is a move from a negative mood to a more positive state. Blocked energy is freed and the client appears more alive and more communicative. The freedom to create, without judgement, enhances self-esteem and is in itself very satisfying. More often with adult clients this process of transformation involves a clearer cognitive understanding of self, often accompanied by spontaneous problem-solving. The sand construction and the arrangement of figurines in the tray express and reflect a strength for the client from which they may have been disconnected. By making concrete or visible any conflict or tension the client is then able to reconstruct the situation and gain insight and a clearer understanding. This provides the motivation to continue. It eventually develops self-trust, inner resources and creative problem solving and enhances intrapersonal and interpersonal skills, intuition and intellectual clarity. Bradway and McCoard (1997) state that there is a suspension of judgement during the sandplay and during the process the facilitator accepts the uniqueness of individuals and their ways of coping and dealing with their wounds, their problems, their pathology. The process enhances self-esteem as the client is actively involved in creating the picture. It reinforces a positive sense of self because the client is the creator of their own healing process. The power is with them or within them rather than being with or in the counsellor. Sandplay activates the self-healing tendencies and so it is the clients experience of the process which holds the potential for healing, rather than any therapeutic interpretation of the sand picture. Any insights or gains made come from within the client and can be clearly recognised by the client as their own internal power. Sandplay aids metacognition thinking about thinking. It acts as an aid for reflection, helping clients to think about their own cognitive processes. The use of symbols and sand gives form to the clients perception of what is happening in their life.

Differences between sandplay and symbol work

Sandplay is an undirected process that utilises the therapeutic benefits of free play. Apart from the opening instructions and interaction in the second stage of sharing the story or picture, sandplay is not directed by the facilitator. It is designed to allow the unconscious to emerge at its own speed and according to its own readiness. Sandplay allows non-verbal integration, which may or may not be fully understood by the client. Feelings and understanding about the creation in the sandtray do not depend on verbal articulation. Symbol work is directed. It has a specific thematic focus. The aim is to encourage a client to explore and then discuss a specific situation or their 6
Sandplay and Symbol Work

feelings about it. Symbol work enables the facilitator to gain information and rapport to assist in moving the counselling process forward. Working with symbols gives the client an opportunity to draw upon a universal vocabulary, access to a language that can express their truth without the need for immediate conscious understanding. Symbols reflect back the material and images held in the psyche. Their three-dimensional, tangible qualities support a deepening of the counselling process. Through this deeper dimension the client, supported by the structure of a symbol work exercise, can begin the process of transforming a difficult situation. Both adults and children exhibit an ability to understand the meanings of symbols. Symbol work allows a counsellor to guide a client in the creation of pictures and stories that represent their most troubling issues. It allows the gathering of detailed information that can be helpful in suggesting ongoing management strategies both for the client and for carers. In confronting the reality of the limits in the amount of counselling a client may be able to access, we have developed many ways of using symbols that can more directly and simply provide doorways to address important issues. The question is often put: If sandplay is so effective why use symbol work exercises?. Symbol work is an extension of sandplay that allows a focus on a specific problem or issue. Few counsellors have the opportunity to offer regular ongoing sessions, sometimes due to budget limitations, sometimes due to client preferences. Many agencies which supply a counselling service are limited in the number of sessions they can offer and so naturally have a problem-solving focus. The symbol work exercises certainly can support clear identification of problems as part of assessment, a first step in seeking solutions. Many adult clients come to counselling with a belief that they should already know or be ready to explain what is wrong, even if they dont know what to do about it. For them the blank page approach of sandplay can sometimes feel overwhelming. Signell (in Bradway et al., 1990) found that some males found it difficult to play in the sand and felt a need to focus on solutions. Signell writes, however, that sandplay and the use of symbols are important because they offer a rare opportunity for loosening up and experiencing free-flowing of feelings, imagination and life force that comes with the interplay of conscious and unconscious. There are many clients who can gain trust in the undirected sandplay process via a structured symbol work exercise. Choosing a symbol from thousands of figurines, spread across several shelves, may be a daunting task for a distressed client. A gradual introduction to the value of working with symbols through a simple structured exercise may give such a client enough experience to gain confidence and develop internal trust in the process. Relating to the counsellor, telling their life story with the aid of a few symbols supports outer trust. Many adults have moved far away from connection with the world of imaginative play and creative expression. Play and creativity are ingredients
Chapter 1

The development of sandplay

for ongoing emotional health and the development of self-knowledge, and the therapeutic process may lead them to reclaim these abilities. Initially, adults who have lost this connection may respond well to structured steps, guiding questions and clear instructions. Symbol work exercises help expose, very quickly, patterns or themes of behaviour or reaction and hence activate or excite interest in self-discovery. Drawing, writing in a journal or reflecting on a personal collection of symbols can support the translation of the experience in the counselling setting directly into everyday life. What can quickly be seen from symbol work exercises is that self-discovery and counselling are not about focusing on or finding faults, even though there may be things that a person is doing or responding to that are not healthy or right. Symbol work exercises focus attention on the contents of the clients unconscious while the emotional release counsellor offers support in a way that is not intrusive or judgemental. The exercises quickly lead a client to gain an overview of previously unconscious patterns of reaction, behaviour and ways of relating. Gaining this overview is an empowering experience. This overview reinforces the basic principle in ERC that each person has their own inner wisdom, that the expert on who we are and what we need is actually inside us. Gaining the overview also brings a feeling of hope and strength which enables clients to acknowledge their pain and begin the healing process. The symbols mediate between ego consciousness and the unconscious in a way which still allows some gentle guidance from the ego, and results in a more harmonious, balanced relationship between conscious and unconscious. Both sandplay and symbol work exercises can be used to great advantage to work through a normal developmental conflict or to regain a sense of balance after a traumatic incident.

The evolution of sandplay as used in ERC

A non-fiction book by H. G. Wells, Floor Games (1911) inspired the creation of what Dr Margaret Lowenfeld called the World Technique (1999). Lowenfeld left an orthodox paediatric practice to found one of the first psychological clinics for children in England in 1928. She gathered objects to be used by children in their therapy sessions and through the development of her World Technique she used childrens natural inclination to play, helping them reveal their inner life and articulate their concerns. She credited her child clients with the discovery of this method. Lowenfeld hoped to find a medium which would be attractive to children and would give them, and the facilitator, a language to establish communication. By 1930 her clinic was known as the Institute of Child Psychology and had become a research and training centre as well as a clinic. At the Institute they adopted a holistic approach, and provided various play media, such as construction material, equipment that supported movement and 8
Sandplay and Symbol Work

destruction clay, hammers, punching toys and materials for expressing fantasy such as blocks, dolls and art materials. Lowenfelds book, Play in Childhood (1935, reprinted 1999), explains play as a healing modality and is still in use today. Dora Kalff, a student and colleague of Carl Jung and Emma Jung, attended a lecture by Lowenfeld in 1954 and was very impressed. By 1956 Kalff had completed her studies required for certification as a Jungian analyst through the Jung Institute in Zurich. She developed an interest in Lowenfelds work, sensing it as a symbolic tool that could be used by children. She spent 1956 studying with Lowenfeld, and others, in London. Returning to her practice in Switzerland Kalff spent some time integrating her understanding of the Jungian approach to symbology and consulting with Jung on the process. Kalff named the newly developed process sandplay, and after some years of using it with children, found it to be equally valuable when used with adults. Kalff had a lifelong interest in the East and found the Asian philosophies supportive of her work with sandplay. She had long-term friendships with Tibetan Buddhists, had several meetings with the Dalai Lama and found support from her study of Zen Buddhism with its focus on ones own inner resources. Kalff found that sandplay was enthusiastically welcomed in Japan where it was seen as similar to their tradition of miniature worldmaking. She taught the process there from 1966 until her death in 1990. Kalffs approach to sandplay was taught in Australia for a brief time by Jungian analyst Patrick Jansen while he was co-director of the Living Water Centre in the Blue Mountains, NSW. We trained at the Living Water Centre, which was Australias first educational and personal development centre to combine Jungs and Kalffs work with the experiential modalities of transpersonal and Gestalt psychology. Based on many of the same principles as ERC, sandplay became a natural component of the ERC approach with children, adolescents and adults. The methodology of Frederick Perls Gestalt role-play dreamwork was adapted for use with sandplay symbols, enabling clients to be even more expressive and deepen their understanding of their symbols. Great flexibility in supporting the client also came from extending the process to include emotional release process work if indicated. The symbol work exercises presented in Chapter 4 have been developed since 1990 as an extension of traditional sandplay. We have designed them to be used as a segment of a counselling session. They may be blended with other approaches and can operate at the level of readiness of the client. They have proved to be ideally suited to contemporary counselling, and allow a gentle, but direct focus on areas of difficulty. The symbol work exercises have been created for use within individual and group counselling and personal development programs. Many of our exercises have been used with children, adolescents and adults for more than ten years.
Chapter 1

The development of sandplay

For a detailed history of sandplay and a comprehensive bibliography on the subject see Sandplay Past, Present and Future, by Rie Rogers Mitchell and Harriet Friedman (see page 121).

Sandplay and symbol work in ERC

ERC was introduced in 1987, based on the research, writing and methods of several pioneers in the field of psychotherapy, counselling and consciousness research. ERC is an Australian development and has been described by Pearson and Nolan (1991, 1995) and further by Pearson (1997, 1998). ERC training programs have been in operation around Australia since 1989. Emotional release process work is a central part of ERC. It deals with both the strong and subtle emotions that may be behind our behaviour patterns. It is designed to be used by trained and experienced counsellors. Processing is the part of counselling work where strong reactive feelings can be released directly. Processing may deal with anger, grief, irritation, or jealousy, and it usually involves some physical and emotional expression. An important component of ERC is the development of inner life skills. This involves counsellors in supporting clients to gain the skills to understand and deal with their inner life their feelings, moods, reactions, body sensations, dreams and fantasies, etc. It is the aspect of ERC most relevant for classroom teachers, personal development facilitators and spiritual directors. These skills have an educational aim and involve clients, students and seekers in learning new ways of self-understanding, self-discovery, management of emotions, and relating to and supporting others. Recently created family communication exercises (Pearson, 1998) are designed to be both preventative and therapeutic. These are exercises that encourage self-expression, self-discovery and enhanced communication between parents and children. The games are usually modelled by a counsellor, who may support a trial run with at least a child and one parent, but they are designed for parents and children to explore at home. There are several fundamental principles of ERC that are particularly relevant to sandplay and symbol work. The first is that there is a natural, in-built movement in the psyche towards emotional and psychological healing. Accompanying this is an intrinsic interest in self-discovery, even if this interest is covered over by difficult feelings from the past. Another principle relates to the way we can heal through involving body, mind and feelings. The effectiveness of this experiential approach is enhanced by using breath, sound and movement in the counselling process. ERC is a collection of modalities that are coordinated by these main principles. The exercises fall into several broad categories: encouraging clients to talk about themselves during the initial consultations encouragement is given via the use of discussion questions, body awareness exercises, journal writing and drawing self-awareness, with the use of body focus 10
Sandplay and Symbol Work

emotional release processes that may include energy release through sound and movement, bioenergetic exercises, safe anger release and work with reactions using symbols through the work with sandplay, directed symbol work, Gestalt role-play and dreamwork breathwork, an adult process (not used with children), that allows deep emotional release and self-discovery self-esteem work, often using visualisations relaxation and meditation. ERC aims to support a client to release feelings and reveal what is under the surface of consciousness. The emotions contacted are often though not always found in layers, as if we were mining down from the surface layers of personality towards the real self. The following layers can also be observed at times in a clients series of sandplays: chaos, frustration, irritation, resentment anger, inner conflicts rage, hate hurts beneath anger sadness, grief tenderness, openness, love, sense of order self as valuable, sense of own resources, sense of strength reinforcement of positive sense of self, emergence of spiritual qualities. Carey (1999) lists the stages or layers as: chaos beginnings of integration of the psyche conflict separation development of a separate identity relating to the world healthily.

These layers may come to consciousness and be expressed a number of times before emotional healing is complete. Sometimes clients may find themselves seemingly stuck in a loop, cycling through the top three layers. Staying angry can feel stronger than feeling vulnerable to hurts. It can be the counsellors role to provide a safe environment so that surrender of defences allows the client to contact deeper layers of feeling.

Basic principles underlying ERC and sandplay practice

The following principles apply to ERC generally and to the way sandplay and symbol work are undertaken in ERC. Emotional healing takes time and rest just as physical healing does.

Chapter 1

The development of sandplay


ERC allows personal exploration to move between the conscious and the unconscious; between the biographical, perinatal and transpersonal levels of our psyche. ERC supports clients in rediscovering their own resources and as much as possible refers directorship of the counselling process back to them. ERC begins by developing outer and inner trust. Outer trust grows through the personal meeting with a counsellor, with the feeling of total acceptance and a simple and clear framework for the processes. Inner trust develops through inner world exploration that allows strength to emerge. The difference between acceptable behaviour in the counselling room and in everyday life needs to be clear. However, if clients feel safe enough to allow release in the counselling room there is usually a reduction in the tendency or need to act out in daily life. Safe use of the methods depends greatly on the stage of personal development, training and experience of the counsellor. A trained counsellor develops a sense of ease with the feeling world that is conveyed to the client, creating a climate of permission for deep release. The experiential nature of ERC training can prepare a counsellor to develop empathy and openness, and to let go of judgemental thoughts and actions. The more personal development work the counsellor has undertaken, the less the risk of unconscious projection and discomfort with any dramatic material from the client. The emotional release counsellor should be able to move between modalities in order to meet clients where they are. This skill supports finding the best doorway through which to support entry into the clients inner world. Interpretation of an individuals inner world and its symbols by an external observer can inhibit self-discovery. It is therefore important not to advise a client about what their inner journey should be or give a set meaning to any sandplay, dream or fantasy symbols. It is helpful in counselling sessions to support the reversal of old shallow breathing patterns. Many ERC exercises help breathing expand and this helps a client open to feeling, and may bring a release of held emotions and energies. ERC methods aim to free up restricted sounding and movement patterns, so that long-held-in words, statements, sounds and movements can release safely.

What supports emotional healing?

ERC is based on the premise that feeling emotions and energy and expressing them (in appropriate ways) keeps us mentally healthy, or returns us to health. The natural state of energy and emotions is movement, expansion and creation. 12
Sandplay and Symbol Work

Since emotional healing takes place in the body and its energy, ERC works to help clients become more in touch with their body, as well as knowing what they are feeling and thinking. We each have an in-built interest in self-discovery. Mostly this has been covered over by disappointment and trauma. ERC methods allow it to re-emerge, forming the basis for cooperation in the counselling endeavour. Each psyche has a natural in-built, intelligent movement towards wholeness. We call this the inner healer. ERC opens and frees trapped energy and allows the natural inner healing mechanism to direct the emotional healing work. Long-term emotional healing is based on trusting the wisdom of the inner healer. The inner healer can emerge when a client gains trust in the facilitator and their own inner world. This inner force reveals, with its own logic, what the client needs to remember, feel, release or integrate. Problems in the counselling process can arise if the facilitator has a preset notion of what ought to happen and when it should happen. In the unconscious there are often links between the causes of strong reactions in daily life and past difficulties. When a client is ready, ERC can support the clearing of unfinished business from the past so that they may live more fully in the present. A natural trajectory of the ERC process is the assisting of clients to heal their inner hurts. There is support for them to become less defended, open to others and to the positivity and creativity of their own inner world. Negative feelings and memories in the unconscious are active, having an influence on how we make choices and live our lives. Bringing them to consciousness is the first step in disempowering them. For sustained emotional healing it is vital that the shadow aspects of the personality be explored, released, accommodated and integrated. Positive qualities, feelings and memories in the unconscious can be inactive, or overshadowed by negative beliefs and attitudes caused by past hurt. Making the positive material conscious again empowers it to be expressed and to become an active part of the personality. In a healthy system the body, mind and feelings work as a whole. Feelings that are too confronting to experience or express bring into play an attempt at suppression. When the feelings are blocked or stuck they are experienced as negative. They are held in muscular tension or armouring, they cause disruptive or destructive thoughts and they are finally expressed as negative actions. Under physical tension and pain there is often some emotional holding and emotional pain. When the physical symptom is given some sustained attention, with the support of some deep breaths and inner focus, the client can often recontact the underlying feelings and express them therapeutically. This usually leads to relaxation. A state of calm and positivity is restored in the body and the mind.
Chapter 1

The development of sandplay


Many of us have a part of our personality constellated around the hurts and disappointments of childhood. This focal point of our childhood scripts is a combination of repressed feelings, negative beliefs about self and behaviour patterns connected with defence and survival. Healing old feelings allows separation from any negative legacy of the past. ERC supports the re-integration of all real aspects of a clients personality. However, clients benefit most when there can be some separation from the hurt inner child constellation, when it is being healed and its impact on the personality is reduced. The power of these scripts is reduced by repeatedly allowing times of deep feeling (in a safe, supported space) of what could not be fully felt in the past. Traumas are events so painful emotionally or physically that they have to be separated, or repressed, from consciousness. The impact of traumatic events can build up in the unconscious from as far back as our time in the womb. When there is a protective shut-down of feelings the unconscious material can have a pervasive negative and limiting effect on the psyche. Repression is an unconscious mechanism whereby thoughts, feelings and sensations are locked away from our usual consciousness as a protection from emotional pain. Many clients carry significant amounts of repressed material which causes problems in their inner and outer life. ERC aims to create supportive conditions in which a client can feel safe to gradually open to what has been repressed, in order to feel and release it. Defence mechanisms are those reactions which tend to come up at times of stronger feeling to protect us from underlying emotional pain. Defences include denial, projection onto others, blame of others, intellectualising of feelings, continual argument about details, etc. For a client to begin to let go of defences requires a readiness and willingness to feel what was being defended. This can take time. Children often have to turn their frustration and anger inwards. They may have come to believe that they were to blame for what in reality were shortcomings in their early environment. Any patterns of being self-destructive, taking on blame, or being continually self-critical can gradually be healed by being expressed in the counselling room. Directing feelings symbolically towards the causes of emotional containment or self-criticism enhances the therapeutic benefit. Angry and violent outbursts and over-the-top reactions come from the backlog of repressed feelings. To help resolve present emotional crises the client may be supported to connect with emotional layers underneath, to the original hurts. They can come to new emotional freedom through feeling and expressing these underlying hurts in emotional release process work. The main principle in emotional release process work is the support for a client to reconnect with any incomplete emotions in order to begin their release. When mobilised the feelings can release through the body, through movement and through sound. 14
Sandplay and Symbol Work

In the psyche there are layers of feelings. Under negative feelings are positive feelings. For example, the energy of anger can hold so much of our potential: strength, authority, aliveness, assertiveness, sense of self. Deep under anger there is often hurt or sadness. When hurt is healed the original underlying state of love and tenderness is again accessible.

Sandplay literature and research

Along with a detailed history of sandplay, Mitchell and Friedman (1994) discuss research and publications on sandplay. In the English language they list 87 journal articles (many from the International Journal of Sandplay Therapy), 24 books, 21 conference presentations, 7 Masters theses and 12 Doctoral dissertations. They also list non-English publications: 72 journal articles (mostly from Japan) and 13 books. In the years since 1994 there have been five new English language sandplay books, including ours. The International Society for Sandplay Therapy holds many papers on sandplay and many detailed case reports submitted by sandplay therapists as part of their certification process (for web page information see page 124). Mitchell and Friedman list a wide range of sandplay applications discussed in the Masters and Doctoral papers. There are research papers and case reports covering sandplay in a classroom with learning disabled children, work with abused children, adults molested as children, rites of passage, the relation of sandplay to art therapy, womens spirituality, the use of animal imagery, structures for cognitive analysis of sandplay, as well as several exploring its general effectiveness. We are aware of several Australian sandplay research papers, one of which has been authored by a Queensland guidance officer, Patrick OBrien. His 1998 dissertation is an analysis of using sandplay and associated modalities with children in a school setting. OBrien draws links between the sandplay and symbol work processes and Howard Gardners (1983) theories of multiple intelligence. OBrien produces some of Australias first statistical evidence for the effectiveness of these dynamic experiential methods.

Sandplay as an aid to counselling in schools

Canadians John Allan, a professor of elementary school counselling, and Pat Berry, a primary class teacher, reported their use of sandplay for counselling children in the American journal Elementary School Guidance and Counselling (see page 121). They discuss the sandplay process in a way that corresponds to the ERC approach. Their article concludes with the statement that productive personality development and effective learning are enhanced when repressed energy is released and can transform into available positive energy. Allan and Berry found that classroom teachers comment on a students relaxed mood and enhanced ability to become involved in school work after sandplay. They note that children seem calmer and happier, and exhibit a sense of humour after the sessions. They recommend student participation
Chapter 1

The development of sandplay


in eight to ten sessions, after which they note a dramatic improvement, with the child responding positively to normal controls and limitations imposed by teachers. Their case study of a male second grader, referred for counselling due to inappropriate behaviour in both classroom and playground, reported the students gains from sandplay as: a reduction in impulsive and aggressive behaviour improvement in social skills an ability to channel energy into art and soccer. Their findings mirror the many verbal reports we receive from Guidance Officers who have graduated from our courses. Lois Carey (1990, see page 121) reports on sandplay therapy over six months with a nine-year-old boy with speech and language disorders, referred by the school psychologist. While the sandplay sessions did not take place within the school setting, there are reports from teachers that the boys concentration in class improved greatly. The teachers also reported an improvement in peer relations, which had been non-existent prior to treatment. Vinturella and James (1987, see page 122) present a case report of an eightyear-old boy with dramatic mood changes and aggressive behaviour that frequently resulted in negative consequences at school. Over six sessions this boy worked through some aspects of the recent death of his father. The fifth session also involved his mother, who created a sandplay with the boy. Vinturella and James describe a variety of ways sandplay is used by counsellors of different therapeutic orientations: Behaviourists use it as a diagnostic tool for obtaining baseline information. Psychoanalytic therapists use it to detect unconscious conflicts. Jungian analysts monitor and support the individuation process. Gestalt counsellors use it as a tool to separate figure from ground and resolve polarities through enactment. Child-centred counsellors create a climate of acceptance in which the childs self-regulatory and actualising tendencies are maximised. Family counsellors use it with children and families to explore family boundaries, structure and dysfunctional patterns of interaction in the family system. Vinturella and James also describe how sandplay supports both introverted and extroverted clients. The introverted orientation is used in the solitary construction of the picture and the extroverted orientation is used in the telling of the story. They also strongly recommend that a counsellor using sandplay use person-centred techniques, such as their restatement of content and reflection of feelings to support the clients identification of meanings of symbols and sand pictures. They suggest the counsellor might gently offer open-ended questions to help a client tell the story. This is a similar approach to what is called self-discovery questioning in ERC, and further supports the link between these two approaches. 16
Sandplay and Symbol Work

Vinturella and James further suggest that parents could be trained to facilitate sandplay with their children at home. While there are many ways parents can help their children with emotional first-aid at home (see page 96), many reports from trainees show that working with their own children does not produce the same therapeutic benefit as working with a neutral counsellor. Parents can show an interest in discussing their childrens sandplays, and this may support a positive effect on the parentchild relationship. However, many children will not want to discuss their sandplays, having integrated the contents, and may prefer to simply move on to another activity or topic. In their article Jungian play therapy in elementary schools Allan and Brown (1993) discuss the Jungian emphasis on activating the self-healing force in a childs psyche. They maintain that once this is activated the child will act out play themes that are significant to their own struggles. This article clearly relates Jungs ideas to counselling with children. Allan and Browns observations show that the externalisation and projection of conflicts, in the counselling context, help the childs ego to deal in a tangible way with painful unconscious struggles and negative feelings. Allan and Brown propose a simple model for counselling in schools where there is a need to balance the needs of the child with the needs of the school. Counselling in this context should have an initial inner world focus, followed by a time devoted to addressing issues raised by teachers or parents. Successful treatment, they say, is based not only on the positive therapeutic alliance between counsellor and child, but also on the positive alliance with the teacher and parent. They recommend that themes, toys or symbols that become significant for the child be somehow integrated into classroom activities, either through projects, related reading material or a leadership role in classroom discussions on a related topic. In their case study with an eight-year-old male, they report that the opportunity to release his hurt and aggressive feelings freed up the positive, guiding power of the psyche, through drawing and sandplay. Another exponent of sandplay in primary schools, Carmichael (1994), outlines the role of the counsellor and typical stages in the sessions. She found that sandplay was most suitable for students with low self-esteem or poor academic progress, or who exhibited very active behaviours. She recommends sandplay as a viable, low-risk intervention for school counsellors that has been found to be highly successful. In Australia Helen Tereba (1999), as part of her Masters in Counselling project, used ERC exercises, including symbol work, to create and pilot a primary peer support program called Time Travellers. This was designed for children affected by separation or divorce. She conducted this in a Brisbane primary school. She found that the experiential nature of ERC and the use of symbols enhanced the degree of self-disclosure and increased the number of times children made and shared supportive comments. We expect this program to be published in the future.
Chapter 1

The development of sandplay


A growing number of school guidance officers and school counsellors have trained in sandplay and symbol work with the authors. Through a formal research questionnaire, informal phone reports and ongoing supervision, they continue to report great progress and satisfaction with these methods.

Sandplay and multiple intelligences

The theory of multiple intelligences was developed by Harvard researcher Howard Gardner (1983). He originally proposed that we have seven different ways of learning and knowing seven intelligences. This theory has been effectively used in school curriculum development around the world. An interface between this theory and the counselling process has been researched in Australia by Patrick OBrien (1998), using sandplay as his primary counselling method. A link between the intelligences and ERC is discussed by Pearson (1998). From a basis in cognitive psychology Gardner identified seven intelligences: verbal/linguistic intelligence relates to words and language logical/mathematical intelligence deals with inductive and deductive reasoning, numbers and relationships visual/spatial intelligence includes being able to visualise an object and to create mental images bodily/kinesthetic intelligence relates to physical movement and the knowledge of the body and how it functions musical/rhythmical intelligence includes the ability to recognise tonal patterns, rhythm and beat interpersonal intelligence used in person-to-person relationships intrapersonal intelligence based on knowledge of the self (includes metacognition, emotional responses, self-reflection and an awareness of metaphysical concepts). Gardner found that childrens learning increased when more than two or three intelligences were operating in learning tasks. OBrien asks Does Gardners theory of multiple intelligences have an application for counselling?. This question was addressed in his doctoral work based on ten Australian case studies in a school setting. Referrals for counselling were made on the basis of expressions of physical violence and failure to follow teacher directions. The findings support the effectiveness of a counselling approach which utilises multiple intelligences. OBrien had previously undertaken training in the use of ERC exercises and sandplay, which rate highly in the number of intelligences utilised. He worked with the sample group using ERC and non-directive play therapy, with sandplay as the major modality. The findings, while illuminating the application of multiple intelligences as a foundation theory for counselling, also support the value of sandplay as a modality that can integrate many of the intelligences. He writes: Such is the


Sandplay and Symbol Work

nature of sandplay, that it seems to include the use of all of Gardners seven intelligences at various times throughout the play session. OBrien found that all but one client preferred to use the interpersonal intelligence in their counselling sessions, and that the clients came to counselling with their own unique intelligence preferences. The existence of a range of preferences indicated that counsellors do need to accommodate this range. His results imply that counsellors should use more than the traditional verbal strategies. Rather than primarily using the logical/mathematical intelligence favoured in most behaviour management programs he found that children prefer to solve problems using a variety of intelligences. As confidence in the use of one intelligence grows, children will more readily move to the use of another intelligence. Integration can occur in any of the seven intelligences. Interestingly, silence from the client may allow another intelligence to be used. He also found that the multiple intelligences technique seemed to lower resistance within the child and diminish the impact of ego defences, a finding that is in accord with the clinical observations with ERC and sandplay. OBrien developed and used multiple intelligence questions for his counselling practice. These are similar to the self-discovery questions that ERC counsellors routinely use. Use of intrapersonal questions was generally effective and caused the intrapersonal intelligence to act as a hub assisting the children to make sense of the counselling activities in a personal way. OBrien found that the non-directive and least intrusive interventions were the most effective, just as we have found that non-directive play therapy and ERC empower children by encouraging choices in the use of media (hence intelligence). Baloche (1996) also found that giving clients choices adds significantly to their motivation and creativity. An important finding in OBriens study was that the group (all with behaviour problems) did not tend to use the logical/mathematical intelligence. This finding has implications for school-based programs where the reasoning process is most often used as a basis for attempting to change behaviour. Students with significant behaviour problems may find it difficult to engage with traditional behaviour management programs. This study found many links between a proposed multiple intelligence framework for counselling and ERC and sandplay. It would appear that sandplay is the cornerstone of a framework to counselling with multiple intelligences. When the freedom of the non-directive approach is offered through sandplay, clients can naturally make choices in their expression and use a variety of intelligences. When the counsellor maintains an attitude of allowing, rather than prescribing, dominance of use of a set intelligence is reduced.

Chapter 1

The development of sandplay


Sandplay and academic improvement

Noyes (1981, see page 122) presents evidence of the value of sandplay in enhancing the teaching of reading. Noyes began to use symbols, then later added a sandtray, allowing students in her remedial reading classes to access a private space to create pictures and stories. She offered no direction or interpretation and did not draw out her students about their stories or the issues behind them. She felt that the two most important elements were the privacy of the play and her silent acknowledgement and acceptance of whatever pictures they made. These elements resulted in a feeling of security and freedom in the students two elements identified by Dora Kalff as essential for successful sandplay therapy. Not surprisingly, Noyes found sandplay to have a calming effect on the students. It engendered an immediate and deeper rapport between teacher and child. She attributed the increase in academic growth in her students partly to this rapport and partly to the fact that the pressure of their inner life was decreased by engaging in sandplay. Students minds were clearer and they were able to focus on academic tasks with greater vitality and motivation. Noyes also points out that the sandplay process draws on the right side of the brain and that this helps the student to make leaps of insight necessary to become a top down reader. Working in the sand trains and activates the creative right brain in the visual skills needed to connect the graphic information on the reading page. Noyes observed that types, and times, of changes in students varied. Sometimes change occurred immediately, sometimes after a few weeks of sandplay. One significant change she noted was more academic improvement than she had been accustomed to in her many years of teaching children with learning and reading disabilities. Other staff reported a decrease in the number of these students being sent to the office for bad behaviour. Attendance also improved. Noyes compared the average growth in reading age of her pupils over the two years before using sandplay, as well as the year when it was used, as measured on the Woodcock test. The improvement averages were: 1st year nine months 2nd year eight months year when sandplay used one year and six months. She found her sixth graders took to the sandplay with the most enthusiasm and their scores showed the greatest improvement. Alana Vaney, a special education teacher in one of our training courses, has been using symbols with great success as an aid in teaching literacy. She writes:
The little hands hover excitedly over the basket of symbols I am handing around. Kay really wants the glistening, snow-white fairy and Robert hopes no one takes the roaring dragon. Hands are itching for the missile blaster and others for the little green alien. I want the house!


Sandplay and Symbol Work

The army tanks mine! These are the responses of a small group of seven-year-olds who are finding it hard to enter the doors of literacy. What they have so tantalisingly before them are all sorts of creatures, from little dogs to magical wizards and a myriad of objects, from trees to furniture. These symbols are kept in my cabinet with glass doors, arranged somewhat like Grandmas china cupboard. They are taken out for the special occasion of learning. When, for instance, a child selects a family of dinosaurs, trees and little people, a story naturally unfolds. The toys are manipulative, kinesthetic, stimulating and fun. They can be arranged in the sand in a group story or on large pieces of paper as individual ones. The children tell the stories as they move the symbols. A tree becomes a forest, a mirror a lake, and the sand is often desert or beach. I help the structure of their storytelling by providing cards saying: BEGINNING: Once upon a time in the middle of the night ..., AND THEN: The little dinosaur was all alone in the desert, AND THEN: A wicked little snake came along. This goes along until the END card. A HOW DID THEY FEEL? card adds the emotional aspect. Young children also love to arrange the alphabet tiles in sequence and then find the right place for their symbols according to beginning, middle or end sound. This process naturally leads to stories as ants crawl over astronauts, wizards and witches work magic and frogs crawl into flowers! Im discovering new ways to use the symbols every day. Sometimes I arrange a few symbols in the centre of a circle at the end of a class and invite the children to choose one favourite. We can Gestalt that symbol or just say a describing word about it. This strengthens self-esteem and language skills simultaneously. Even Grade Seven spellers have latched on to symbols, finding it a challenge to pick a few to spell! Often in schools its hard to find time to work with children individually in ERC but Im discovering many ways for the numinous magic of symbols to infuse learning with a sense of wonder.

Sandplay with abused children

Miller and Boe (1990), describing their Tears into Diamonds program, achieved great success using sandplay and storytelling in a hospital setting with children who had been extremely traumatised (see page 122). The ward housed about fourteen children between the ages of four and twelve years. After a year of research, they designed a program using two treatment modalities that communicate on a deep level through metaphor: sandplay and storytelling. For the storytelling they used fairy tales and childrens stories matched to the childs sandtray and history. They discuss the treatment of two girls, aged ten and eight, who were seen twice a week for sandplay therapy over an eighteen-month period. They felt that addressing the trauma in a non-threatening way was vital as children are vulnerable to developmental disturbance from trauma and have a crucial need for consistent attachment to an interactive, resonating adult figure. They note that traumatised children may experience massive numbing, emotional
The development of sandplay

Chapter 1


withdrawal, and/or aggressive behaviour, and found that sandplay helped reduce these symptoms. They comment that children in a highly disturbed emotional and cognitive state can hardly begin to describe the trauma, let alone deal with it. So verbal therapy offers very limited use in these cases. They found that nondirective play was particularly useful for traumatised and abused children, as through the play the child can finally be in charge. They quote research showing this type of imaginative play decreases anxiety and aggression. They found that the stories gave hope by introducing the concept of psychological transformation. A sandplay therapist who specialises in sexual abuse treatment, Grubbs (1994) has found sandplay to be highly effective with these clients. Working from a Jungian background, Grubbs describes the process of twelve sandplay sessions with a twelve-year-old boy who had been sexually abused. He observed a development in this client from a chaotic, self-destructive and hostile world expression, to sandtrays revealing a resolution of inner chaos, internal ordering and creation of clear boundaries. There was a confrontation and symbolic killing of the perpetrator and the discovery of a safe and enchanted world within himself. An American researcher, Ruth Zinni (1997), working with fifty-two children, found that there were clear differences between the contents and themes of sand pictures, and the approach to the sandplay process, between children referred by a clinic (who had been emotionally, physically or sexually abused or neglected) and a control group. There were clear differences between the children who were experiencing emotional stress and those who were not. She concludes that sandplay is a useful assessment tool in therapeutic work with children. Research on the use of symbols in a sandtray with forty physically and sexually abused children has been conducted through Macquarie University, NSW. Juliet Harper (1991) reports on her study with children aged three and a half to ten years. She used a modification of Lowenfelds World Technique, observing four sand pictures by each child. She found that the themes of nurture and protection significantly defined the play of the sexually abused group. The group who had experienced physical abuse displayed themes of conflict and aggression and were closed and disorganised. She found that two striking characteristics of the sand worlds of the sexually abused children were a lack of fantasy and a reluctance to provide narratives. Harper noted that the play of the sexually abused children was compliant and well organised. However, Harper felt that beneath the surface there was a subtle and pervasive emotional disturbance which would perhaps not become apparent until triggered by developmental crises such as puberty, courtship, marriage, or childbirth.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

An experienced social worker who trained with us is now using sandplay as a regular part of her counselling work with children in a Queensland community health centre. She reports:
Sandplay and symbol work now has a central place in my practice. I have noticed when using it, that children and adults can make what seems like a quantum leap in understanding of themselves and their situation. It seems to allow people to access strengths and knowledge which were previously inaccessible, and the positive change in their emotional state can be quite profound. My experience of using sandplay and symbol work has been exciting and rewarding and a little bit like magic!

Sandplay and grieving

Heather Teakle, who trained in sandplay with Patrick Jansen at the Living Water Centre, wrote about the use of sandplay in helping her two young daughters work through the grief of losing their father. Her moving and practical book, My Daddy Died Supporting Young Children in Grief (1992), describes many ways of working through loss. Heather used both directed symbol work exercises and sandplay and writes: In playing out the issue, energy related to the difficulty moves and there is partial or often complete resolution. She also describes dramatic behaviour changes in a young hyperactive male client after just one session.

Sandplay, symbol work and ERC in Australian group programs

A group program for children of parents with a mental illness was created by an agency in Victoria. Along with other activities, the ERC and symbol work exercises have been incorporated to enhance the group communication. A Turnaround trainee, who works with another Victorian agency supporting children with a terminal illness, uses symbols and other ERC exercises with a sibling support program.

Chapter 1

The development of sandplay


Chapter 2
A gathering of wisdom the Jungian heritage and contemporary sandplay
I am deeply moved again and again at the discovery of how close the childs psyche is to spiritual and healing forces. Dora Kalff, Sandplay, Sigo, 1980

or contemporary Western counsellors and therapists who have worked from a cognitive or behaviourist perspective, and have not explored Jungian psychology, understanding the benefits of sandplay and the clientcentred, self-discovery approach may call for a paradigm shift. For those working in an educational setting in Australia, rational behaviour modification approaches based on the assumption of supremacy of the intellect may have to be set aside in order to understand the therapeutic benefits of working with the imagination and with ERC approaches. At present there is little research data generated in Australia that focuses on the benefits of the ERC and sandplay methods. Happily this is changing. Deciphering some of the Jungian-based literature may be a challenging task. However, there is value in expanding our conceptions of what can happen therapeutically with clients, while gaining a new language for creation of effective counselling interventions. Experiencing the paradigm shift required to empathically support the full range of emotional release modalities including sandplay, symbol work and imaginative play therapy is empowering for the therapist. Some components of the paradigm shift are discussed in Chapter 3. This section provides a brief survey of key concepts of the traditional Jungian approach to sandplay and their links with contemporary ERC. This material was first described by Dora Kalff, and introduced in the German language in 1966, and then in English in 1971, with a second edition in 1980 with her book Sandplay A Psychotherapeutic Approach to the Psyche. In this section we have used the work of Kalff (1980), Weinrib (1983), Ammann (1991), and Bradway and McCoard (1997) and others to clarify the Jungian framework for use of sandplay therapy.

Some aims of sandplay

In considering some of the aims of the Jungian approach to sandplay, we move away from the contemporary focus on dealing directly with behaviour. 24

Several basic assumptions from Jungian psychology inform the free sandplay method: There is an in-built force in the psyche that moves us towards emotional and psychological healing. The psyche is moving towards emergence of the Self. The unconscious has more power over behaviour and attitudes than the conscious. The shadow side needs to be explored and safely released. Imagery is the primary language of the unconscious, and these images need expression. The psyche has an innate spiritual component. Emotional and psychological problems can arise if this spiritual component is ignored or denied. It is a feature of Jungs approach to the psyche that spirituality is considered a vital ingredient. In working with children and adolescents, Kalff repeatedly noticed that in puberty, besides the physical development, spiritual deepening occurs. This tallies with our own observations and those brought to our group supervision sessions by school counsellors and guidance officers. Many adult clients report a broadening of their own understanding and experience of spirituality through sandplay. Sandplay allows some expression of the spiritual impulse even if the client does not recognise this in their cognitive understanding. Kalff aimed to provide opportunities for the spiritual impulse to emerge. She believed that since rites of passage have largely disappeared from Western culture or have lost their deep meaning, it is especially important in therapy with adolescents as well as with adults to deal with the questions of god, spirit and the divine. She says: only in the relationship to the archetype of the Divine in man can the juvenile really accomplish the transformation to adulthood (1980). Jungian analysis aimed to develop the clients maturity so that the client could separate from the unconscious and then reconnect to it and continue a relationship between consciousness and the unconscious. An important aspect of psychological health was that there should be some choice about the time needed for the unconscious to express, rather than being at its mercy, or driven by its unreleased contents. According to Weinrib, an aim of Jungian analysis and sandplay therapy is to relativise the ego. This means that the ego relinquishes its seeming dominance and the persons psyche re-establishes a connection and continuing relationship between consciousness and the unconscious. In the process of what Jung called the sacrifice of consciousness the conscious ego is called to give up its control in order to move into connection with the unconscious. The energy release that many clients report when there are shifts and transformations in the psyche is connected with this process. This release of energy can give that special feeling of gentle excitement and
Chapter 2

A gathering of wisdom


expansion that is connected with an experiential state which Jung so often referred to as numinous. Sandplay therapy enables a different way of knowing, allows a more feminine encounter with the inner self. Estelle Weinrib (1983) writes that the primary aim of sandplay is the re-establishment of access to the feminine elements of the psyche in both men and women, elements that have been repressed in Western Judeo-Christian culture. Part of this process involves the emergence of what Jung called the Self. Dora Kalff writes: I want to emphasise that the manifestation of the Self, this inner order, this pattern for wholeness, is the most important moment in the development of the personality. This recognition and valuing of a connection with something beyond the ego in the psyche is in opposition to some contemporary therapy and counselling approaches, such as cognitive behavioural therapy and behaviour management strategies. Emotional release counsellors and those with a Jungian orientation aim to reduce the need for ego dominance, which is so often a defence mechanism against hurts, lacks and attacks. This reduction of defensive ego dominance takes place through releasing unfinished business from the recent and distant past so that the old defences have less to do. Reducing defences can also support reconnection to basic transpersonal or spiritual impulses. Because many clients begin to experience a spiritual or numinous state during sessions, sandplay can be a valuable support in spiritual development as well as personal healing. The principles underlying the Jungian approach have many similarities to the approach to self-discovery, self-development and therapy studied in transpersonal psychology. Writers of the Jungian school assume that we have an unconscious and propose that the personal, individual unconscious drives outer behaviour and is a motivator for the apparently more conscious actions. In addition, the individual unconscious is seen as connected to and strongly influenced by the collective unconscious, a realm of the psyche in which we are all linked. The collective unconscious is influenced by the archetypal dimension, where basic human patterns are linked to cosmic forces. Most importantly Jungs psychology recognises that humans have what we would call transpersonal needs. The field of transpersonal psychology has moved far beyond the Freudian notion of the compensatory nature of spiritual or religious impulses, or that they represent a sign of pathology. Our own clinical observations show that the individual psyche is rarely content with simple ego-consciousness. Jung described many sessions with clients during which apparent neuroses vanished once their spiritual impulses were recognised and given some framework.

Emotional and psychological safety

Central to Kalffs model of sandplay therapy is the concept of the free and protected space which has both physical and psychological dimensions. 26
Sandplay and Symbol Work

While recognising that it took many sessions, Kalff found that once this sense of safety was established it allowed deep emotional healing. In some counselling contexts today there is often an urgency, due to limited time or budget requirements, to help clients feel comfortable and ready to disclose. However, the sense of the free and protected space may not have been fully established and self-exploration can remain at a superficial level. Sometimes there is an assumption that interpretation by the counsellor is an important element in helping clients release what is troubling in the unconscious. Bradway and McCoard (1997) refer to research at Mount Zion Psychiatric Centre, in 1982, that investigated Freuds early theory that analysts had to interpret repressed mental contents in order to make those contents conscious. The research did not support this theory. Further they found that when patients felt safe and trusted the therapist the material could flow. Kalff writes with conviction about the need to develop this sense of safety for real healing to occur. She suggests that sandplay provides the conditions of a womb-like incubatory period that makes possible the repair of a damaged mother-image which, in turn, enables constellation and activation of the Self (1980). She observes that this allows subsequent healing of the wounded ego, and the recovery of the inner child. Kalff is here describing the natural healing potential that a child-like freedom to play can support. This child-like freedom can be seen in both adults and children who move from timidity about using the symbols to deep and serious engagement that is also playful. This freedom depends in part on the sense of safety established. Kalff used the term motherchild unity to describe the ideal atmosphere of the counselling room and the ideal relationship with the therapist. She points out how a child is born out of the protecting enclosure of the womb into the world, and still requires the protection of the mother for a long period. The care and love a mature parent can give the child implants a basic feeling of security. An atmosphere of security is necessary for the child to develop fully according to its own potential. If bonding and security are absent then a child may retreat to an inner world, and begin to build defences. Kalff claims that behind these defences fear is hidden, which, when it becomes too great, changes into aggression. If aggression is repressed it consumes so much inner energy that little remains for anything new in life. It is the loving atmosphere of counsellor and counselling room that begins to allow an opening for a client child or adult to come out from behind their defences. Kalff describes the complexity and delicateness of the psyche and points out that it is exposed to a wide variety of influences. The development of its strength comes when the free, and yet protected, space is established. She claims the psyche has an inherent tendency to heal itself, and it is the task of the therapist to prepare the path for this tendency. Provided it is happening within the free and protected space, symbolic active fantasising by the client stimulates the imagination. Imagination is directly linked to the unconscious and so its stimulation is a support in helping the unconscious make its contents
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known. Weinrib says that the stimulation of the imagination supported by the active fantasising frees neurotically fixated energy and moves it into creative channels, which in itself can be healing. The experience of a safe shelter is created through a personal connection between therapist and client, through the sense of order and beauty of the workroom, and unconditional acceptance of the clients degree of participation in the session. Often a childs and sometimes an adults sand picture will reflect a seeking of their need to feel sheltered, as well as reflecting a need to work through feeling endangered. The equipment used in sandplay supports feelings of safety. The physical dimensions of a sandtray, which are limited and containing, give a sense of boundaries that protect the sand world. The entire area can be seen at a glance, without moving eyes or head. The tray has the effect of focusing on and then reflecting back inner vision, thoughts, feelings and unfinished business. Weinrib says that the figures serve to incarnate archetypal images in a manageable size and shape in a protective environment. Safety is also experienced when the client is given unconditional acceptance and freedom from any imposition of the counsellors will. There is no confrontation, and no intellectualisation or interpretation. A premature demand for rationalising in such a womb-like space can disturb, if not destroy, the spontaneous healing process. Safety is also provided through many subtle elements in the process. Throughout Kalffs writing there is an emphasis on meeting the clients where they are and allowing time to develop a trusting connection. Her own case stories point to the importance of following the clients interests and finding as many ways as possible to bring forward their creative expression. Her methods include allowing the client to leave the workroom, explore the garden, play games and explore various craft media and even ritualistic destruction that allows emotional release. In our practice today we try to allow the same freedoms. It can be valuable to punctuate a session with a brief walk in the garden, a brief dip in the swimming pool on a hot day, a few minutes to stroke the cat or even time to chat about seemingly irrelevant topics brought up by the child. Being with pets or animals will often allow a softening in a defended child. Times of informality and ordinary play can greatly support the overall sense of safety and freedom, thus adding depth to the work. Recently an eleven-year-old boy, after his sandplay, asked if he could go for a swim. He was surprised to learn that certainly that was okay. While he was swimming in the informal, relaxed setting of the pool, he released information which was both useful for the therapist and a relief for the young boy to talk about at last. At this point playing in the pool sparked his enthusiasm to communicate like an unstoppable current. During these apparent diversions from the formal structure of the counselling session it is essential that the counsellor maintain emotional and physical connection with the client and 28
Sandplay and Symbol Work

be available for listening, encouraging and drawing out any expression that is ready to emerge.

How can sandplay help clients?

Sand pictures represent figures and landscapes of the inner and outer world, and they appear to mediate between these two worlds and connect them (Kalff, 1980). Cultures in the Western industrialised world appear to have lost this natural connection, and the existence of an inner world has been denied, ridiculed or de-constructed. The patience and care that goes into creating a sand picture can help reclaim or rediscover the inner world. These qualities help foster inner connection and relatedness to the depths of the psyche. No special training is needed for a client to create a sandplay; age and gender have no bearing on the outcome; the process is not dependent as in verbal therapy on the clients capacity to accurately recall incidents and issues. The process involves a kind of concrete active imagination that leads to inner transformation and new creativity in outer expression. The effect of transformation within the psyche is much wider than simply a modification of behaviour considered to be inappropriate. Generally speaking, there is one aspect of ourselves that is more strongly developed than other aspects. A healthy psyche and therefore emotional well-being are the outcomes when the inner world is allowed to complement and augment ordinary everyday consciousness. Weinrib suggests that transformation includes significant changes in a person: how they perceive their attitudes, their value systems, their behaviour, their self-image and their perception of the inner and outer worlds. A person who has begun transformation has increased their relationship with themselves, with others, with society and with the transpersonal dimension of their psyche. Transformation is often accompanied with a feeling of rebirth. In trying to clarify what a range of therapists mean by psychological transformation we conclude that it contains highly individual elements, some general patterns and much mystery. The fact that it has taken place is evident from a clients state of well-being, clarity, energy and purpose. Sandplay and symbol work provide a bridge between a persons inner and outer world. One of the greatest contributions sandplay and symbol work can bring to contemporary counselling and psychotherapy is the means for sacrificing the dominance of the cognitive, intellectual power which alone cannot engineer emotional or spiritual healing, let alone build a sense of wholeness in the clients personality. Throughout the ages, myths, legends, parables and fairy tales have repeated this theme of surrender of the dominant ego so that reconciliation, union and well-being can emerge. The landscape formation in a tray of sand, the choice of figurines, the story or the arrangement of the picture can become for the client part of their
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personal mythology. The images have meaning even if this meaning is not immediately obvious to the rational mind. The images may continue to reveal meaning, providing insight, a sense of order, and a structured means of dealing with some of the conflicts of the inner world. Clients have reported carrying the image of the sandplay and symbols in their head for some time, even making imaginary new pictures which might emerge in future sessions. The act of making a story or picture, or identifying a story that links chosen symbols, is in itself a creative act. Working in the sandtray gives a space for the exploration, design and creation of images that correspond with the inner world. But the sandtray, by its very nature, also means that the creation can be altered and reshaped during the process, and that outer transformation becomes an inner experience. The involvement of body, mind and feelings transforms the inner experience into an outer reality. Many clients report that this process enhances their creativity. This sense of approaching life more creatively improves self-confidence and self-esteem. Weinrib suggests that the mere act of creation in itself provides a good deal of satisfaction and release of tension. Growth in self-esteem is evident in clients after this creative process, which has involved the body, mind and feelings. This therapeutic expression is quite different from the disruptive or destructive acting out that has been the cause of entry into counselling. The client rehearses, with each sandplay, new possibilities relating to something outside themselves. For some, the sandtray (or the large circle drawn in the artpad for symbol work) becomes the focus of attention in a way that encourages centring, coming into a quieter more focused state, just as a candle or particular spiritual or religious image might be used in meditation or prayer. It is also similar to the way an altar has been the focus of attention in sacred rituals throughout time. The delineated space of the sandtray keeps out distractions. In a similar way intricate mandalas have been used in several Eastern traditions as an aid to concentration and contemplation. The sense of centring may seem to be entirely absent in new clients whose sandplays may more closely resemble a war zone than a sacred space. However, as issues are worked through and as trust in the facilitator develops, the client finds feelings of both calm and excitement, as if the burdens of their inner life have been lifted. This progression towards centredness is frequently reflected in a series of sandplay pictures which typically develop from chaos to order and sometimes from order to expressions of the sacred. This focusing effect offers the client the opportunity to open to the transpersonal level of the psyche. The need for accessing the spiritual dimension was extensively explored by Jung and is more and more evident in counselling work today. Kalff constantly emphasises the need for the psyche to have experiences of centring, to come into balance. As the healing process takes place over a number of sandplays, circular forms, shapes or arrangements of symbols are more often seen. Kalff found that there was frequently a significant symbol at the centre. This may initially appear as a creation of a protected space in 30
Sandplay and Symbol Work

the sand, and evolve to be an expression of a centred emotional state or even an expression of the Self. Kalff suggests that this centring experience may have a numinous quality. This energetic and emotional transformation depends on the clients deep trust and sense of safety with the therapist. Weinrib says that some inarticulate patients turn to the sandtray with relief since self-expression through language is so fraught with anxiety for them. Many clients may not speak at all for extended periods during their sandplay. Others are stimulated and gain release through a steady stream of verbal expression that supports energy release and psychological relief.

The value of play

In addition to the concrete, three-dimensional aspects of sandplay and symbol work there is the therapeutic experience of playing. Weinrib explains: Sandplay is not a game of rules. It is free and encourages playfulness. Its value lies in its experiential non-cerebral character. Developmental psychologists have analysed the extreme importance of play in the development of a childs personality and ability to relate to the world. Play therapists, sandplay therapists, emotional release counsellors and facilitators of many other counselling forms see daily with their clients that supported play in the counselling context can also facilitate deep emotional healing. In fact, for many clients the very act of recovering the ability to play can provide them with the tools they need for an autonomous processing of their conflicts. In sandplay, the adult plays as does a child, with seriousness. Weinrib says that the playing aspect seems to provide access or an initiatory rite of entry for adults into feeling, affect and the world of childhood. Lost memories are found again, repressed fantasies are released and possibilities for reconciliation occur. Sandplay helps overcome conscious and unconscious defences through the fact that the first activity most closely resembles play. This can be a relief from the challenge of dredging up memories, personal details or data that may be required by traditional therapeutic methods such as verbal therapy. In beginning with play and allowing the unconscious contents to be projected onto the symbols, the focus is removed from immediate behaviour problems, emotional dysfunction and physical symptoms. This quickly opens the doorway to release the underlying causes of problems without reinforcing any notion of the clients state as proof of having or being a problem. Occasionally a client who has developed strong cognitive control may at first resist sandplay as either too threatening or too childish. Naturally this resistance is respected. A client is always met where they are and in ERC a range of alternative supportive modalities can be offered, such as drawing, body focus, storytelling, or movement work. Offering choice and respecting the individuals inner guidance also has an empowering effect that supports the client in feeling some control.
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Some clients may begin the process with diffidence, scepticism, condescension, embarrassment or resistance. Soon some play emerges which may be conducted in a ritualistic atmosphere. The client becomes absorbed in the activity and works with great concentration. The ritual aspect is evident in sandplay with clear geometric arrangements in the sand or with the figurines. Circles marked in the sand, or as islands, mountains or lakes, often appear. Sometimes the clients energy and movements while creating the sand picture and selecting the figurines reveal a sense of ritual.

Dealing with aggression

Sandplay encourages a creative regression that enables healing. There can be a great relief in not having to come up with answers, not having to be rational or sophisticated, being allowed to have exaggerated feelings and having the process of heightened reactions accepted and dealt with respectfully. Frustration, anger, aggression, jealousy and revenge are all frequently released using symbols in the sandtray. Sometimes this is accomplished by squashing down the sand formation, burying symbols, upending symbols or removing symbols. Traditionally the movement is contained within the sandtray. However, in ERC we extend this safe and protected space with cushions to provide release for large motor movements such as jumping, hitting, kicking and tumbling followed by relaxation. Discharge of destructive impulses allows a new, relaxed mood and frequently leads to clearer more fluent verbal communication, creative problem-solving and a positive commitment from the client to their own therapeutic process. Allan and Berry (1987) refer to the value of clients releasing repressed energy. In Virginia Axlines account of her work with Dibs (1971) the expression of the boys hostility to his father when the father doll is upturned and buried in the sand seems to be a major turning point in the therapy. Weinrib (1983) writes that the free and protected space of sandplay provides a safe and sealed container where unredeemed demonic energies can be transformed by enabling the expression and playing out of repressed aggressive needs. Sandplay offers the possibility of acting out an inner impulse in a safe way. The sandplay is contained in clearly stated space and time boundaries. It provides the dual benefits of containing the process and allowing movement forward. Frederick Perls (1969) says the way out is through. Generally, we see that clients will more readily go through their issues, conflicts and unfinished business, moving gradually into the depths of their personality, then open to the transpersonal. After this progression they typically emerge with a stronger and clearer engagement with the here and now. Many will come up with new strategies for more effective living and even report that some of their difficult behaviours seem to have dropped away as a result of journeying into their psyche. 32
Sandplay and Symbol Work

So, while the facilitator is not focusing on problems in the session, the symptoms, the difficult behaviours gradually disappear once the underlying causes have been safely addressed. In the case of Dibs (Axline, 1971), he made his first verbal communication with his father after the doll-burying session. Parents regularly report that they have observed, or the childs teacher has observed, significant positive changes in behaviour after a few sandplay sessions. In many cases we have observed a change in the sandplay, a movement from chaos and battles towards happier ordered scenes, indicating the reduction of emotional turmoil that has been responsible for aggressive behaviour.

The role of the therapist

In general, the role of the therapist using sandplay is to listen, observe and participate empathically. Weinrib (1983) states clearly that the success of therapy depends on the therapists familiarity with the developmental stages in the process reflected in the sand pictures. These stages include: 1 at least partial resolution of key complexes 2 a sense of the depths within referred to as the Self and the special energy connected with these depths 3 the balancing emergence or recognition of the anima or animus (Jungs terms for what he saw as the contrasexual balancing forces within the psyche) 4 a new ego attitude to the transpersonal and to daily life (Kalff calls this the emergence of the relativised ego capable of relating productively to both the inner and outer worlds). Weinrib recommends that a collective interpretation of a series of sand pictures be left until a solid sense of self emerges and a renewed ego, in relationship to the inner world, emerges. This way there is less chance of the client being unduly influenced by the therapist and also less need for any defensive rejection of new insights. We have found that intruding rational interpretations whether correct, or projections by the therapist divorces the client from the healing connection with their inner material. Ultimately, the greatest benefit is derived by the client from their own experience in the sandtray rather than the counsellors intellectual understanding and feedback of what they think happened. An effective therapist using sandplay should: have undertaken deep personal psychological transformation and healing through experiential work have had adequate clinical training, including familiarity with symbolism have had many meaningful personal experiences as a sandplay client be familiar with the stages of development as they appear in the sandplay process have studied and compared many sand pictures have a capacity for acceptance of the client respect the individual nature of the process
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not intrude their own agenda during the process have adequate knowledge of the principles of ERC and transpersonal psychology respect clients whose sexual, cultural, religious or social orientation differs from those of the therapist. The therapist must have the ability to empathically participate in the clients act of creation and in so doing develop a deep, wordless rapport. This silent accompaniment can help repair the feeling of isolation from which many clients suffer. The ability to be very present, without intruding, maintaining a reassuring interest, is linked with an attitude of discovery or study of the psyche, rather than an attitude of expecting preset outcomes and directing the process to achieve these set goals. The therapist must be able to help create a supportive atmosphere for sandplay as it can take on a kind of ritualistic aura. The sandtray can be seen as sacred ground where a physical symbolic ritual enactment takes place. This may be reminiscent of the ceremonies and atmosphere of some traditional tribes and the early mystery religions.

Stages in the sandplay process

Several writers have attempted to delineate stages in the sandplay process: Kalff (1980), Weinrib (1983), Allan and Berry (1987) and Bradway and McCoard (1997). They seem to agree that there is no strictly defined order or distinct linear trajectory to the process. Weinrib describes it as being more like a spiral with various elements of the personality appearing in symbolic form at different levels of development. Generally sandplay is experienced with a sense of suspended analysis and gradually emerging cognitive understanding. Most typically cognition catches up with behavioural and emotional changes rather than preceding them. This seems to allow emotional and psychological healing rather than simply gaining insights. The motivation and goals of clients can vary greatly and this will impact on the stages of the process and the depth of the process. Some clients ask for sandplay and symbol work only in times of crisis. Some begin that way and then develop a taste for more ongoing healing work. Some have limited goals and limited time and may come with a particular problem to solve. Many clients feel clear benefit even after one or two sessions with the symbols and there are many reports of children exhibiting major behavioural changes after only one session. However, some of the extraordinary cures and emotional healings that we see with clients similar to those reported by Kalff (1980) occur when a client works regularly over a period of time. There is no theoretical definition of what completion means in terms of the inner process. Completion can relate to one specific issue, general positive adjustment to the world, or a long-term healing and growth goal. It is not the number of sandplays or 34
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symbol work sessions that is significant, but the sense of completion with an issue which both client and counsellor come to recognise. Offering weekly sessions, Kalff considered that it took some weeks for unconscious issues to appear and be worked out in outer life. She says: From my past observations, I know that at least 68 weeks are needed before a situation that is just becoming visible as it emerges from the unconscious, can push through into the outer life. It is as delicate as a newly sprouting blade of grass that needs attentive care. According to Weinribs (1983) overview there are eight main stages in the traditional sandplay process with adults. These stages may often merge and overlap. 1 The first sand pictures are usually realistic scenes and may give indications of the problems and their possible resolution. 2 The pictures often show that the client has dived into deeper levels of the personality, particularly into the shadow and personal unconscious. These pictures may have a chaotic quality and express untapped raw energies. 3 As the process moves on there emerge varying degrees of resolution of problems. This seems to release energy which allows deeper work on the psyche. This can lead into the fourth stage where sometimes the Self or the totality of ones self can be sensed and touched. 4 This stage appears with images of centring or unions of opposites with religious or spiritual symbols and mandalas. At this point the client may have experienced a sense of the sacred. Patients report a sense of having touched home. 5 After this connection with the larger Self there is evidence of the transformed ego in the sand pictures. The client may choose a single figure of the same gender with which they now consciously identify and this may appear regularly in the ongoing process. Sandplay pictures now appear more creative and better organised. Whereas in the early stages the client unconsciously projected onto the figures, at this stage there is more energy, awareness and assurance around the meanings. The figures are more clearly metaphors for aspects of the self. 6 Figures or symbols of the opposite sex begin to appear regularly and in an orderly fashion, indicating connection with what Jung called the animus/anima. This has a balancing effect. At this stage, clients tend to more actively seek constructive outlets in life for their renewed energy. 7 As the process draws to a close, spiritual figures or abstract religious symbols may reappear or appear for the first time. 8 For some, a final stage of the process will be a session of review frequently accompanied by photographs and drawings from previous sessions. This gives a client time to allow the threads of insight and the terrain that the psyche covered to come together with new meaning and fresh impact, although the images and sand scenes may continue working in the
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clients psyche for many years. Bradway and McCoard (1997) suggest that this review could be offered years after the end of a sandplay series. Weinrib points out that at the eighth stage the conscious ego, having experienced something greater than itself, gives up some of its autonomy and paradoxically at the same time experiences itself as stronger. A client may have a sense of being supported now by something deeper or stronger the transpersonal dimension of the psyche and may have a new sense of worth. Allan and Berry (1987) summarise the common stages they have observed in childrens work, commenting that these stages appear in cycles: chaos many figurines dumped into sandtray, no apparent order, vast upheavals and mingling of sand and figurines struggle battles between monsters, robot men, armies, knights, anything that moves is shot!, often no winner resolution order is being restored, there is more balance. Animals are in their correct habitat, fences are in place, roadways are ordered, crops and trees bear fruit. In contemporary sandplay with children over three or four sessions we recognise a sense of progression, if not distinct stages. This is expanded in Chapter 3 (page 51).

After the sandplay

After the sandplay is finished Weinrib suggests that the therapist may: ask the client to tell the story of the picture ask relevant questions elicit the clients comments and associations about the picture speak of matters suggested by the client. Working from a Jungian perspective these comments, in the light of Jungian symbology, may be used to evaluate the picture. Sometimes archetypal amplifications that are evident to the therapist have been offered. Amplification is used primarily with adult clients and is simply a way of sharing with the client helpful information that may enable the client to investigate further traditional meanings of their symbols. The therapist, while not imposing their analysis, may suggest aspects of the sandplay that the client could reflect on and possibly research further. However, emotional release counsellors, when using sandplay and symbol work, use their private analysis as a basis for creating questions that might support further self-discovery by the client. Sandplay therapists whose training includes Jungian analysis and who use sandplay in the model of Dora Kalff used to take photographic slides of completed sandplays and these were shown weeks sometimes years after a period of work seemed complete. Reviewing the sandplays with slides is valuable for clarifying and formulating the experience of the unconscious. The slide show reinforces change and understanding. 36
Sandplay and Symbol Work

The ERC approach differs in that a Polaroid photo is taken of the completed sandtray which the client keeps as a record of the process. The events that took place and the outcomes are at work in the psyche without the person having to do anything. Review then takes place after several sessions usually after about six or eight sessions. Reviewing the concrete expression of the clients inner journey is often very supportive. During the review connections between the images in the sandtray and what is happening in both the inner and outer life can be made. Sometimes the counsellor can support the client to make these connections. Often new insights emerge during this review time. Weinrib considered the slide show a valuable tool in supporting ego strength.

The contribution of play therapy

Virginia Axline (1971) describes the use of toys in a large sandtray as part of her therapeutic work. This inspiring classic shows the way work with symbols and sand can be integrated into another compatible method of therapy. The attitude of the therapist and the interactions detailed in Dibs provide support for the way a sandplay therapist could behave. Axline explains that her method of interacting scrupulously avoids suggesting any desire for a particular behaviour in the client. She says she tries to communicate understandingly and simply, recognition in line with his (clients) frame of reference. I wanted him to lead the way. I would follow. In her work with Dibs, Axline felt it was important not to offer any behaviours or physical mannerisms which could be construed, by her client, as implying a judgement on her part of good or bad, right or wrong. Clearly she felt that to imply anything which could be interpreted by the client as a way to proceed would put the counselling process at risk of going off track and actually missing something important for the client. Without using ERC terminology, she was endeavouring to allow the inner healer to direct the play therapy. This client-centred approach fits well with sandplay. An aspect of the free and protected space is freedom from suggestion by the therapist and freedom from the need to comply. Axline sums up a way of being with her difficult client that strongly mirrors a way of being for which a sandplay therapist would aim:
If I could get across to Dibs my confidence in him as a person who had good reasons for everything he did, and if I could convey the concept that there were no hidden answers for him to guess, no concealed standards of behaviour or expression that were not openly stated, no pressure for him to read my mind and come up with a solution that I had already decided upon, no rush to do everything today then, perhaps, Dibs would catch more and more of a feeling of security and of the rightness of his own reactions so he could clarify, understand, and accept them.

This way of being echoes Carl Rogers person-centred approach. It assumes basic goodness, intelligence and trust in an inner healing mechanism. Axline
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gave her client the space, freedom and emotional support to play out his troubles. It took a long time, but when he felt there was no need of defence he stopped defending and allowed the damned-up emotions to flow out and then moved into a happy state. A study of Axlines mirroring technique in communication with this client provides a good basis for learning how to keep the channels of communication open with a sandplay client. Some behaviour management programs conducted in Australian schools aim to teach social responsibility and respect for the rights of others. It is often assumed that this can be learned via the intellect alone. Axlines approach in her play therapy is to deal with intrapersonal experiences, especially emotions, and trust that this will flow out in improved interpersonal connections. She says: The child must first learn self-respect and a sense of dignity that grows out of his increasing self-understanding, before he can learn to respect the personalities and rights and differences of others. Sandplay and symbol work allow in-depth exploration and recognition of the intrapersonal domain. The way of being of the therapist supports the development of a sense of dignity in the client who often is brought to the sessions under the label of having a severe problem, or being problematic in the school, social or home setting. In commenting on the growth of her young client, Virginia Axline says of Dibs: I hoped that he would find experiences in the playroom that would help him know and feel the emotions within him in such a way that any hatred and fear he might have within him would be brought out in the open and diminished. She echoes the hopes of many emotional release counsellors. The Dibs case study describes how the young client has poured out his hurt, bruised feelings, and had emerged with feelings of strength and security. In sandplay we often see this process unfold before our eyes in the sandtray, often without the need for many words.

Sandplay and transpersonal psychology

Transpersonal psychology, with its roots in humanistic psychology, has developed a strongly client-centred approach with emphasis on supporting positive aspects of a client to emerge. It acknowledges that the human need and search for higher meaning is a sign of health, rather than the compensatory or pathological symptom assumed in early Freudian theory. In transpersonal psychology the hunger for meaning, for something more than the usual level of consciousness, is seen as normal and natural and part of the journey of life. In many traditional cultures this search is widely accepted as healthy and a foundation for lifestyle orientation. Transpersonal psychology recognises that part of our task in life is to deal with emotional healing, expand our awareness through self-discovery and investigate a spiritual path. The discovering of a spiritual identity is seen as healthy, and open to exploration in a balanced and earthed way. There is 38
Sandplay and Symbol Work

recognition of the developmental stages in what Ken Wilber (1980) refers to as the outward and the inward arc the journey from subconsciousness to self-consciousness, and from there to superconsciousness. Most child clients are participating in the outward arc of their psyche, in an attempt to reach out to the outer world, know the world and find their place in it. The inward arc is of interest to many adolescents and adults who develop an interest in deepening contact with their inner world and discovering their spiritual identity. Some adolescent clients are ready to begin the inward arc, to turn within, to know more about their inner world and to explore levels of consciousness. The lack of support for adolescents in our culture to begin the inward journey accounts for some of the suffering they report in counselling sessions. They respond well to a counsellor who is familiar with transpersonal concepts and who can accept and support their interest in spiritual enquiry. Jung guided his patients to look within to the Self, the totality of what they could become. He supported them in exploring their deeper wisdom, which transcended the demands of their ego. Jung considered that symbols were the language of the unconscious, and that a deeper level of the psyche could often only communicate important messages via symbols. Symbolic language, whether in dreams, fantasies or sandplay work, allowed messages which might be too powerful or too painful to face, to be acknowledged and integrated over time. Some of those involved in the transpersonal movement have researched and developed Jungs observations on the psyches in-built drive towards healing and wholeness. Grof (1988, 2000) calls this mechanism the inner healer, and recommends time spent in non-ordinary states of consciousness as the most effective way of allowing this mechanism to do its work. Several of the Jungian writers on sandplay refer to this healing force in the psyche and agree that it needs supportive conditions, especially the free and protected space the temenos. To sit back, wait and support this force to manifest may require a paradigm shift from traditional training in Freudian, behaviourist or cognitive approaches where significant direction may be given by the counsellor. The art of being able to allow the psyche time and emotional space to express and grow brings more sustainable well-being than attempting to direct the process from the ego. Through our own inner exploration with sandplay and symbol work, through clinical observations, and through work with many hundreds of trainees, we have seen the extent of the innate logic of this inner healing mechanism. As we work with a client our minds may be attempting to understand the inner guiding force in the clients sandplay so we can work in harmony with it. The harmony and trust that develop with the client as we follow the process of inner healing enhances their feeling of being supported and trusting their inner self. From the theory of transpersonal psychology behaviour is seen as a symptom of forces within us. Difficult or neurotic behaviour is seen as a sign that
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healing is trying to happen, not necessarily as a sign of ill health. When a safe and protected space is provided by the counsellor this healing can occur more effectively and directly, making attempts at release through difficult behaviour no longer necessary. Psychology that deals primarily with the ego may ignore the notion of hierarchy in the psyche. In our culture the ego has often been regarded as the leader, the supreme director of our personality. Transpersonal psychology and the framework which Jung developed acknowledge various levels, stages and parts of our psyche, that should ideally work in balance. A predominance of the ego as the director of our life may restrict our development. Deeper and more subtle parts of ourselves may not have a chance to develop and contribute to our life. While it may be true that many of us need to strengthen the ego, there is also a stage in inner growth at which the ego is ready to surrender its controls and find support from deeper forces within. This is where a counsellor with transpersonal training can accept and nurture the newly emerging spiritual questioning of a client. Modern consciousness research has explored the impact of perinatal experience in setting up a pattern for how we deal with life. Researchers such as Grof, Janov, Verney and Leboyer have begun to detail the impact on our psyche of the womb time and the birth experience. While it would be unusual for sandplay to open experiences in the psyche relating to the perinatal domain, it can happen, and perinatal themes do emerge in sandplay and symbol work. Understanding and training in recognising these expressions and supporting clients who may be in an ongoing process of healing and resolving these areas of the psyche is extremely valuable for counsellors.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

Chapter 3
Sandplay and symbol work methods
In sandplay, the adult plays as does a child, with seriousness. The playing aspect seems to provide access or an initiatory rite of entry for adults into feeling, affect and the world of childhood. Lost memories are found again, repressed fantasies are released and possibilities for reconciliation occur. Estelle Weinrib, Images of the Self, Sigo, 1983

n this chapter we introduce concepts important to the application of the sandplay and symbol work methods. The basic elements of the sandplay process are discussed, with an emphasis on the support the counsellors attitude and workspace can provide. The client-centred approach of trusting the inner healing mechanisms of the client is described, with both the free play and directed sandplay methods outlined. The use of sandplay with families and groups is introduced along with some practical stages observed with counselling clients.

Elements of the process

There are seven main elements involved in the traditional sandplay process: the sand itself, contained in the sandtray the symbols, arranged along the shelves water, often used to help shape the sand and add another tactile sensation to the process the clients personal mythology, imagery and unconscious the driving force behind sand pictures and stories the clients hands: their sensitivity, their movement building, shaping and breaking down sand formations offer many possibilities for selfawareness and expression beyond verbal exchange the facilitator, whose main role is to observe and at times participate with empathy the client can bounce ideas off the facilitator and through sharing the inner world gain deeper access to it a calm, supportive environment in the counselling room, which is like a protective womb encouraging motivation and supporting the opening and resolution of inner tensions. The sand, symbols, tray and water become a malleable tool that takes on the contours of the psyche as it is constellated at the time. Sandplay integrates body, feelings and mind. Through the sand picture the client releases old feelings, concepts and memories, and embodies new insights. Sandplay is used to 41

resolve personal problems, reclaim forgotten qualities, open up to inner guidance and direction, expand self-knowledge and explore personal mythology. The play aspect is vital this method brings up less resistance than more confronting processes. The look, the texture and the smell of the sand can bring a link in the memory to times spent at the beach. The feel of the sand is likely to elicit pleasant childhood memories. There is a link to the ocean which is so often a symbol for the unconscious and carefree times. For a few clients the sand can evoke a yearning for these experiences. Using their hands, the client shapes the sand. Energy begins to release through the movement. Fingers flowing through dry sand leave ripples. Wet sand is shaped into hills and valleys. For the client, being connected to the sensations of their hands means becoming more aware of their bodies. Touching the sand may evoke emotions about touch. A client who is tactile defensive may, at first, find the sandless symbol work more agreeable. Involving the body allows the analysing mind and its diverting tactics to be left behind. Connection is rapidly made through the kinesthetic and visual senses rather than the organising of the intellect. This inner connection allows more material from the unconscious to be safely revealed. The qualities of the sand are managed and manipulated by the client. The sand can be dry, soft, or made wet and clinging together. Two sandtrays may be available as contrasting mediums one with dry sand, one with wet sand. The transformation of sand from solid matter to malleability can mirror the process for the client. As stories unfold the clients inner transformation is represented visually. The past recedes, leaving space for a hopeful future. Dry sand can be blown, creating delicate formations or shaped into gentle, rounded formations. When water is added the sand turns darker and begins to take on the quality of earth. It becomes firm and can be easily formed or shaped. It can represent dark, mysterious depths of the shadow side, the volcanic eruptions of conflict or the higher levels of experience. It provides a terrain on which the whole psyche can portray all its colours, with both shade and light. The sandtray presents a safe place to explore issues that the unconscious is ready to release. Within the boundaries of the sandtray the client makes a visual representation of the inner world. The sandtray becomes a sacred space, with a special representation of inner reality, at a safe distance from the everyday world and everyday concerns. To support this, the sandtray and the symbols are not treated as everyday toys, but as objects dedicated to exploration of the inner world. In this way the sandplay experience is not the same as spontaneous play times. The sandplay equipment is set up specifically for counselling and self-discovery. For children this makes it different from the sandpit at school, the bath at home, or the toy box under the bed. All these can provide space for the unconscious to naturally work out some of its issues, but the dedication of the sandplay to inner exploration gives the unconscious security, permission and encouragement to open up. It also allows the cognitive processes an 42
Sandplay and Symbol Work

opportunity to function more clearly, make new connections and formulate new strategies. What has been unknown, out of sight or perplexing becomes clarified as the symbols are arranged. Through the symbols a client explores many aspects of the psyche, and even touches deep into their essence. What was intangible inside can be externalised, brought to consciousness, made clear and explored. Ryce-Menuhin (1992) writes that sandplay gives a non-verbal image within the therapeutic setting, the meaning of which may not at first be clear or fully understood by either the therapist or the client. As the client relates the meanings or the story of the sand picture the client feels a sense of freedom and has the opportunity to understand what is happening in their life in terms of the symbols and the sand picture. The search for wholeness and metaphysical understanding has always drawn on societys myths. Myths link us to the basic patterns of the psyche, the archetypes and the collective unconscious. This creates a link-up between personal healing and the collective unconscious. A transformation, a healing, takes place, and this is freed to manifest at a later time in another sandplay and in life. Sandplay allows us, and the people we work with, to discover and develop personal myths. What has been abstract becomes more concrete. What has seemed like random events takes on the shape of a story or journey. The clients unconscious, when supported with an attitude of respectfulness, freedom and self-direction, presents what is ready to be dealt with. The counsellors conclusions or interpretations are not expressed. The self-actualising, self-regulatory principle of the client-centred approach is at work here. The counsellor becomes a co-traveller on this journey; one who supports the clients wish to explore. Ideally, the counsellor is aware of their own personal need for inner work, for ongoing clearing and journeying, in order to avoid projection onto the client. Regarding inner work as an exciting journey develops a stronger foundation for growth than a focus on simply managing problems, although in all forms of counselling there is a stage of problem orientation. For depth of understanding of this aspect the counsellors own inner journey through sandplay training is an essential prerequisite. As has been said, interpretation is not part of this method. The vital role of the counsellor is to support the emergence of meaning from within the client. The effectiveness of the sandplay does not depend on the counsellors or the clients intellectual understanding of the process, although many clear insights will be evident. At the end of the session the counsellor invites the client to do a drawing depicting their emotional state or write down their insights and share what they have learned. This might be a time to draw out any particular implications for the clients current life. In working closely and empathically with clients the counsellor will want to create an attractive and supportive healing environment. This will be a space which supports the client to feel at home, safe, attended to and special.
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The work room is colourful and exciting, although orderly. The symbols on the shelves are presented so that they can be clearly seen and grouped in themes. Water is made available, either in a sprayer to lightly wet the sand, or in a jug to enable mixing and the forming of rivers, lakes coastlines or mountainous terrain. For further discussion on sandplay equipment see page 88.

Some uses of sandplay

New language
Symbols support the development of an extended vocabulary to help expression of inner feelings, hopes, divisions and urges. Acquisition of inner world language helps the client express, unload, share and gain relief through the interpersonal nature of counselling sessions.

Resolution of a specific crisis

Some clients feel immediate benefit from one or two sessions in which they explore the dimensions of the most immediate life issue, feel relief and begin to deal with that aspect more constructively.

Surfacing of an old wound

Some clients may be dealing with the activation of an old hurt, triggered by a change in life or an emotional shock.

Shadow release
Many of us have been brought up to behave well and hide any negative feelings or destructive urges. Sandplay can be used for acting out what is not acceptable in real life. We can construct in the tray scenarios, actions and outcomes that we would not generate in our daily lives, but which can be fantasised. The containment of these actions may be causing some stress. Safe space for portraying what is inside allows for integration of disowned aspects and energies.

Both sandplay and symbol work allow the collection of information about unconscious self-images. Exploration of causes of an underdeveloped sense of self is possible, as well as the gaining of a new viewpoint on self.

Personal mythology
A client can gain language and images that help them describe their inner and outer world. Resonant symbols are often introduced into new sand pictures and may appear throughout a series of sessions. These symbols become the clients personal mythology. Often symbolic of newly discovered energies or qualities of character, these symbols form personal stories or myths which inevitably support connection to the clients innate world of hope. 44
Sandplay and Symbol Work

An alternative to self-revelation
For a variety of reasons some clients feel threatened by the counselling process. Some clients may take several sessions to relax and trust a counsellor. They may be wary of self-disclosure. Any requirement to verbalise their deepest concerns will activate resistance. However, using sandplay these clients can begin their healing process simply by playing!

Support for feeling and intuition

All of us have preferred modes of operating at different times in our lives. In some cases the tendency of Western society to communicate predominantly through verbal/cognitive processes leaves a client enmeshed in a world of thought. The development of emotional, kinesthetic and intuitive modes of experience may not have been fully developed. For those who are used to operating on a thinking level, sandplay supports a breakthrough to the intuitive and feeling levels.

Trusting the inner healer

Inner healer is the shorthand name Grof (2000) has given to our in-built psychological healing mechanisms. From his lifetime of psychiatric and psychological research Grof concludes that, given appropriate support and the means for release through surrender of ego control, we have an inner radar that knows what issues, in what order and what timing is required for the healing of our psyche. In sandplay and symbol work we have found that supporting a client in a quiet focus, with direction to increase the connection to their inner world, enables the client to surrender to deeper states of consciousness. This state empowers the inner healer. Grof writes that to support the experiential process with full trust in its healing nature, without trying to direct it or change it in any way allows the radar function of the inner healing mechanism. This concept of the inner healer, in association with all the dimensions of emotional and spiritual healing, is very much in line with concepts put forward by Dora Kalff, Virginia Axline and several of the Jungian-oriented sandplay writers (see bibliography). The training of sandplay facilitators emphasises the importance of allowing this inner wisdom to emerge. Learning to trust the way each psyche presents its healing can occur only through direct personal experience and careful observation of clients over several sessions. Trusting the inner healer requires a paradigm shift for counsellors and therapists who may have been trained in approaches that presume it is the counsellors role to determine both the issues to confront and the most direct route to psychological health. Developing and nurturing trust in the inner healing process allows greater objectivity on the part of the counsellor. The order and timing of the issues to be dealt with remains aligned to the clients
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process. Counsellor and client present a team approach as co-journeyers. The confrontational aspect is superseded by the empathic presence which allows the natural unfolding of their process.

The free sandplay method

In learning to facilitate sandplay the most important skill is to reclaim an ability to play. The ability to play and support play is vital for developing trust in the value of play for the client. Through play which can become quite serious in sandplay sessions the imagination can express its contents. Imagination is linked to the personal unconscious and its way of expression is guided by the inner healing mechanism of the psyche. This organising principle selects what is necessary for healing and growth within the client. It determines which story or picture needs to be expressed at any particular time. Through the extensive experiential training needed to become a facilitator we learn to respect this inner wisdom in the client. To play is to suspend rules, to suspend the shoulds and oughts, to let go of analysis and the requirements of logic. For adults it may include taking the risk that the story will work itself out without being preplanned. To play is to agree to let the story emerge from our unconscious without interference. Of course, becoming conscious of defensive rational interference will also be part of our healing process. In developing her World Technique, Margaret Lowenfeld (1999) felt that unless the need to play had been adequately accommodated in childhood, then the adult was driven by those same urges, which then projected themselves into the persons adult life and masqueraded as reality. In playing, children surrender to the forces within them. Their play can be active or passive, reactive or responsive. Young children at play in the school playground often demonstrate a high degree of seriousness and focused attention when they are interested. When we let ourselves surrender from strictly rational plans and simply play, we cross the threshold from the adult, fixed world, to the childlike, fluid world of feelings, images and energies. This is a world in which the inner self can express itself through the stories we create in the sand and with the figurines. The experience of crossing this threshold, many times, prepares us to be relaxed and open sandplay facilitators. This, then, will create the best environment for clients to make their own healing journeys.

Overview of the process

Before the sandplay
Trust and connection between the client and the counsellor are built through meeting, and the counsellor listening. The process is then outlined and the client introduced to the sandtray and symbol shelves. The counsellor observes the client and assesses their current emotional state and needs. 46
Sandplay and Symbol Work

The counsellor reviews the previous session outcomes (if there has been a previous session). The counsellor and client discuss significant current life events. The counsellor provides opening instructions and initial directions for the sandplay. These will depend on the presenting problem, assessment, personal history and clients aims. The opening instructions can range from Would you like to play with the sand? to more specific directions (see page 49).

During the sandplay

The facilitators role is to be a loving presence, to observe carefully and occasionally ask questions that encourage self-discovery. These questions are based on the counsellors observation and analysis of the sandplay. Usually the client begins by meeting the sand. They play with and shape the sand, eventually creating a landscape. This is a time of crossing the threshold to meet the inner world. The client is encouraged to take occasional deep breaths to support emotional opening. The client is encouraged to focus on self body awareness, awareness of mood, etc. The client chooses symbols, usually with no analysis or discussion. Any initial interpretations by the facilitator are not shared with the client. A story or picture emerges. This may take place either in silence or with the client telling the story as they create. The facilitator may ask some questions to extend the clients experience. During the sandplay the facilitator observes the clients facial expressions, posture, emotional expressions observing clues to their inner state. The facilitator looks for the main themes. This will allow for follow-up discussion that may connect the play to the clients life. Significant spatial relationships in the sandtray may give clues to emotional states and issues, and can be cues for supportive questions. Supporting deeper exploration: 1 Ask the client about the symbols or story. 2 The client tells the story from the point of view of each main symbol. 3 Ask about any buried, hidden, isolated or non-concrete symbols. 4 Role-play with most significant symbols I am . (see page 116) 5 Dialogue between conflicting or connected symbols. 6 Allow the client to change the picture around. (Any change in placement is always done by the client.) 7 Emotional release work. 8 Draw out links between the picture/story and clients life.

After the sandplay

Begin the integration processes. These may include: writing the story or a summary of inner experience journalling
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dancing the story resting simply invite the client to lie down quietly for a few minutes discussion, including clients feedback on themes, connections to life events, new directions or aims, future session plans. Discuss recommended follow-up and homework. Client does completion drawings: 1 Draw how you feel now use body outlines, mandala circles. 2 Record the sandplay through drawing the symbols. 3 Take a Polaroid photo. Include in the evaluation awareness of the story; the possible unconscious meanings, as well as connections with current life; the emotional expressions; the clients body posture, energy state, emotional state and self-awareness. (see Record Form, Appendix III, page 117) Normally the facilitator puts away the symbols after the client leaves the room. This leaves the final picture of the psyche intact. However, some clients prefer for a sense of closure or privacy to put their own symbols away. The counsellor would ask the client which they prefer. Always let the client know that their sandplay will be dismantled after their session.

Some ways of beginning

Meeting the sand
The client sits (or stands) in front of the sandtray, closes their eyes, if comfortable, and brings their hands slowly into contact with the sand. The client might share any sensations experienced or memories that come to mind. Ask: How does it feel? What is the texture like? Tell me about its temperature. The client might allows hands to move, explore. Ask: Is there a story that goes with the hands meeting the sand?

Mixing the sand

For those who are new to sandplay or just hesitant, invite them to pour some water over the dry sand and suggest they mix it in. The movement will soon engage their interest, ready for the next stages.

Formations in the sand

The client continues on from mixing the sand, allowing the hands to make shapes and formations. Observe if the form created is: abstract an expression of feelings an actual scene a story. 48
Sandplay and Symbol Work

The client may talk about what they are doing or be silent. They may choose to talk after; or they may choose not to talk at all. Inner transformation takes place even if the facilitator does not know exactly what is transpiring during the formation process in the sand. Sometimes clients burrow to the bottom of the tray very quickly, turning over every grain. Others meticulously smooth the surface or pat it down firmly. Still others will not relate to the sand as a medium for exploration and will immediately choose symbols and simply place the objects in the tray as it is presented to them. An adult client who operated earthmoving equipment always chose an implement with a straight edge with which to shape and flatten the sand. A young client (eight years old) created complex and amazing battlefields in the sand. There were camps for the good guys and the bad guys complete with foliage to act as camouflage, battle zones where fighting happened and hidden areas where treasures were stored. Two sandtrays were used at first because there was too much to contain in one tray. Interestingly, despite the complexity and diverse nature of the structures the sand in the trays was never disturbed. The young client never actually touched the sand. When invited to do so this client obligingly created a very small indentation in one corner of one tray and said, There, is that okay? The facilitator then returned to simply observing the action rather than suggesting something different.

Adding symbols
Invite the client to choose objects to add to the tray and make a picture or story. Some possible opening directions are: Would you like to play with the sand and then choose symbols from the shelves and place them in the tray? Make a picture or story: about your life about you when you were little about what is going to happen about yesterday about all the people you know about a pretend story with you in it with all your favourite things in it with all the most frightening things in it about the future. Make up a pretend story that happened in a far off place, a long time ago, with you in it. Make up a story or create a picture about your life in the future. Remember that: it is important to allow and encourage any sense of progression, change, freedom or absorption into the clients own world.
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there are no rules for the client, apart from respect for the materials and the counselling environment. the client is always right in their choices and arrangements.

Gestalt role-play with sandplay figures

If you notice a particular attraction or repulsion for one of the figures in the sandtray, or you suspect a significant symbolic meaning in a figure that seems to be ignored, the exploration can be deepened with role-play. This method was created from Frederick Perls dreamwork method, and it enables older clients to integrate specific meanings and messages from their inner world. Gestalt role-play can also be used if there are only sand formations and no figures. See Appendix II, page 116, for the Gestalt role-play exercise. Often the figure will symbolise some aspect of power or energy that the client has disowned. The client can be invited to role-play either one of the symbols chosen from the collection or one of the symbols created in the tray, such as hills, caves, volcanoes, graves, etc. By becoming it, they can become more themselves own the positive qualities, or have permission to release anything negative. The role-play exercise works best with clients over nine years of age. Roleplay with younger clients may take the form of a game, with an emphasis on movement and sound, and only a few of the structured questions.

The focused method

This slightly more directive method of sandplay has proved effective for clients who may be challenged by so many choices or who may exhibit a very short attention span. Too wide a choice, instead of enhancing a sense of freedom, may increase scattering of attention, and sometimes feels threatening. When working with these clients, close blinds and doors to eliminate outside disturbances. Every effort is made to reduce visual or noise distractions. Offer the client specific parts of the symbol shelf to choose from or direct them to choose from one shelf at a time. The client selects symbols and sits at the tray. From this settled position the figures are arranged.

Directed methods
Sandplay is usually play with minimal direction or intervention from the facilitator. However, at times we use the symbols and sand as a tool in order to help a client evaluate and express an issue or open to positive parts of themselves. Sometimes there is a place for playing around with a theme, or a task, or a story that becomes the starting point. Essentially, this method points the psyche in a certain direction that may be required to deal with an immediate serious problem. The symbol work exercises that follow in Chapter 4 are a form of directed sandplay. They are best used with clients who have already experienced the free play method. 50
Sandplay and Symbol Work

Stages in sandplay sessions

In individual counselling using sandplay and symbol work we often observe several stages that the client moves through. 1 On the first visit there is some initial reluctance or reserve as the client begins to establish trust. This trust relates to the process, the counsellor and the counselling environment. Intellectually, the client may trust more after some time of getting to know the counsellor and the environment and after a brief rationale for sandplay is given. Adults sometimes suggest that their problems are serious and they couldnt imagine how play could help. Clients may take time to overcome any sense that there are explicit expectations of them. This is more evident when child clients may have already undergone various psychological assessments and may have already seen a number of counsellors. 2 As the client relaxes into serious play, a sense of excitement often emerges. Some clients will want to fill the sandtray with figurines. Their focus grows and they feel more at home at this stage. 3 Often chaotic pictures or stories appear. In childrens sandplays battles are common. Death, opposition, threat, isolation, danger and relationships are also some themes in the early stages. 4 Some discussion of the stories usually follows, during which the client may be projecting their emotional problems onto the figurines, and experiencing some relief and relaxation in the process. 5 Some acting out of the feelings that arose in the sandplay may follow through emotional release process work. There may be some role-play of the characters as a way of further expression of negative aspects, discovery and reclaiming of positive aspects. 6 In discussion with the counsellor, the client may make links between the story and their current life problems. The sandplay scene may suggest helpful strategies. 7 Integration and rest may follow next. Recording through journal writing, drawing or taking photographs would complete the session. Often on the second and third visits the client moves more easily and quickly into the work, and needs less presentation of framework or reasons for doing the sandplay.

Sandplay for families and groups

An advantage of working from the systemic approach, inviting the family or a group to participate together in a sandplay, is that it removes the focus from one member usually a child being the problem. Families working together on a sandplay, can come to some valuable insights about their dynamics. Group sandplay can be an opportunity for more real expression and listening to each other. The shared experience of working in the sand
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opens broader communication within the family. Lack of shared communication can be a major cause of acting out behaviour in the children. Family members do become actively engaged in the group healing process. The group sandplay can bring to the fore the resistance of one family member to healing, growing or changing. The counsellor will need to be vigilant that the group sandplay does not become an opportunity for further dominance by any individual in the group. There is a need for awareness of any habits of expressing hostile reactions within the group. It is best if the counsellor has worked on a one-to-one basis with at least some of the individuals before progressing to group work. Usually we would invite a family which is commonly a child client and one or both parents, or two siblings to work together after they have participated in at least one solo session. It is ideal to have several sandtrays available, just in case the family finds that they cannot work together in one tray. In this case their difficulties would provide an opportunity for reflection and communication. It is essential to have commonly agreed upon boundaries and rules. There has to be a good level of commitment from each member in the group to attend the session and abide with the agreed rules. If all have experienced sandplay previously then direct them to decide on, and make a contract to agree to, their own rules. If they are new to sandplay, the counsellor could set the rules. Clients need to agree that the action of the session takes place inside the sandtray and, if there is a need for time out or problem-solving during the sandplay, time be taken to do this. The rules usually used in group or family sandplay should cover: how the sandtray is divided spatially who can move whose symbols whether permission is needed to change the landscape whether turns need to be taken. Sometimes the participants will change their minds and decide not to have rules. This needs to be brought out and discussed. A vital rule or intervention by the counsellor will be the invitation for participants to express how they feel about what is happening in the sand. It is usual for this rule to be discussed before commencing. Parallel sandplay can also be used. For this two trays are placed side by side and two people work in their own space, but with awareness of what the other is doing. Sometimes this can be achieved with a dividing line down the middle of one tray. The counsellor attempting family work is advised to spend a significant amount of time exploring their own family of origin issues. This will support the energy needed to follow the action in the tray and deal with any members who may be overwhelmed with feelings or reactions to others in the group.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

Family sandplay should not be attempted if: the level of trust within the group is very low interpersonal conflict has reached the point of physical expression abuse or aggression has been the primary tool for dealing with problems the counsellor suspects there may be an agenda in some members that is not supportive to the family well-being.

Sandplay with couples

Work with couples proceeds with many of the guidelines suggested for work with families. In the ERC framework there is a focus on self-exploration that can lead to clearer interpersonal communication. The counsellor is not there to give advice or referee. The focus is on intrapersonal discovery and clearing, that then enhances clarity, honesty and compassion in interpersonal discovery. Usually a couple work independently for their first sandplay or symbol work session. This enables the counsellor to be sure that there is no activated hostility that could be acted out through the sandplay, causing emotional wounding. Some time is spent by each of the pair choosing, creating and arranging the symbols, or creating the sandplay. Then the couple may be invited to come together, in the presence of the counsellor, and take time to view the scene created by the other. Each talks about their own creation, the partner listening without comment. Then once both parties have shared their experience, the counsellor can extend the dialogue and explore how each felt as they listened. The counsellor might invite them to express how they felt about: the process of their own sandplay listening to the other the others perspective things they might see differently what they see in a similar way. After exploration individually a couple may feel comfortable enough to work together in the sandtray. It is important to work in a field of mutual respect, independent of outcomes for the relationship. Partners do not displace the others symbols, choose or suggest symbols for each other or change the arrangement made by the other. For the facilitator, the images created in the sandtray act as a psychological and emotional guideline about the nature of the individuals in the relationship and the relationship itself. One of the benefits of couple work in sandplay or with symbol work is that rational thinking is suspended long enough for each person to explore their inner self to some degree. They can explore their contribution to the relationship and their personal focus, direction and aims in the partnership. The symbols actively reveal aspects and subtleties of themselves which may not have become evident through any other means.

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Chapter 4
Symbol work exercises
Awareness is the capacity to focus, to attend. Thinking is not awareness, feeling is not awareness, sensing is not awareness. I need awareness to be in touch, to know that I am sensing or feeling or thinking. J. S. Simkin, Individual Gestalt Therapy, 1970

ymbols create an easy doorway through which both counsellor and client can travel together. They can be utilised in every stage of the counselling journey whether that lasts for one session, a dozen sessions, or more. Working with symbols appears quite simple: accumulate a variety of symbols, have plenty of art paper and crayons available, build a sandtray, fill it with sand, include the element of play and then follow the clients logic. However, exploring the individuals psyche at depth is not a field in which inexperienced or untrained players flourish. Learning about the power and depth of symbols and sandplay can continue for a lifetime. The process is a dynamic one, although the principles of emotional release which underpin it remain constant. In this chapter we have included a small number of exercises to illustrate the possibilities for including symbol work within each stage of the counselling process. Over the years we have developed and created an extensive and highly effective range of symbol work exercises and ways to explore the sand world. These exercises vary in degree of difficulty and outcome, from exploring tentatively through to working at depth with unconscious material. To employ these exercises we believe it is essential, however, to have undergone relevant training in the frameworks, perspectives and methodology of the way in which sandplay and symbol work is utilised by an emotional release counsellor. Every therapist must ultimately find the way of working which, in their heart, feels right for them. Working with the broader cartography of the human psyche that underpins the emotional release perspective allows a person to shift ground from doing, helping and managing, in a strategic way, to being present, allowing, guiding, supporting and acknowledging in an empathic way. Although we present one or two exercises in each category, usually only one exercise would be offered during a single session. Although, it is quite common for young clients, say from 610 years old, to do more than one exercise. Once they have established trust, they want to explore every possibility.


Often a simple introductory exercise followed by some discussion will be immediately followed by something a little more challenging.

The basic steps of a counselling session

There are six basic steps we recognise in planning an ERC session and the sandplay symbols can be useful in each step: 1 Breaking the ice, developing trust, hope, inner strength 2 Self-exploration, self-discovery 3 Emotional release processing 4 Integration discussion, drawing, writing 5 Support for creativity and positive use of energy 6 At home after the session homework or home play. Following are some useful examples of ways in which each step of a typical counselling session could be extended with the use of symbols.

Breaking the ice, developing trust, hope, inner strength

Symbols can be very helpful in the early stages of counselling sessions. They can support the client to find language for feelings, memories, events and conflicts. They support clients with limited verbal skills. The use of their concrete form and flexibility as a base for projection of the inner world can help counteract confusion and reticence.

Introduction exercise
Starting discussion with a new client
Suitable for children 10 years through to adults 1 Select three symbols from the sandplay collection that you like most, or feel most attracted to. 2 What are some reasons for your choices? 3 If the client seems ready, attempt a brief role-play. Focus on any positive messages that the symbols present during the role-play (see page 116). 4 Follow the role-play with some discussion about any symbols the client does not like and would not choose.

Symbol work exercise

How do you feel about counselling?
Suitable for children 9 years through to adults 1 Prepare a large circle on a page in your drawing book (or in the sandtray). 2 Tune into yourself, relax and take a few deep breaths. 3 Think about the following questions and then select one or two symbols for each: What activities would you like to do rather than come to counselling? Do you have any negative feelings about coming to counselling?
Symbol work exercises

Chapter 4


6 7 8 9

What are the hopeful, positive feelings you have about coming to this session? For children 9 to 15 years, deal with one question and symbol at a time. Arrange the symbols in the circle drawn on a page in your drawing book. Encourage conversation about hopes, fears, needs and negative self-talk they have noticed, and attitudes about the need for counselling. The client may also bring forward any questions about the processes being used. Create a dialogue between the symbols (see page 84). Offer the possibility to role-play the symbol for the third question (see Gestalt role-play exercise, page 116). Write down any messages from the symbol and any insights or summary statement. Draw the symbols on a page in your drawing book, if time permits.

Self-exploration, self-discovery

Symbol work has a supportive role in establishing a positive attitude in the client towards counselling. Once an interest in self-discovery is awakened, the client begins to feel that the counsellor is with them on the same team, rather than in opposition in some way. The following exercises are designed to activate the clients interest in self-discovery and support the shift from apprehension to interest.

Introduction exercise
Free exploration of the sand
Suitable for all clients 1 Sit comfortably at the sandtray. 2 Explore and shape the sand with your eyes closed. 3 Focus on the feeling of the sand on your hands. 4 Observe the shapes made. What memories do they trigger?

Symbol work exercise

What is inside me?
Suitable for children 8 years through to adults 1 Draw a large body outline in the sandtray. 2 Sit or lie down in a relaxed way and tune into your body. 3 Focus your awareness on your head, chest, belly, legs. 4 Become aware of any physical sensations, tensions, emotions or excitement that may be held in these parts of the body. 5 Select a symbol that in some way matches how each of the four areas of the body feels. 6 Arrange the symbols in the body outline in the sandtray. 7 Ask the client to discuss: the choice and location of the symbols the feelings of each symbol possible reasons for the feelings or sensations in each part of their body anything else in their body for which they could select a symbol.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

8 Ask the client: what each symbol would say if it could speak what each symbol would say to the other symbols what the symbols might want to say to them if there is anywhere in the body outline that the symbols would like to move to. 9 After a brief relaxation, discuss any strategies the client could use to deal with the tensions, emotions or excitement.

Emotional release processing

Emotional release process work is the province of counsellors who have completed training in this approach. It allows and supports the direct expression of emotions held by the body which, in turn, creates more emotional space inside for growth and for a steady, healthy progression of the emotional maturing process. The exercises given here are merely a sample of what is available to use in this stage. Some of the basic strategies that help clients deal with the expression of feelings are: externalising the person or situation they are reacting to, through drawings, appropriate symbols, or an empty chair visualising the person or situation that they have strong feelings about as smaller than themselves selecting one or more symbols that convey characteristics of the person or situation they are reacting to and addressing their release work towards the symbols visualising themselves as being larger than the person or situation that they have strong feelings about identifying with one or more symbols from the sandplay collection that portray power and strength as they begin their release work. Guidelines on emotional release work and preparation for it can be found in Chapters 3 and 5 in Emotional Release for Children (Pearson and Nolan, 1995).

Symbol work and movement exercise

Exploring my feelings
Suitable for children 714 years 1 Stand in front of the symbol shelves and, with your eyes closed, relax and take a few breaths. 2 After a moment of tuning in to self, open your eyes and select symbols that go with: caution Youve got to be very very careful in life play I just want to have fun! fear There are so many scary things in the world courage Im not afraid of anything. 3 Arrange the symbols on a page in your drawing book or in the sandtray.
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Ask the following questions: How do the symbols relate to each other? Which ones stand out for you? 4 Direct the client in movement work, role-play or dance, asking them to pretend that they are the symbols for a short time. End with the courage symbol. 5 Give the client time to rest or draw and discuss how they feel after the movement work.

Symbol work exercise

Beginning to talk about my feelings
Suitable for children from 7 years through to adults 1 Divide the sand in the sandtray in two halves. Create a dividing line by making a long ditch, or a mountain range, or find a fence on the shelves. 2 Collect a symbol for each of these categories: something loving something needing love something angry something that ought to be angry something sad something that ought to be sad something wise something needing wisdom. 3 Arrange the symbols opposite each other on each side of the dividing line. 4 Ask the client the following questions: What do you think the symbols are thinking or wanting to say to each other? How do you think they came to feel this way? Can you imagine a bit of their story? Are there any symbols here that are like your life right now? If you were in the sandtray, where would you be? Find questions to support self-discovery and emotional release in the client. 5 Give permission for the client to change the arrangement of the symbols at any time. 6 End with an invitation to the client to draw how they feel.

Integration discussion, drawing, writing

Integration takes place within the counselling setting, although the images created with the symbols and sand stay with a client long after the session has formally ended. Integration involves both an active element using movement or dance or a quiet focus using drawing or writing tools. Symbols can be used to represent quickly a visual overview of issues that have been dealt with and feelings that are currently present in the client. The following exercise would be used after a series of ERC sessions. It uses both symbols and writing as ways of externalising so that progress is made tangible and visual.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

Symbol work exercise to support decision-making

What should I do now?
This exercise helps clients to achieve clarity about decisions, choices and new directions that may arise after counselling work. Suitable for children 10 years through to adults 1 Divide a sandtray in half (or more). 2 Gather symbols for one option and arrange them in half the sandtray and then gather symbols for the second option and do the same on the other half. 3 Discuss the symbols in each half. Ask some supportive questions, such as: Which symbols seem to stand out to you as being most important now? Which symbols do you feel good about? Do any of the symbols worry you? Which half of the sandtray seems most exciting? 4 A written summary about each half could be helpful.

Support for creativity and positive use of energy

Symbol work exercise
What would I like to do?
Suitable for children 9 years through to adults 1 Select symbols in these four categories: You in your life now What creative activity you would most like to do What, or who, helps you do what you want to do? What, or who, stops you doing what you want to do? 2 Arrange the symbols in the sandtray, or in a circle drawn on a page in your drawing book, in any way you feel the symbols relate to each other. (This may take some time.) 3 Invite the client to discuss how they have arranged the symbols. Offer simple questions to encourage the self-discovery, for example: How is this figure like you? How long have you wanted to do this activity? How do you feel when you think about this activity? Have you ever actually done this activity? Is there anyone who helps you? I wonder if there is anything inside you that stops you doing it? 4 Ask the client to suggest: new approaches to expressing their creativity strategies for dealing with what stops them reminders about finding help or support for this activity.

At home after the session

Parents may sometimes not understand what happens when their child chooses alien figures, spiders, dinosaurs, jewels. Some parents and partners
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Symbol work exercises


too may hasten to interpret the picture of the sandplay or the drawing as negative towards them or the current home situation. Some parents report that their child is very capable of creating lots of wild and wonderful stories from their imagination. Homework or homeplay is geared to the context of support the client has available. It could involve a simple journal exercise, a communication activity, a drawing about strong feelings or a physical exercise. If home is a supportive environment, young clients can be invited to select symbols from home and bring them to be used in the next session. They can also be invited to find an object to keep at home to remind them of symbols that were empowering in their work in the counselling session. Occasionally, to remind them of the work they have done in the session and to remind them of positive qualities that have been discovered, the child might ask parents to buy a similar figurine or poster that reminds them of a significant symbol. Parents of child clients are encouraged to provide plenty of expressive play activities at home that use toys and symbols, for example a sandpit, long bath times with plenty of toys, model-building, Lego. In consultation with parents, suggest some family communication games (see Chapter 10 in Emotional Healing and Self-esteem, Pearson, 1998).

Working with couples using sandplay and symbols can be very rewarding for both the counsellor and clients (see page 53). Partners can work together with their own sandtrays, or in separate sessions.

Relationships symbol work exercise

Beginning to talk about my relationship
Suitable for adults 1 Select several symbols from the shelves that correspond to these areas: your hopes for the relationship what it is you most love in the other person what you find difficult in the other person or in the relating your feeling about the others expectations any fears you have about the relationship. 2 Arrange the symbols on a large sheet of paper in some way that represents how you perceive the connections. 3 Invite the client to discuss what they have chosen. 4 If appropriate, suggest a role-play of the significant symbols. Note: It might be helpful for the client to write a summary of their insights.

Symbol work exercise

Relationships review
Suitable for adults


Sandplay and Symbol Work

1 Stand and stretch your body, shake it a bit to wake it up, take a few deep breaths. 2 Select three symbols from the sandplay shelves one for each of these categories: the best quality you have to offer in relationships what you find most difficult in relationships the feeling of significant relationships during your childhood. 3 Arrange the symbols on a page in your drawing book. Think about the way you arrange them: Are they close or distant? Which ones are facing each other, or facing away? 4 With your crayons, add any shapes, colours, lines or words as background, to denote the relationship, or energy, between these elements. 5 In your journal: find a word or phrase that sums up each symbol write any insights you gain from the arrangement record any personal meanings of the symbols. 6 Discuss any insights or reasons you suspect may be behind this choice of symbols. 7 Invite the client to role-play the first symbol the one for their best qualities. (See Gestalt role-play exercise, page 116). Record the message from the role-play. 8 Suggest to the client that they complete the drawing in their drawing book, maybe drawing the symbols onto the page, or capturing the energy of them.

Families and school

Family counselling requires particular skills (see pages 5153). The symbols and sandtray offer a valuable media for group members to express, communicate and reveal, and learn about others. The school setting is a place where a group of people come together for a large part of their day but who may, in some instances, have little reason to want to spend time with each other. Many interactions happen, some pleasant, some unpleasant and some stressful for both young people and adults. Exercises that give the client an opportunity to express and sort through their feelings offer the possibility of positive action, resolution and integration of difficult events.

Symbol work family exercise

Family portraits
Suitable for children 10 years through to adults
Future When a baby Present When a small child

1 Ask the client to set out the sandtray like this, marking dividing lines in the sand: 2 Stand at the side of the sandtray. 3 Select sandplay objects to make four pictures about each period of your life beginning with When a baby.
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4 Encourage the client to talk about each picture either while it is being created, or after. 5 Ask the client to note any similarities and differences between the pictures, and talk about these.

Symbol work family exercise

The people in my family
(Contributed by Kathy Halvorson)

Suitable for children 714 years 1 Draw a large circle on a page in your drawing book. This circle represents your family and can be labelled My Family. 2 Place a dot in the middle of the circle. 3 Discuss the meaning of family, that it could mean extended family and include pets. 4 Choose a symbol for each member of your family, without disclosing who the symbols represent. Then choose a symbol for yourself. Place the symbols on the floor or table beside the paper with the circle. 5 Say: Dont tell me who is who. We are going to play a guessing game. I am going to try to guess which family member is represented by each symbol. 6 Place the symbol for yourself on the dot in the centre. 7 Say: Now I am going to ask you questions about each of the other symbols. At the end of the game I will try to guess who they are. 8 Ask questions about each of the other symbols and their relationship to each other and to the child. The aim is to extend the discussion, inviting the child to share more about their family relationships and their feelings. 9 Finish asking the questions about each symbol, then instruct the child to place the symbol in the family circle. Ask the child to consider how close the symbol/person feels to them and then ask them to arrange the symbol in a way to represent that. Ask them to consider which way the symbol should be facing. 10 Once each symbol has been placed in the circle, guess the identity. Ask the client to confirm or correct your choice. 11 Invite the child to guess what each symbol might be thinking or wanting to say to the others. 12 Ask the child to review the final arrangement and discuss what they learn from it. 13 Support integration of the session through: discussion of any changes the child would like drawing the symbols onto the page or if drawing skills prohibit this, making a circle for each symbol and writing the names of the people they represent in it.

Symbol work school exercise

Me and my class
Suitable for 7 to 17 years for individual or group work (with older children) 1 Draw a large square on a page in your drawing book. Call it My Classroom/My School. 2 Place a dot at the centre. Name it Me.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

3 Close your eyes. Take a slow full breath and breathe it out slowly. 4 Feel yourself coming home inside your body. 5 Open your mind to this picture: Your friends at school and people you dont really like at your school. See them clearly. 6 Find a figure from the sandplay collection to represent you. Let it choose you. Dont think too much about it. 7 Choose a symbol for each person you thought about at your school as you pictured them in your mind. 8 Place the figure that represents you on the dot at the centre of the square. 9 Arrange the other symbols in or around the square. 10 As you arrange the symbols think about: how close or distant from you each one will be whether or not they connect with each other if they are facing you, or turned away from you if they are inside or outside the circle. 11 Talk about: how you arranged the figures who likes who, and who dislikes who each person, and the symbols you chose for them anyone who is not on your page how you would really like it to be. 12 Now become the figure called Me. Pretend you are it. How does it feel to be this symbol? What qualities does it have? Is there anything it would like to say to anyone on the page, or to you or to your parents? 13 Integrate through: drawing the figures onto the page, writing a brief description of them or taking a Polaroid photo writing a few lines in your journal about the most important things you felt or learned from this exercise.

Emotional and physical release

Movement and symbol work exercise
Breaking free with dance
In this exercise symbols are used as a stimulus to movement and dance as a way of supporting physical and energetic release of frustrations. Suitable for children 714 years and adults from 20 years onwards (adolescents are too self-conscious) 1 Select three symbols: one that seems stuck or imprisoned one that is breaking free or escaping one that is flowing, relaxed and playful.
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2 3 4 5

Arrange them in a circle on a sheet of paper or in the sandtray. Role-play and dance as each symbol. How do they relate to each other? Invite the client to talk about how these relate to their lifes journey.

Dance and role-play release exercise using sandplay symbols

Understanding my moods
This exercise aims to allow emotional release and to encourage children to talk about their feelings and triggers for feelings in their lives. A selection of music for movement work to go with the energies of angry, sad, happy and powerful are needed to complete the exercise. Suitable for children 10 years through to adults 1 Draw a large circle or oval shape on a page in your drawing book, with a dark crayon. 2 Visualise or remember these moods and energies: angry sad happy powerful. 3 Take a symbol for each mood or energy. (All at once or one at a time.) 4 Arrange the symbols in the circle on your book. Think about how they relate to each other. Make a picture of how they go together. Would you put them close together? Far apart? Are they facing each other? Facing away? Would you like to put any of them outside the circle? 5 Let yourself remember any times when you have felt like these symbols. Think about this for a moment. 6 Stand up now and take some big breaths, give your body a stretch. 7 Looking at your arrangement of the symbols, concentrate on the symbol for angry. Im going to ask you to pretend that you are that symbol for a few minutes. 8 Breathe in all its qualities. 9 Get ready to role-play this symbol, to dance and act out its feelings. 10 Take a stance with your body that goes with the feeling. 11 See what your arms could do to look a bit like the symbol. What is happening in your back? In your legs? On your face? 12 Exaggerate this stance; make more of the feeling show. 13 When the music comes on let yourself move like the symbol, or move like the feeling the symbol shows you. You can make sounds or say words. 14 Dance for about two minutes. (Play music.) 15 Look again at the arrangement of the symbols on your page. Do you want to change them around? Do they seem different now? Which one would be closer to the front? Which one might you want to move to the back? 16 Continue this dance process for all four symbols.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

17 After the fourth symbol has been danced look again at the picture the symbols make together. What have you learned about yourself from this dance work? Is there a statement you could make about your discovery, your growth, your inner journey? 18 Write this onto the page (or tell me). 19 Draw the symbols in your drawing book now, or write a few words to describe each one. 20 Discuss the drawing and the words.

Emotional release process work

Reactions with family of origin, workplace and personal life
Suitable for adults (can be easily adapted for use with adolescents) Stage one: Preparation and reviewing reactions 1 Select one, two or more symbols for people or situations you react to (or reacted to in the past): in your family when you were a child at work boss, colleagues, etc. in your current close or intimate relationships. 2 Arrange the symbols on a page in your drawing book, in their groupings. Add colours or lines that might help express your feelings and connections, or which add meaning. 3 Discuss how you feel as you look at the symbols. You can say who the symbols represent or keep this information to yourself. 4 Sit and look at the symbols and: tune in to your body and deepen your inner contact take some deep energising breaths. Stage two: Confronting reactions and emotional release 5 Using the following guiding questions as a starting point, see if you can speak a response directly to the symbols as if those people were here now. Allow yourself to express anything. It may surprise you what needs to come out. Keep taking deep breaths as you work with the questions. Were there any times when you couldnt speak to these people, when you couldnt tell them your real feelings? Could you tell them these feelings now? Was there any anger or grief you had to contain? Is there anything unsaid? Are there any missed moments of relating? Could you talk about these now? Were there any expectations of you? What did you feel was expected of you, or is expected now? Tell them. Tell them about how you see them dealing with their reactions. Is there anything you want or wanted in the past from them? Could you tell them now? Was there an essential truth about yourself that you couldnt tell them? Were there any qualities, skills or talents that were ignored, or you had to hide?

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Symbol work exercises


Focus on yourself now. How could you support a feeling of strength? Is there any way you need to claim back your strength now? Is there any way your body needs to move to help you do that? Stage three: Integration 6 Feel the point where you are finished with these issues for the time being. Let your body lie down and rest. Take some time to be very gentle with yourself. 7 When you are ready, take some time to write about your feelings and insights in your journal. You may like to draw a mandala of how you feel now, or add to the drawing you made with the symbols, perhaps drawing some of the symbols onto the page. 8 Discuss your insights and any new directions or strategies that might be relevant.

Inner world review exercise with symbols

The different parts of me
Suitable for children 14 years through to adults You will need the worksheet The different parts of me (see Appendix I, page 115), enlarged to A3 size, for this exercise. 1 Label the four quadrants of the chart, writing outside the oval: my feelings my self-image my relationships my hopes and dreams. 2 Use crayons to colour in, shade or illustrate each of the sections in a way which goes with or represents the mood or feelings of that particular aspect of your life. 3 Relax by lying down or reclining on cushions. Take several deep, slow breaths. Watch what comes into your mind as you review your feelings during the last few weeks. What do you remember about your feelings, your inner life? How have your feelings made themselves known? Who have you had strong feelings towards? Can you identify the dominant feeling of the last few weeks? 4 When you are ready, select two or three symbols that remind you of your feelings and arrange them in the first quadrant. 5 Relax your body again and take a few deep breaths. On the out breath see if you can let your body sink deeper into the carpet or cushions where you are relaxing. What has been your image of yourself over the last few weeks? Have you felt good about yourself at any point during this time? What are the main criticisms youve had of yourself? How do you think others see you? What is your main self-image? 6 When you are ready, select two or three symbols that go with the images of yourself over the last few weeks and arrange them in the second quadrant. 7 Relax, breathe deeply, allow deeper physical and psychological surrender. Really let go. Watch what comes into your mind when you think about your relationships over the last few weeks.


Sandplay and Symbol Work





Who are the people you have related to? How have you felt about your connection with others? What have been the high points? What have been the difficulties? How has it been with your main or most important relationship? When you are ready, select two or three more symbols that remind you of your relationships and arrange them in the third quadrant. Relax again, breathe a few deep breaths and let go even more on the out breath. Have you been in touch with any hopes and dreams for your life over the last few weeks? What are they? Do they feel possible? Difficult? Impossible? Near or far? Do you feel you are moving closer or further away from your hopes and dreams? Has there been time in your life to reflect and dream and plan and hope? When you are ready, select two or three more symbols that remind you of your hopes and dreams and your feelings about them. Arrange these symbols in the fourth quadrant. Starting with the first quadrant, look at the symbols you have placed in that section. Allow words and phrases to come to you now. Around the outside of that section write the key words and phrases that go with the meaning of the symbols for you. When you have written about that part of you, turn the page around and repeat the writing process for each of the remaining three quadrants on the chart. Talk about the meanings of the symbols and the words that go with each part of you. Lets talk about practical strategies for beginning any changes that you want. Assess and discuss any areas that the client may need to work on further.

The ERC approach to self-esteem work is to release what has been covering self-worth in the psyche, then to draw out and recognise the sense of value with self-discovery. Much lack of self-worth is connected with an overload of held-in emotions. Lack of self-worth also comes from self-blame for negative circumstances, even for abuse. A step in reclaiming self-worth is for the client to discover the source of any negative or limited beliefs and poor self-images, or even that there was an external source! Visualisations and Gestalt role-play exercises, along with sandplay and symbol work, can help clients recognise and feel their own value. They also develop personal imagery and new language for understanding and remembering of self-worth. It is ideal to avoid creating any dependence on external valuing for self-worth (although unconditional regard and a sense of safety from the counsellor are vital elements in successful therapy).

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Symbol work exercises


Symbol work exercise

The most beautiful symbol on the shelf
Suitable for children 9 years through to adults 1 Select the most beautiful symbol from the sandplay shelves. 2 Say what you like about the symbol. 3 Follow this activity with the Gestalt role-play exercise (see page 116) to support the client to identify similar positive qualities they have. 4 Discuss when these qualities would be most useful.

Exercise using sandplay symbols

Storytelling through sandplay
Suitable for children 9 years through to adults If no sandtray is available, use a large drawing book and crayons. 1 Ask the client to sit beside the sandtray (or drawing book), close their eyes and relax. 2 Let your imagination picture a landscape of a far-off mysterious place. Is it on land? In outer space? Underwater? Are there hills? Valleys? Rivers? An ocean? Make (or draw) this landscape in your sandtray (or drawing book) now. 3 Pause while the client plays in the sand or draws, then discuss the scene. 4 Choose three symbols from the shelves: one for you in your life now the one that is the most scary or ugly the one that is the most beautiful. 5 Return to the sandtray (or drawing book) and arrange the figures on the landscape. 6 Make up a story about these figures going on an adventure together: Tell it as you make it up. You can move the figures around as the story goes along. You can get more figures from the shelves if you wish. 7 Ask the client to answer these questions as the story goes along (or at the end): How do the figures feel about each other? How do they travel together? Happily? Angrily? In harmony? What are the qualities and feelings of each figure? What is the purpose of their adventure? To discover something? Overcome an obstacle? Solve a problem? How would you like the adventure to end? Throughout the story support the actions to be played out and allow any moods or feelings to be expressed. Also make up questions that encourage the story to progress, for example What happens next?; Show me how that moves; How did they feel about that?. 8 At the end of the story, support the client to explore possible links between the story and their life. Some possible questions include: Have you ever felt like any of these figures? Has this ever happened to you? Is there anyone in your life like this?


Sandplay and Symbol Work

Would you like this to happen to you? 9 If time and attention span permit, allow the client to role-play each figure. See the Gestalt role-play exercise (see page 116) and add these two questions: What is it you want to say to the other figures in the story? What do you want from the other figures? Tell them now. 10 Draw the landscape and symbols in your drawing book and write down any important insights.

Sandplay exercise
My lifes journey
Suitable for children 14 years through to adults 1 Spend time playing in the sand with your eyes closed and taking some deep breaths playing, smoothing, shaping etc. 2 Visualise your life, things that have happened, events, places you have lived or visited, people you have known and different activities you have done. Could you make a picture or map of your life? 3 Go to the sandplay shelves and find one or two symbols to represent the starting point of your journey and place them in the sand. 4 Ask the client the following questions: Does the journey change its form? Does the journey change direction? Does the landscape or vegetation change as you go along? Express this in the tray now. 5 Close your eyes, take three or four deep breaths and connect to yourself again. Think about your future. What comes to your mind? Select two or three symbols for the future and arrange them in the picture of your journey. 6 Take some time to review the journey. Discuss any insights.

Spiritual direction and personal review

Symbol work exercise for spiritual direction
Exploring my connection to the sacred
Suitable for adults 18 years onwards 1 Reflect on three aspects of your inner life: your connection with the sacred in nature memories, images, feelings of the sacred in other people around you in your life your connection with the sacred deep within yourself. 2 Select one or two symbols that go with each aspect. 3 Arrange the symbols on a page in your drawing book. 4 Draw lines of connection, using line, colours, shapes and shading. Add words that describe the connections. You can either do this in silence or discuss what you are doing. 5 Draw or write the names of the symbols.
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6 Give the picture a title. 7 You may wish to discuss the following questions in your journal: How did the exercise make you feel? What would you most like to remember? 8 Create a summary statement about your connection to the sacred. 9 You could either quietly reflect on this writing or dance out some of the feelings about it. 10 Invite the client to share the summary statement.

Sandplay and visualisation exercise

Inner treasure
Suitable for children 812 years onwards For this exercise you will need to have an assortment of beautiful items (for example crystals and jewels) buried in the sandtray. 1 We are going to take a special journey crossing over water to a deserted island. On that island, one special treasure is waiting to be discovered by you. 2 Invite the client to make a large boat with cushions. Imagine sailing on the ocean boat is rocking gently excited about discovering this treasure suddenly the waves get bigger clouds become dark rain starts to pour The wind howls the boat is being tossed from side to side thunder lightning. You want to go back home, but something in you wants to keep on going suddenly the rain stops. Clouds drift away sun comes out and starts to dry you water becomes still and the boat drifts ashore on the island. 3 You see the sand dunes (sandtray) where the treasure is buried. One special treasure is waiting for you. Find your treasure now. 4 Use the Gestalt role-play exercise (see page 116) to explore personal meanings of the treasure. 5 What is one special quality you have? This special quality or treasure is always in you. Write about it in your journal and draw the treasure.

Self-discovery exercise
Movement, drawing and symbol stories
Suitable for children 7 years through to adults First stage: Movement 1 Stand up. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and relax on the out breath. 2 Imagine you had a paintbrush attached to each wrist, elbow, big toe and ankle. Start making movements in the air as if you were painting circles, squares and triangles. Try making all those shapes. 3 Imagine which colour goes with the left elbow, right elbow etc. (Pause between suggesting each body part.) Second stage: Drawing Have a large sheet of butchers paper and thick jumbo crayons. 4 Choose a crayon you like the look of then take it in your hand. 5 Make contact with the paper.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

6 Close your eyes and imagine that your hand is free, alive, energised perhaps like a sports car on an open stretch of beach or an eagle soaring. 7 You are aware inside your hand. Start letting it roam, moving freely bending, twisting, rushing, zooming so that it is drawing freely on the paper. The client chooses a second and then a third colour, repeating the free drawing. 8 Keep drawing until you feel like the energy in your arm has completed its creation. 9 Looking at the pathways that have been created, see if there are any other lines or images you wish to draw onto the paper now, or areas you would like to shade in. Third stage: Self-discovery and symbol work 10 Look at what you have created. Are there any pictures that you have created without realising it? Does it mean anything to you? How does it make you feel when you examine the drawing? 11 Select some symbols from the sandplay shelves that seem to belong in your drawing. See if the symbols would like to select you. Arrange them on or around the drawing. Is there a story that goes with these symbols? You could tell it now. Does each one have its own story, or do they make up a story together? What would each symbol like to say? If you were in this story somewhere, where would you be? Is there anything in your life like this? 12 Integrate through discussing: how it felt doing the movement work how it felt doing the drawing what each colour feels like memories that go with the pathways the symbols chosen and their stories. 13 Write down any important insights. 14 Help the client plan any strategies for new directions or activities that have emerged out of the discussion.

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Symbol work exercises


Chapter 5
Expressive support processes
It is impossible to live life at the highest level unless you get rid of your negativity, your unfinished business. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, The Wheel of Life, Bantam, 1997

n the ERC approach to emotional healing and personal development expressive therapies are offered to clients to support the release of unfinished business. There is quite a range of expressive processes used as an adjunct to sandplay and symbol work, both to enhance energy activation and symbolic expression and to facilitate resolution and integration. Expressive methods are ideal with voluntary clients, where trust and involvement have been developed. Inviting the body to express the feelings and integrating this with the mind leads to resolution and long-term emotional healing. Physical and emotional release also clears the way for creative problem-solving and a reduction in emotional reactivity in relationships. This chapter outlines some ways of using bioenergetics, energy release games, artwork and drawing, and briefly outlines exploration with other media.

When using bioenergetics for emotional release, the client should not focus on a particular individual or situation. The primary aim of these exercises is to tap into body energy that has been diverted or is stuck. Accessing that energy and restoring its flow is the goal.

Basic bioenergetic exercises

Suitable for children 9 years through to adults Begin with a warm-up, then select three or more exercises to precede sandplay or symbol work. It is important that you acknowledge and accept any resistance or embarrassment and invite the client to talk about this the first time they do these exercises. Clients should not do any exercises or assume postures that are painful, or require endurance. Practise the exercises and model them enthusiastically.

Stretch, take full breaths, and shake your body. Make some loud sounds such as sighing, groaning, growling.


Bound and free

Standing, cross arms and legs and hold everything tight. Then release all at once and run on the spot, shaking any tightness out of the limbs and making sounds. Repeat this several times.

Freeing the face

1 Close eyes tightly, suck in a deep breath, hold for a moment, then release and open face, open eyes. 2 Open eyes wide. While leaving the head still, make large circular movements with the eyeballs.

The arch
Place feet about 30 cm apart, bend the knees, and rest hands lightly on the lower back. Gently lean back until your eyes are facing towards the ceiling. Do not let the head fall back. Breathe deeply. Hold this for a minute, then release and go floppy. Repeat.

Kick a cushion around the room finding some power sounds that go with the kicks. Alternate legs.

How strong is the wall?

Press with flat palms against a strong wall. Gradually engage your ankles, legs, lower back, shoulders, arms, hands, then the whole body. Keep the breathing full and free. Then relax for a moment and repeat three times.

The walk
Walk in a large circle around the room, allowing your hips to be free. Exaggerate this movement for a while then move into walking with strength.

Lie on the carpeted floor for a few minutes keeping as still as possible. Direct the awareness within. How does it feel inside now?

Bioenergetic exercise
Brief head-to-toe sequence
This exercise aims to give permission, rehearse making sounds and movements and free up armouring in order to feel more easily. Suitable for children 7 years through to adults 1 Warm up by running on the spot, then shaking the whole body. 2 Alternate imitations of crying then laughing. 3 Make horrible exaggerated faces. 4 Stretch arms and hands wide open and back taking in big breaths: hold tense for a moment release and exhale with a groan. 5 Face the wall, tighten fists, start stamping and growling. Add the words I wont! 6 Have a tug-of-war with a folded towel with the counsellor. (The rule is that you must not let go.) Alternate saying to each other Yes! then No!
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7 Jump around the room like a kangaroo. 8 Lie or sit down. Can you feel your heart beating? Is your energy dancing inside even though you are now still?

Bioenergetic exercise
Imagination helps me move
This exercise aims to use up potentially disruptive energy, to activate the imagination and to enhance self-awareness through activating energy. Suitable for children 712 years (can be adapted for adolescents and adults) General warm-up 1 Walk briskly, swinging the arms and taking deep breaths rhythmically while you walk. Face 2 Imagine the worst foods ever. Show this on your face. You have to eat them all! How would you look? What sounds would you make? Shout out the names of the worst foods. Arms 3 You are the world champion karate expert. You can smash several bricks with one blow of your bare hand. 4 Demonstrate your skills now. Use both hands. 5 Let everyone hear the power sounds you make as you do this. Legs 6 You are wearing strong, thick boots. You have been fighting a terrible bushfire and there are just a few flames left here and there. Stomp the flames out slowly at first, then very quickly. Whole body games 7 You are a firecracker, set up ready for the midnight display on New Years Eve. The fuse has been lit. In a moment you will explode and show your colours, your shapes and your sounds. Here you go: 1, 2, 3! 8 You are now a lizard lying on a warm rock on a sunny day. You are lying beside a lake. You like to have daydreams. Sometimes you slide gently, silently into the cool water, then come back to the warm rock. Imagine the scene around you. What would your daydreams be about? Be still and quiet now for a moment. 9 Draw your favourite part of the games. Discuss your responses to the exercises.

Music to support bioenergetic exercises and movement work

Music has been part of the human psyche for thousands of years. Ancient tribespeople clapped, stamped, drummed, sang and fashioned instruments to make rhythmic sounds. This was used as an accompaniment to their sacred rituals, celebrations and healing ceremonies. Music helps us let go, and this relaxation supports the unfolding of our inner process. Rhythmic music accompanying bioenergetic exercises can support clients to relax ego control and move more fully. Activating what 74
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Howard Gardner (1983) calls the musical/rhythmical intelligence aids learning and provides a doorway into knowing ourselves in a different way. The music also helps access the bodily/kinesthetic intelligence. When selecting music to support counselling sessions there are three main categories to consider: rhythmic music to support active bioenergetics and movement work music for strong movement, release and celebration music for stillness, relaxation and letting go. The third category also includes non-intrusive music that can be used in the background during sandplays. One of the best ways to discover and learn how to select and blend music and exercises successfully is by experiencing the exercises yourself, and then spending time finding and listening to music that you like and that you think will appeal to clients.

Active bioenergetics and movement

Vangelis Anaugama Gabrielle Roth Scott Fitzgerald Themes, Antarctica, 1492 (soundtrack) Exotic Dance Bones, Totem, Luna, Ritual, Initiation, Trance, Waves Thunderdrums, All One Tribe

Strong movement and celebration

Sirocco Mike Batt Trevor Jones Port of Call, Breath of Time, Wetland Suite Caravans (soundtrack) The Last of the Mohicans (soundtrack)

Stillness, relaxation, letting go and background to sandplay

Ennio Morricone Terry Oldfield Tony OConnor City of Joy (soundtrack) Cascade, Illuminations Bushland Dreaming, Serenity, Mariner

Energy release games

As well as bioenergetic exercises and games there are a number of ways to support clients to complete or integrate their counselling experience using some energy release activities. These are most often used with children in an informal way towards the end of a session.

Energy release game

Role-play of energetic symbols
Suitable for children 8 years through to adults 1 Select two or three symbols from the symbol shelves that look the most energetic. 2 Place these on the floor, on your drawing pad or in an empty sandtray. 3 Stand and, while looking at the symbols, take a posture that in some way corresponds to the most energetic symbol.

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4 Exaggerate the stance, feel what muscles are involved and activate these even more. Note: sound can be added if it is indicated or appropriate. 5 Have a brief rest and talk about how it felt to do the role-play. 6 Role-play the other symbols. 7 Complete with a drawing of the energy expressed.

The following games are very popular with younger children and are similar to birthing games (see Emotional First-aid for Children, pages 10711), but without any specific imagery. They can be very helpful in releasing conscious or unconscious frustrations and pent-up energy.

Energy release game

Suitable for children 612 years 1 Build a large pile of cushions. 2 Dig under the cushions and squeeze through to the other side. 3 Invite the child to repeat the movements over and over. 4 End with a rest and discussion of their enjoyment of the game.

Energy release game

Running around the building
Suitable for children 710 years Sometimes it is appropriate for energetic young clients to be invited to run around the building or room. This helps them to release and aids the flow of any excess energy or excitement that may have surfaced during the session. 1 Run around the room or building several times. 2 Flop down on large cushions and rest. 3 Tune in to yourself and then talk about how you feel inside.

Energy release game

Dance and movement
Suitable for children 8 years through to adults Begin with some strong, rhythmic, expressive music (see page 75). It can be helpful to alternate tracks, following a fast track with a slow track and an energetic track with a soulful track, using about thirty seconds to one minute of music. 1 Imagine symbols that go with the music. 2 Imagine how these symbols would move. 3 Using movement and dance, explore what it would be like to be the symbols. 4 Explore what type of energy the symbol might have. 5 After the movement or dance, draw how you feel and briefly describe your experience in words.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

Drawing after sandplay and symbol work

There are two main types of drawings that are used with the ERC approach to sandplay and symbol work. These are: process drawings completion drawings.

Process drawings
A process drawing is used as an incidental support to a process. It might involve finding colours, lines and shapes to express the feelings, moods or reactions. It is a step in release work. Process drawings are not necessarily kept after the process as they are no longer important they have served the purpose of aiding release. Clients can learn to appreciate the skill of using process drawings and may enjoy using them as a self-help homework strategy. Process drawings may involve pictures which represent feeling memories of critical times expressed in colours and lines. These then serve as a basis for reflection, self-disclosure and discussion. Questions commonly arise about the meanings of colours children select. ERC practitioners have found that in childrens colour symbology there appears to be no consistent use of specific colours for specific feelings or meanings. However, a combination of black and red often appears when anger is being expressed or is coming to the surface. Sometimes black is connected with a depressed feeling and sometimes it is used as a sign of strength. It is essential to employ the self-discovery questioning method if it seems that there is significance in the colours. The clients perception is the significant factor. On a large sheet of paper the expression of moods, feelings, energies and attitudes through line, colour, shapes and images used abstractly or in representational style can form a good background for creating a symbol work picture.

Completion drawings
Completion drawings are prepared towards the end of a session, usually after the sandplay or counselling exercise, as part of integration of the learning. These are kept for later review. They give time for the unconscious to complete its expression via colours, lines and images from within. Completion drawings may also involve recording, drawing a record of a sandplay or symbol work exercise, or drawing a significant or special symbol discovered in the session. Body outline drawings may be used by younger clients to express what they become aware of in their body. These help to direct attention internally and make connections between sensation, feelings and energy. Mandalas are also used as completion drawings. These use the circle as a frame rather than the traditional rectangle or square. A circle suggests a centre, and drawing within it can have a centring effect on the client. Mandalas and
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circular shapes can appear spontaneously in completion drawings and they invite a quiet focus that supports integration of inner exploration. Some are geometric and ordered, some are free-flowing and appear at random. Some contain specific images, others are fully abstract. Children tend to create pictorial mandalas while adults are usually more comfortable with abstract expressions. In all drawings we allow the client to place their interpretation or meaning onto the colours and shapes. Any client drawings must be free from interpretation by the counsellor. Just as the meanings of symbols always remain the province of the client, so too do the meanings in their drawings. Usually the client simply shares the drawing with the counsellor before moving onto the next step in the process. The act of drawing and sharing is usually successful in bringing closure. Using drawing and artwork after a sandplay or symbol work session can be part of extension, amplification, integration and recording. The client can: draw something representing an important symbol, for example a picture of a pyramid draw a circle or draw around the base of the symbol and put a title or word representing the symbol inside the circle or outline, for example the words mean witch or brave lion draw lines, colours, shapes and images that go with the energy or qualities which radiate from the symbol, around the symbol or move towards the symbol draw lines which radiate towards or link to other symbols to depict the energy or communication between the symbols (blank space can also be used to represent no link or no communication between symbols) draw symbols according to their significance or the size of the impact or energy engendered by looking at them create a map of symbols according to their spatial arrangement draw a face with an expression that looks like the feeling of the symbol (particularly useful for young children) draw how they feel after the sandplay session a free drawing, mandala or image from nature try collage, particularly clients who feel unsure about their drawing skills, or for whom drawing activates feelings of poor self-esteem (have magazines available to cut from, as well as scissors, glue and a large sheet of paper).

Other media
There are two main categories of supportive media clients can use that add variety and choice: shapeable media which engages a kinesthetic quality through its use add-on media which is an extension of sandplay and can be used to make symbols that are needed but not on the shelves. 78
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Clay, play dough, plasticine

Clay or plasticine can be used as a tool by adults and children to create an object which expresses their feelings. The process of shaping and forming the clay allows some physical expression and release. The kinesthetic involvement activates another way of learning and expressing what may be too complex for rational thought. The clay is both challenging, in that some skill may be required to achieve a recognisable outcome, and forgiving, in that it can be remoulded many times. Clay can be pounded into shape, treated with force or tenderly, moulded dramatically or into subtle abstract shapes. Being able to take home the clay creation can be an important element for some clients.

Pipe cleaners
Clients can create their own symbol/figurines. Pipe cleaner figures can be made to assume postures that reflect moods and feelings.

For clients who do not feel happy drawing, have magazines available so that they can search for images and cut them out. These can either be added to the sandtray or glued onto background paper. Collages can be also used in place of completion drawings for clients who may feel the pressure of performance and would rather not attempt their own drawing.

Art materials
Have an array of crayons and papers available. Pastels are best as they can be used in a more subtle way and colours can be merged. Oil-based crayons can also be used, as well as pencils and water colour pencils. Clients drawings can be used for creating symbols not available on the shelf. They can be cut out and placed in the sandtray. Coloured paper, ribbons, foil and coloured tissues are all useful for supporting creative expression.

These can be used as backgrounds for symbol work. Fabrics are useful for counsellors who travel about and cannot carry a heavy sandtray. It is recommended that a variety of plain colours (rather than patterns) and textures is made available. Fabrics can be used to create rivers, oceans, and deserts. They are easily shaped and extended. The clients choice of colour will often be relevant to their issues or mood. Thin strips of fabric can be used in the sandtray to great effect too. Blue satin becomes a lake, a waterfall or a river. Gold fabric can form rays of the sun.

Alphabet letters
These can be purchased in toy shops and are very useful for creating words in the sand or making summary statements. Initials or descriptive words can symbolise a person within a sandplay without divulging their identity when a client prefers to be specific rather than symbolic.
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Chapter 6
Professional orientation
I must warn those of you who are therapists that the use of the sandbox is an expensive disease to catch. Once you start building sandboxes, making shelves and particularly once you start buying figures youre hopelessly ensnared in the joys of the playful child (and I hope not compulsive child for your sake) who wants more and more toys, ostensibly for your patients to have at their disposal. Harold Stone, from the Prologue to Sandplay by Dora Kalff, Sigo, 1980

acilitating sandplay and symbol work requires a positive attitude to the unconscious, recognising that apparent problems, reactions to issues, difficult behaviours and non-communicative attitudes are all symptoms of some emotional healing trying to happen. This positive attitude to the inner world includes an understanding of the healing mechanisms of the psyche and a willingness to allow the natural movement towards healing and selfactualisation to proceed in its own way. The knowledge that the external behaviours, attitudes and moods of the client are formed by their unconscious allows ERC practitioners to relax from trying to manage behaviour or providing ready-made strategies. The important task for counselling will be to create an emotionally safe space and relationship that allows the client to deal with their inner world. Through this behaviour symptoms can fall away or adapt, in line with inner growth. The ERC style of facilitation may require at times very little verbal direction. It is built around offering a choice of modalities and support through self-discovery questions to encourage the clients reflection and expression. As well as training with the techniques and practice of facilitation skills, it is the way we are with clients, our emotional state and our ability to be empathically present that ultimately help them feel safe enough to contact their feelings and work through tender issues. Our training courses aim to develop comfort with what we call creative doubt. All facilitators, experienced or recently graduated, feel doubt about what they should do or not do with clients at times. We generally recognise two types of doubt: agitated doubt, which has a somewhat debilitating influence calm or creative doubt, which relates to our next immediate action but is based on trust in the process. Agitated doubt may be fuelled by performance anxiety. This in turn may be connected to childhood scripts. Not knowing exactly what to do could bring up feelings similar to those we experienced as a child. When past


material is activated in us it tends to blur our vision and dampen creative problem-solving. Calm doubt is a state that we can enjoy and use to activate our intuition. If intuition is a coming together of our training knowledge, our feeling for what might be helpful and our body-sense or energy-sense of what would be appropriate, then creative doubt is the way to enhance intuitive facilitating. Creative doubt can emerge as we have more personal experiences of our inner healer at work as we learn to trust the process and drop our egos need to be in control. Some of the requirements for a proficient facilitator are: personal experience and competence with sandplay and symbol work methods skill in a client-centred approach, which implies trust in the clients inner healing mechanisms and their own readiness to determine issues and timing for emotional healing attentiveness and a sense of presence, offering empathic involvement that helps the client to feel less isolated a quiet, confident, relaxed manner which supports clients in relaxing this relaxation can enhance self-awareness and emotional healing the ability to be a loving presence, patient and accepting of the client a readiness to recognise, accept and find support to deal with their own issues that arise in working with clients a sense of comfort with the concept of creative doubt; that is, the art of being in an alert state of not knowing what to do next but allowing time and space for more material to emerge openness to encourage the clients self-discovery with the skill to draw it out through suitable questions ability to refrain from personal interpretation of the sandplay and/or symbols sensitivity to clues offered by the client for example, by the clients body posture, voice or facial expression and the placement or choice of symbols and an ability to use these as guides for self-discovery questions and enhancing the clients self-awareness an ability to gently mirror back feelings identified by the client an ability to gently encourage the client to stay with their feelings without pushing or coaching them an ability and readiness to support the release of strong feelings that may be activated during the process a sense of play and a readiness to suspend ordinary logic and goalorientation and enter the clients world if invited a familiarity with the steps for integration for counselling sessions the skill to bring closure firmly and gently, even if occasionally some issues remain partly unexplored or unresolved.

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Basic rules and advice for facilitators

Do not inflict your interpretations on others! Resist any tendency to touch the clients symbols or invade their work space. Practise letting go of the need to understand everything that is happening for the client at a cognitive level. Struggling with the rational level can prevent you from following the process and from trusting the in-built guidance of the client. The power of the symbols and sandtray to help clients remove their masks and expose more vulnerable sides means that interpretation or advice which defines the client or their experience can cut across the path of the exercise. Sensitive observation coupled with self-discovery questions allow the emergence of material from within the client which otherwise may require a more complex level of intellectual understanding, literacy and articulation skills. Do not share your interpretations of what is happening with the client while they are involved with their inner process. It is not essential for the facilitator to understand everything that is happening or to make the links between the symbolic level and the everyday for the client. If you tell a client what something means: you could be quite wrong you rob them of self-discovery you could create an attitude of dependence in them the client could feel judged or overwhelmed. Many clients need freedom from authority, freedom from having to get it right. Use your ideas and interpretations to form questions that encourage and allow the client to make their own discoveries. Emphasise the idea that the exercises are for self-discovery. Arriving at a particular step in the process, feeling blocked and then needing to explore an energy or an issue or to do deep release work is a normal part of the process. Clients can sometimes feel that they have failed to complete the task this is most obvious in group work when the rest of the group progress through further steps. A client who carries an imprint of not being good enough or clever enough or simply being a failure may interpret changes of modality as proof of their imprint: Im not doing it the way you wanted me to. Im not doing it the way Im supposed to. This is most obvious if their inner process differs from the overview given. It is vital to uncover and talk about any sense the client may have of expectation from the counsellor. Responding with statements like: Im here to help you do whatever your inner self needs to do. This is your discovery time can ease any projection or feeling that the counsellor has set expectations.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

Most authors of sandplay texts reiterate the power of non-verbal feedback for both client and facilitator. Joel Ryce-Menuhin (1992) believes that the act of silently looking and then intently sharing the clients creation has the power to bring great clarity for facilitators and client. So, learn to be comfortable with silence, and stay focused on the clients creation until the picture is complete. If you feel inadequate or unsure and most facilitators feel unsure often examine whether that unsure voice inside in any way resembles your childhood scripts and negative attitudes about self-worth. If you recognise an old self-derogatory reaction, it will be valuable to bring this to supervision for further exploration and release. Remember that working towards an openness in yourself, finding the state of creative doubt, is essential for intuitive support work. If the client is expressing emotions that bring up discomfort or fear in you, recognise this and consider the possibility that you may be holding in a similar feeling. Seek supervision after the session to work on the discomfort and fear. Through this you will further your own selfdiscovery and clarity. It can be tempting to try to rescue clients, to take on a sense that we, as professionals, are responsible. Note any times that you feel this, or want to be actively involved in solving the clients problem, explain meanings, or guarantee completion. Consider how you can support a client to stay with a question in a positive way that leads to further exploration. Symbol work, while directed, does not include making any suggestions to the client about what feelings or motives may be inside them. Facilitation requires that you stay alert so that you do not offer leading questions or make suppositions that incline a client towards an answer they think you want to hear. For example, these are directive leading questions: Is that wicked witch like your mother? Is that lonely elephant very sad? Is that yucky spider making the poor little rabbit frightened? This puppy over here, all alone in the corner, must feel just like you. To allow self-discovery the questions could be restated as: Tell me about that witch. Do you know anyone like that? Can you tell me anything more about this elephant? How does it feel? How do you feel about the spider? How would the other figures in the tray feel about the spider? What do you think that puppy is thinking about? If you were one of these figures, which one would be most like you?

Guidelines for facilitators

Refer to the Record Form for Sandplay Sessions Appendix III, page 117. Temporarily suspend all that you think you know about the client.
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Be with the client physically and mentally, mostly silently. Watch the choice of objects and the way they are chosen: Is there any charge (strong attraction or repulsion)? Do they think about the choice or grab it immediately? Be aware of the development of the story. Observe verbal and non-verbal behaviours. Be aware of spatial arrangements of symbols. Be aware of how the client uses the room, the symbols, the tray(s). Bring a presence and a focus that will support the client to tell the story of the sandplay and perhaps act out parts of it. Notice when and how the story is finished. Invite the client to tell the story; allow any changes or developments in the story. Invite dialogue with the symbols, for example: the client begins to speak to each object in the sandplay especially if they are animate objects (animals, people) the client becomes each object and answers back as the object the client creates a dialogue between the objects and develops a story line, possibly including themselves. Be open to recognising the symbolic level but do not interpret. Never tell the client what it is all about even if it seems very clear to you. Insights, realisations and connections are of no lasting use unless they come from within the client. Notice any apparent inconsistencies and jot down questions for later. Have adequate knowledge of emotional release and transpersonal dimensions of the psyche so that clients can be supported by some cognitive frameworks around their experience, if this is needed.

Learning to observe
The facilitator avoids giving their interpretations to the client or telling them what they think the symbol arrangement may mean even if the client asks. However, what we call our detective mind is often at work. You can learn much about the clients inner world by watching the sand picture emerge. In observing it is best to play lightly with possible interpretations in your mind, and use that process to come up with useful questions that will support the client to increase their awareness of their own process. These are some guidelines to focus the facilitators observations: As all symbols used represent forces within the client, see what qualities of the item chosen relate to the client. Consider the meanings of the symbols: what they symbolise to you what they might mean to the client what their traditional, collective meanings might be what the client says about the items. 84
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Observe the placement of the objects: which are in the middle? which are at the edges? which dominate? which are separated? which are buried? which are in water? which are on the hills? which are under attack? Does the client work from one side of the tray, or move around? Sense the clients energy, especially the bodily force while they are choosing the symbols. Watch the way the client moves, the force with which the items are placed in the sand (gently? brutally?) Is the energy aggressive? lethargic? flowing? hesitant? Are you being checked for approval? Watch facial expressions, body posture, energy or mood changes as the story unfolds and feelings begin to emerge. Listen for changes in the voice energy, in the emotions conveyed or held back in the voice. While watching, facilitators should keep track of their own personal reactions and assumptions, to avoid projecting their own story onto the clients work. Themes can emerge that give clear directions for future work and reveal special needs. Some typical themes to watch for are: nourishment relationship family struggles personal chaos, conflict, disintegration loneliness, separation recognition of treasure self-worth death, fear of death, death of the old way order and well-being masculinity/femininity power. Taking apart the clients sandtray and symbol work exercise is invaluable in that it presents a further chance to carefully observe choice, placement and structure. Use this step to learn more about the client and the messages from their unconscious.

Preparing the counselling room

The environment of the counselling room is very important in allowing trust and freedom of expression. Since many clients are dealing with emotional chaos, some external order is ideal. This would include arrangement of
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furniture and a general sense of tidiness. In the sensitive state that most clients enter a counselling room, beautiful impressions can be very helpful. Some ERC facilitators will spend time arranging a special place of beautiful things, perhaps with a candle. It does not take much effort to convey the message that the counselling room is a caring, safe and special place. At the same time you do not want to create a static, perfect setting that would disincline the client to feel totally free to express and create. A sense of calm in the counsellor and in the room is important. Ideally, all material and equipment should be ready and accessible prior to the clients arrival. Sometimes quiet background music will add to a sense of calmness, although it is important to check with the client whether they are comfortable with music. Many young people do not respond well to quiet, relaxing new age music. The counselling room needs to be large enough for clients to move freely and enter role-play exercises enthusiastically.

Allowing time for integration is an important step. Integration time supports closure and resolution. It can involve the mind in review of the session, or a series of sessions, and make meaning out of the personal process. The integration step may involve rest, reflection and completion drawings. In sandplay and symbol work integration may comprise recording, photographing, discussing and thinking about the future in the light of insights from the sandplay. It is part of the facilitators role to support closure within a set time frame. Children will usually complete their sandplay and symbol work exercise well within the sixty-minute time frame. This allows time for discussion, drawing, role-play and preparing to leave the counselling room in a relaxed frame of mind. Adult clients can spend up to two hours with the three-stage process of creation, exploration and experience of their sandplay or symbol work exercise. These are some ways to bring the session to an end and enhance closure within the client: When the sandplay story or picture is complete, consider the following questions: Has the action led to integration? Is any more release needed? Has the sandplay been complete in itself? Does the sandplay require any extension or discussion? Resolution can take place at an unconscious level and nothing more may be required. Talk about what the client sees in the objects, for example: qualities or traits of the objects or characters groupings and arrangements of objects relationships between the objects. 86
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Ask the client to tell the story. However, some clients may not wish to and this should be respected. Gently probe a little deeper. For example: I wonder where he (symbol) came from? I wonder if these symbols like each other? Encourage expression of: movement (Can you show me how that symbol moves?) sound (I wonder what sound it would make?) emotions. If emotions have been triggered by the process, go with them and encourage some expression. Relate the qualities of symbols to the clients own body: Where would this black horse live inside you? Can you feel the horses energy anywhere inside? Recommend certain constructive actions, tasks and games for young clients, such as activities that can provide an expressive, creative outlet. To support resolution, invite the client to spend some time: drawing journalling talking about and sharing the inner experience in detail Gestalt role-playing, to hear inner messages from the symbols resting, to feel and explore the new state after the session. When it is time for the client to leave, the sandplay is generally not dismantled in front of them. Clients do not usually clear away their own sandplay, but are told that that will be done after they leave. They are often pleased with their creation and we know that it can represent important aspects of the psyche. So the creation, resonant with its meanings for the client, is left intact. However, clients who have revealed their life story or a troubling family issue may feel more complete if they personally return the figurines to the shelves. Occasionally this farewelling of the symbols occurs as an important integration step. There are a number of linking activities that can support integration. Some of these may be considered if conflicts persist. Depending on the clients attention span and interest, the linking activities can be offered immediately after a sandplay or at another counselling session.

Linking activities for young clients

Childrens stories, fairy tales or myths to explore similar themes (see Tears into Diamonds program, page 122). Clients can read or tell their own stories, created during the sandplay, to others and show drawings. Act out or dance the story, or actions of the main symbols. Link body outline drawings and self-awareness work to the story, for example:
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Where inside you would this battle be? Is there a treasure inside you? Where? Deepening the feelings of worth with visualisations and role-playing as a hero from a known adventure. See also the suggestions in Chapter 5.

Linking activities for adult clients

Journal writing. Exploration and active imagination using the Gestalt role-play questions. Drawing. Body focus exercises.

Evaluation, review and recording

Following are some suggestions to support the counsellors recording and to prepare for client reviews: If appropriate, invite adult clients to write down something to remind them of their session. Counsellors can write down the childrens stories for them to keep, or have them write it down. Some may want to keep the story and illustrate it later at home. Complete details on the Record Form for Sandplay Sessions (Appendix III, page 117) for yourself. Take Polaroid photos of the sandtray and give one to the client to keep. Some sandplay therapists prefer to use slides so that at a review session they can be projected large to support the clients review and analysis. Keep reference file of photos and reports to compare past sandplays, particularly comparing themes and recurring symbols. One way to review is to invite the client to look back over photographs and drawings from previous sandplays and make a comment on each. They could be invited to: note changes, developments, recurring symbols or formations consider what might be the next step note their own inner and outer changes link sandplay to life.

The tray
Sandtrays are wooden and about 75 cm x 55 cm x 20 cm (outside measurements) in size, although some sandplay therapists prefer a larger square tray. We recommend and use the rectangular tray. This shape is one that seems to reflect the inner tensions. Circular or square trays have a more equalising or centring tendency. Do not use particle board, as it will swell if it gets wet. Marine ply or solid wood is best. Paint the inside with several coats of sealer to waterproof it. Paint the bottom and sides of the tray blue to represent water or sky. 88
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Plastic storage trays with lids available from the larger supermarket chains are quite a good substitute for the wooden boxes. The lids are useful in settings where there are pets who like to explore sand, or for counsellors who use sandplay and may travel from school to school or from one setting to another. Sand kept in covered plastic trays tends to sweat, so frequent airing and reasonably frequent changing of the sand say every few months is advisable. The height of the tray can be designed for sitting or standing whichever you prefer. It could be on legs and castors or light and mobile. The ideal size is one that enables the client to take in the whole tray without having to move the head or eyes, so that the tray fits into their field of vision.

The sand
Consider your own preference: beach sand? washed river sand? Most people prefer fine white or silver sand. Smell it before using. Is it pleasant? Will it evoke good memories? The depth of the sand should be about 15 centimetres. Normally we use sand from landscape suppliers called silver sand, but have also experimented with black sand, a loamy, brown, earth-coloured sand, and once, by mistake, bought sand which had a small amount of concrete mix in it. In this last example, the sand was used in a workshop setting. The sand was slightly moist when emptied into the tray and so overnight it set quite firmly. The next morning a client went straight to the tray with the concrete mix and spent the next ninety minutes crumbling bits of sand through her fingers, reducing firm lumps to soft, flowing grains. This turned out to be an extremely meaningful and important way for her to express strong feelings about significant life circumstances! From time to time it is good to sieve the sand to remove dust and small particles that eventually accumulate.

The shelves
Clients need to be able to see all the symbols. Normal bookshelf height works well. For younger clients counsellors may prefer shelves which are no higher than, say, windowsill height. Some counsellors may wish to have a small stool or step-ladder to ensure clients view the top shelves.

The symbols
Keep symbols clean, orderly and in categories. Suggested categories are: mystical religious the sea fish, shells etc. mechanical things buildings precious stones household
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food rocks snakes horrible things animals wild animals domestic people adults people children, babies nature items fighting bridges, fences, barriers birds jewels containers flowers trees transport archetypal and mystical people, creatures and objects, for example dragons, witches and crystal balls. Symbols can be gathered from a variety of sources: flea markets, garage sales, thrift shops, specialty gift shops, school fetes. Starter kits can be ordered from the United States via the Internet (see page 124).

Jug and sprayer

The jug and sprayer are for moistening the sand so that it will hold its shape. Many clients find the sprayer fun to use as well.

A selection of small and larger plain white or clear bowls can be used to make a lake or pool. Many clients try to create a lake or river by pouring more and more water into the tray, and of course it is absorbed by the sand.

Bits and pieces

A small brush is useful for dusting the sand from the figurines before returning them to the shelves. Some clients like to remove sand from their hands, so a spare towel can be useful.

Quiet background music

Sometimes it seems very appropriate to use soft, relaxing background music. Sometimes silence is best. Never use music that is suggestive of a particular emotion. Some favourites are Mariner by Tony OConnor and Cascade by Terry Oldfield. Both of these CDs can be left to play all the way through. Some children do not like quiet new age music.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

Drawing books and crayons

Have drawing books and crayons ready for recording and integration towards the end of the session.

Sandplay with different age groups

While we can never expect specific outcomes, we do recognise several broad categories that relate to a clients age and development. Following are some general characteristics of sandplay for different age groups.

35 years of age
Dialogue is not directed but corresponds to the action of the figures. The child can seem absorbed totally in the action. There is often a lot of activity. The child is often happy to play with sand alone, without symbols. It is common for children to finish quickly and/or suddenly. There may be very little dialogue between the counsellor and the child. There is mostly an internal reorganising without outer signs or discussion. The child will drop a lot of sand outside the sandtray. (Be prepared to vacuum after the session.)

610 years of age

The child makes stories with the symbols. The child sometimes verbalises the story and invites the facilitator to respond. (The facilitator can mirror, rather than agree or disagree.) The stories come from the unconscious and so deal with situations in symbolic form. They may be acted out dramatically like a film script. Situations represented in the sandplay refer primarily to everyday current events, such as school, pets, family. The child may not easily make conscious connections between the inner and outer life.

1013 years of age

All of the above points apply to children in this age group, although from about 11 years the scenes tend to be more static. The child may take great care and spend a lot of time creating the picture, to get it exactly as they want it. The child is more likely to want to release emotional energy in the play, for example roughly burying a symbol which represents an authority in their life. The child may want to play out a whole scenario from their life and to make it match the ideal they wish for.

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Sometimes when emotions are raw and strong, the child will make a neat, tidy, beautiful sandplay. They are not ready for the raw, strong part of themselves to emerge. The child may volunteer the connection with their inner life at the end of the sandplay.

From 14 years of age

The sandplay will often be much the same as any adult would make. There could be an emphasis on the emerging interest in sexuality. There could be themes of separation, power, futurism, relationship.

The themes of life change, transitions, changes in sense of purpose and direction, changes in career and relationship choices, workplace conflict and family dynamics are explored through sandplay. There is some resistance to feeling. Adults may have forgotten or resist the value of play as expression. There is a sense of urgency to get over the issue and move on. The sandplay can activate long forgotten feelings of value, preciousness, integrity and purpose. The sandplay can activate sadness, grief around past issues. Longed-for spiritual connections may be represented.

While most clients exhibit a wish to deal with their problems, a willingness to heal and a capacity for self-reflection, there are some situations in which sandplay and symbol work are not advised, for example if: the client show a strong resistance to sandplay the level of the crisis requires immediate action and there may be some environmental demands on the client sandplay and symbol work can be introduced later in the counselling relationship the level of emotionally reactive energy is high, and the client needs to proceed directly into some emotional release process work the client has a history of psychological instability, that is periods of hospitalisation for acute mental disorders the client has an active addiction and has not yet sought appropriate support for that addiction the client clearly exhibits an inability to differentiate between the symbolic world and reality, that is the clients ego-boundaries are absent (the distinctions between the inner world and the outer world are not clear) the vast choice of objects and the sense of freedom seem too threatening, as may be the case for some hyperactive clients in this case limit the work to one or two symbols at first.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

Some developmentally disabled clients will not respond well to sandplay. This approach would be of benefit after they have had extensive time with other modalities (see De Domenico, 1988).

Sandplay and nature

If you watch children play on a sandy beach you can see the joy, the relaxation, the freedom and the interactions involved in the sand creation, as well as in the destruction. Many children exhibit an in-built ability to resolve and release issues through play, particularly on the beach. However, we see many clients, both young and old, in the counselling room who, due to trauma or neglect, seem to have lost this ability to use play therapeutically. The sandplay sessions can quickly help reactivate these abilities. Symbol work can be conducted informally, using objects from nature, in a way that supports expressive play and provides a client with opportunities to communicate outside the formal setting.

The beach
Beaches contain all the essential ingredients of sandplay and symbol work: sand, water, symbols nature provides these generously. Outdoor work and group work at the beach, preferably an isolated or deserted beach, can be beneficial towards the end of a clients process. At the beach, work with whatever you find. Take a walk to collect objects such as sticks, driftwood, stones, shells, coral, leaves, seaweed, grasses, bones and debris, then settle in one place for focused play. Create a boundary for the sandplay by inscribing a rectangle or circle in the sand, or by shaping edges to the work space in the sand. Clients make sand formations, castles and landscapes, and play with channelling the water, creating dams and rivers, and protecting against the waves. Collecting shells and driftwood can be a fun, all-consuming activity for some. Walking on the beach looking for objects can be a focused time when discussion of important issues emerges naturally. The walking movement can support the inner movement of the psyche. Collecting in itself can arouse a sense of wonder something has been washed up from the depths! Some shells seem to contain mysteries; their shapes and colours can evoke or activate imagination or imaginative play. Some driftwood transforms itself into mythical creatures as you look.

Images of nature
Aspects of nature can be used in counselling work as a metaphor for symbolic expression, for example in active imagination, self-descriptions and artwork: weather: hot/cold, stormy, sunny, cloudy, windy etc. animals, birds, fish or insects the plant kingdom: trees, flowers, grasses etc. landscapes: jungles, deserts, tropical islands, grassy plains etc.
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In the garden, park or bushland you can: collect flowers, blades of grass, fallen twigs, pebbles etc. prescribe a work space with twigs or lines in the earth arrange what has been collected as you would in a sandplay or symbol work session the unconscious is always at work eager for a chance to express.

Using symbols in professional supervision

Rather than simply talking about strategies with clients and our problems and responses to clients, symbols can be used to allow our own deeper wisdom to emerge. In ERC supervision is defined as both discussion of client work and personal development. So often we find that when we deal with an issue internally, the client no longer represents a difficulty, and creative new ways forward emerge with ease. Following are two exercises using symbols that we have found very supportive in our supervision with colleagues.

Symbol work exercise for supervision

Unearthing problems, acknowledging success
1 Draw a large oval on a large sheet of paper or in the sandtray. This oval represents you. 2 Reflect and then select symbols that represent: the positive qualities you have that enable you to support clients the blocking or the cause of the blocking (if it is known) of the free expression of any of these qualities the areas of your work or any particular clients that make you feel anxious, or about which you need to learn more recent times in your work that were most satisfying. 3 Arrange all the symbols in and around the oval in a way that they relate to each other. Talk about your arrangement as you do it, if you wish. 4 As you arrange them, consider: which ones are close together whether any are facing towards each other or facing away whether any are dominating whether you notice any repeating patterns. 5 Where are there challenges that need further investigation? 6 Are there any positive elements which could be celebrated? 7 Use the symbol picture to draw out further discussion and delineate areas where guidance and possibly further exploration is needed.


Sandplay and Symbol Work

Symbol work exercise for supervision

Understanding difficult clients
1 Divide the sandtray in half. One half is designated me, the other the difficult client. 2 Select symbols that represent: the clients most difficult characteristics your own difficult characteristics the changes you would like to make in the client the changes you have wanted to make in yourself the main similarities between you both. 3 Select the symbol with the most energetic charge from each half of the sandtray, then discuss it. 4 Role-play using the symbols (see page 116). 5 Formulate and/or write a summary statement giving some of the reasons for the supervisees reactions. Note: New strategies can be formulated when any emotional reaction to the client has been dealt with.

Getting started with sandplay a six-point plan

1 Experience lots of it yourself. Engage in as many sandplay and symbol work sessions as you can, with a qualified counsellor, for your own exploration and development. Even though we have emphasised that facilitators should be non-interventionist and non-intrusive, and trust the clients innate healing mechanism, this does not mean that sandplay and symbol work require very little apart from enthusiasm and a basic understanding. 2 Undertake a training course with acknowledged professional trainers. This will deepen your understanding of the mechanisms of the process, the world of symbols, the process of transformation and the phenomenon of healing. 3 Read relevant respected texts (see page 120). Although sandplay is not something you can learn from books, discussion or lectures, reading about the discoveries and experiences of others can amplify and shed light on your own experience. 4 Begin your own figurine collection. Raid family toy boxes, spread the news through your extended family, scour discount shops, charity shops and Sunday markets. 5 Buy or build a sturdy sandtray. Find some washed river sand, usually available from landscape suppliers and some hardware stores. 6 Secure access to qualified supervision. Ongoing supervision with an experienced sandplay and symbol work therapist is essential. Some issues within you may only emerge after you have the experience of
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supporting others in your own work space. It is a normal response to have reactions about giving to others and to have aspects of your story activated by the stories of clients. These experiences simply need to be worked on regularly within individual or group supervision.

Advice for parents of child clients

Parents who are willing to make the effort to gain counselling support through sandplay and symbol work frequently ask if there is more they could do at home to support their child. Most parents who bring their children for counselling are already feeling stressed by some interpersonal or behavioural problems in the household. In offering advice it is essential not to add to the load of stress. Many parents carry recognised or not some guilt about their parenting skills. We try to give positive actions rather than suggesting that any areas may not be adequately attended to. There are ten suggestions that we offer parents.

Validate childrens feelings

The first and most important gem of advice that often seems revolutionary is to validate childrens feelings. This is not to be confused with allowing the childs feelings to dominate family decisions or for them to be dumped on family members. It is simply letting the child know that you are really hearing both what they are saying and what they are feeling, even if they may not be fully aware that they have activated feelings. Many of us have been brought up in an atmosphere where feelings had to be denied, or where they were belittled or modified, or where the response to feeling was to create some distraction. The idea here is simply to acknowledge what the child is feeling, without any immediate effort to do anything about the feeling. Often feelings will release or complete themselves if given acknowledgement.

Regularly ask about their feelings. Listen to their feelings. Acknowledge when their feelings are showing. Accept their feelings. Dont make them hide their feelings. Dont try to change their feelings.

Respect the impact of childhood scripts

Childhood scripts are a collection of unmet needs, incomplete feelings and disappointments from the past, as well as learned behaviour patterns. The past is often activated by a trigger. The child experiences present feelings and past reactions at the same time. A ten-year-old may have a hurt 96
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three-year-old inside just as a forty-year-old may have an emotionally wounded six-year-old calling for attention inside. This concept helps us understand over the top reactions in children. The present reactions also activate the past reactions which have been stored up inside. So know that your child may be hurting when behaviour is very reactive.

Like us, children too can have a wounded, needy part. Observe what triggers this part. Reactions are to do with the present and the past. Explore ways to help children feel and release the hurts of now and then.

Practise active listening

In conversation make an effort to really hear what children are saying about their feelings, rather than simply following the events of what they are saying. This is called active listening. Dont immediately try to fix up the problem or distract them from any difficult feelings. Acknowledge the feelings you hear. This helps the child become more aware and communicate more accurately. It means that you are: really hearing and acknowledging them allowing their feelings valuing them and their feelings. Their need for these three things is greater than their need to feel better immediately. Our children then learn by example to hear, allow and value themselves.

Listen for the feelings in what children say. Try not to interrupt. Relax yourself as you listen. Remember as you listen how important your child is. Realise that now is what is real to them.

Organise more expressive leisure activities

Children need more time to express and release the burdens of the day. In the normal development of a child there is a growing ability to cope with the stresses that come from the world around them by expressive play. Some children spend many hours in front of the television or computer. Apart from the quality of the shows that are presented, consider the act of watching itself: external stimulation comes to the child, so no release is possible. Expressive activities are ultimately more relaxing.

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Suggest that children do not watch TV straight after school, or for too long without some exercise. Support children to play and express. For example, build a sandpit and provide toys, rocks, sticks, water etc. to use in it. Encourage children to take long baths with lots of toys, dolls, containers etc. so that they can play. Give children time to play or communicate before bed, for example by drawing, colouring in, cooking, room-rearranging, listening to music, playing music.

Encourage children to talk about dreams

Listen to your children talk about their dreams. Dreams are a means for our unconscious to reveal, and deal with, what is happening deep inside us. Dreams can be more vivid after sandplay work. Help children by encouraging them to record their dreams either through writing or drawing. Encourage discussion and questions about their dreams without interpretation.

Pay attention to and explore the meaning of aches and pains

There is often emotional pain underneath physical tension or physical pain. By placing your hand on the part of your childs body that is tense or painful, you can support them in focusing within. Encourage them to take deep breaths. The breath will help them to connect to the underlying emotions. Ask a few simple questions of the pain to help it resolve, for example: Are you deep inside or near the surface? How big or small are you? Do you have a colour? Do you have a shape? Did someone cause you to be there? Is there anything more you would like to tell us? The child then does a drawing of how the pain or tension felt (see Emotional Release for Children, pages 109110).

Support emotional release

When a child is greatly upset, provide drawing pads and crayons. Suggest that they: Draw this big feeling on the paper. Use lines and colours to show what it looks like. How many pages or pictures does this feeling want to draw? Provide large cushions for anger release. I know you feel like hitting your brother but hit the cushion instead. If they seem disruptive or destructive, give them options for release. Let them know what they can do, for example You can draw all this feeling out, or hit the cushions or jump on the trampoline, or go for a ride on your bike Encourage this feeling to express until the release is complete. 98
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Provide integration time or integration activities after upsets

After an emotional upset allow some quiet time for children to be still with themselves. They need time to integrate, to let go of what has been happening. This can be helped by: drawing (have paper, crayons available) taking a long hot bath with lots of toys playing in a sandpit or digging in the dirt private journal writing (more so for older children) talking be available in case they want to open up with you, but never insist that they discuss their feelings.

Enjoy massage games within the family

Give foot, face, scalp or back massages to children, particularly at night before bed. This is often better than telling stories and helps them feel loved and safe, and to relax and sleep well.

Massage games
Shapes and letters on the childs back. Storytelling with actions on the back, shoulders and arms. Light stroking.

10 Address parents needs for their own personal development

It is quite normal for parents to need to make use of some professional support to deal with the emotional stresses of parenting. Dealing with your own internal problems is also helpful to your children. After experiencing and understanding your own emotions more fully and possibly dealing with your own inner hurts, you are more able to understand your childs behaviour and support their positive emotional growth. Learn how to feel positive about yourself so as to be a good model of self-esteem.

Get comfortable with your own feelings. Begin to heal your own hurtful childhood scripts. Get help to deal with any negative reactions to your children.

As well as gaining a conceptual overview, understanding the equipment, listening to case studies, understanding the role and methods of the counsellor and observing clients, there is nothing that can replace personal experience of the processes. A minimum of five free sandplays, along with supervised experience of the major symbol work exercises, is essential for gaining
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understanding and confidence with the inner workings of the process. To competently offer self-discovery questions rather than direct the process or explain it to the client, the facilitator must know from personal experience that this is the most empowering approach. Personal experience with qualified facilitators supports the practice of being quiet, and feeling the shift within the consciousness from needing to interact, interrupt, interpret and direct, to allowing, accepting and encouraging. The depth of sandplay is not quickly and easily learned. Without adequate preparation for supporting clients in this way it is easy to miss the chance sandplay offers for deep connection and integration within the client. Being comfortable with silence often essential for clients to integrate, assimilate and reach new insights and being in a watchful yet relaxed mood to allow time for the story or feelings to emerge, is learned when the student explores sandplay and symbol work in the client role. Since sandplay and symbol work is effective on many levels, it is possible that a caring counsellor, in the early stages of training in sandplay, could support a client to achieve some clarity or emotional benefit. However, since the early stages of sandplay can sometimes dredge up issues, feelings and energies from deeper in the psyche, it is ideal that the counsellor or therapist is capable and confident in providing the free and protected space to support this. Ruth Ammann (1991) points out that the counsellor has a responsibility to undertake adequate training before taking a client into a process which may appear superficially simple. It could be like expecting to be able to join the Olympic rowing team simply because you have read about rowing or watching others row, but not having had the personal experience. Ryce-Menuhin (1992) claims that the experience of the sandplay process on a personal basis under the guidance of a qualified sandplay therapist is fundamental and required of all persons wishing to train in this field. In this approach the counsellor is not doing something to the client. For effective transformational and healing work, the counsellor needs to be able to not do. Traditional counselling training provides a counsellor with things to do, things to say and different ways to intervene, and may deal primarily with the ego level of consciousness. We have found that it is the transformational effect of learning by doing our own sandplays and pursuing our own personal development that forms a solid background for the new sandplay skills. The experience of a non-judgemental space, of the feeling that it is safe for our depths to emerge, prepares us to work with others. This way of being both with our own inner process and also with a client can only be gained through personal experience and practice over time. Personal experience can prepare and hasten a paradigm shift in the trainee sandplay counsellor. This shift is based on personal trust in the in-built healing mechanisms of the psyche. Experiences of this mechanism at work inside the counsellor help the development of trust within the client.


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One of the aims of this book has been to counteract the impression that sandplay is an unscientific, unresearched phenomenon which has little or no clinical basis. At the same time weve tried to share our enthusiasm for the non-interpretive, client-based approach, essential for the successful use of sandplay. Although there has been much research into sand and symbols, the way is still open for more discoveries about its application. There are more applications for the use of the symbols than weve been able to discuss in this book. Some are in development and still untested, some are being introduced informally in educational settings, personal development programs and in individual counselling sessions. Outside the formal counselling context, we know of the use of symbols in the teaching of creative writing, the development of literacy and verbal expression in schools, and the resolution of workplace conflict. We hope this book will encourage therapists to explore further possibilities for symbol work exercises, while never neglecting the power of Dora Kalffs original undirected work in the free and protected space. Quite rightly, there is today a requirement of solid research into the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions. Further research into the effectiveness of using sand and symbols as compared to other counselling models would be valuable. Most of the research into sandplay has been qualitative and primarily supported by case studies. While there is research evidence that cognitive/behavioural therapy (CBT) leads to positive results, we are not aware of any longitudinal studies comparing gains made using CBT with gains made using sandplay or ERC. The extensive body of sandplay literature confirms our own clinical observations over the last fourteen years: that it has in most cases both short and long-term benefits in terms of positive behaviour changes and sustainable emotional well-being. Part of the value of including the use of symbols in educational programs is that it facilitates a positive shift in attitude and a clarifying of cognition 101

both important steps in the successful application of contemporary behaviour management approaches. We have seen that sandplay and symbol work aid metacognition thinking about thinking so that a client can think more clearly and make more rational choices. What may appear at first to those not familiar with sandplay to be a largely imagination/emotion-based approach frequently brings results aimed for by cognitive and behaviour management approaches. At the time of going to press, Mark is researching the opinions of school counsellors and guidance officers in Australia who have trained in sandplay, on the application, efficacy and outcomes of using sand and symbols in school settings. The authors welcome any feedback in this area. Sandplay and symbol work are swiftly growing in popularity in Australian educational, counselling and social work settings. We hope that this means a continuing increase in the numbers of therapists, counsellors, educators, community workers and decision makers finding their way to recognised sandplay training courses. Unfortunately, we hear of many counsellors who attend a one-day introductory workshop and believe that is all that is required to use these techniques. We cannot overstate the need for a counsellor to undergo a large number of their own sandplay sessions, with supervision, in order to understand the power and logic of the techniques. Many adults attending our personal development workshops or participating in our Diploma course find that they gain a good deal of clarity around their own spiritual questions. It seems to be a feature of the sand and symbol work that spiritual needs, qualities and directions easily emerge. There has been a cultural shift over the years we have been using these methods which has legitimised the search for spiritual understanding outside organised religious settings. Sandplay does help people define their personal and collective spirituality, and clarify their own path of development. The authors do not regard either sandplay or symbol work as do-it-yourself tools for the healing journey. No matter how skilful we are, we cannot facilitate or act as our own therapist. We can observe our own psyche and its process of growth, but lasting change and effective reconstituting of imprints in our psyche cannot be achieved from an ego level of awareness. We recommend you seek qualified support in using sandplay or any of the methods described in this book. It is now ten years since Dora Kalffs death. The International Society for Sandplay Therapy will publish a commemorative edition of the Journal of Sandplay Therapy, reviewing the development of sandplay around the world in the last ten years. It is good to know that Australia, which was formerly considered by the international sandplay community to be in the dark, has over the last decade stepped out from the shadows. Helen Wilson Mark Pearson Turnaround Training Centre Brisbane May 2000 102
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Sandplay stories

William aged 7 years

Williams parents separated when he was quite young. When he was referred for counselling he was angry, not achieving well at school, and physically and verbally abusing his mother. He had begun to damage household property during his angriest outbursts. The relationship between Williams parents was extremely brittle. His father had remarried and Williams presence was not welcomed by his stepmother. On his first visit William stated quite firmly that part of the problem was that he was a very creative person. His first sandplay (shown in part in photo 1) encompassed two sandtrays and the entire therapy room. The scene depicted a huge battle between two opposing forces with a great ocean between them. Time was imperative and William kept saying that there was not much time before everything was going to be blown to pieces and everyone would die. He outlined the nature of the war that was raging there were no good guys or bad guys, just killing and fighting. What were the two sides fighting for? He said that each one believed they should own all the land and wanted to drive the other side out. After completion of the sandplay and the strategic placement throughout the room of troops and weapons, William was asked which of the symbols he felt was most like him. He chose a small aeroplane which he described as a bomber which flew over the whole battle scene dropping bombs on everything. William then picked up the bomber and flew it over the entire scene, swooping, diving and making bombing noises and repeating, Quick, theres only a few seconds left before the whole world gets blown up, Quick, everything is going to be blown apart. This sandplay was a typical reflection of the first stage of the sandplay process the chaos stage. It clearly indicated the inner and outer battles in Williams life. The whole of his psychic landscape was at war and if help didnt come then total destruction would result. He was restless, his energy was urgent and yet he had a very clear ability to depict the inner forces. 103

Williams second sandplay (photo 2) still reflects a scene of chaos and struggle. Again the scene created was a battlefield with opposing forces. Again the scene filled two sandtrays, but this time only part of the therapy room. Now the forces were battling over hidden treasure. Williams energies were beginning to focus and not take up so much of the emotional and psychological space in his life. He had begun the search for the jewels of his own psyche. At this stage his mother reported positive improvements in his reading ability at school. Williams third sandplay brought with it a sense of growing order. Battling forces were still fighting over hidden treasure. In the week since Williams last visit, seeds from the grasses he used in the sandtray had sprouted and small living grass stalks had emerged from the sand in the tray. When the tray was wheeled out William was amazed at what had taken place. He carefully removed each one of the grass seedlings and put them aside. The battle scene was then created and war raged. At the end of his sandplay William removed all the symbols and gently replanted each one of the grass seedlings. His grass patch sandplay is photo 3. The next session involved a jungle scene in which the gorilla was very angry (photo 4). There was a tiny birds nest carefully placed in a tree. The nest had tiny pearl eggs which William placed in there. The scene in the tray contained living representations of nature rather than the harsh, deadened depictions in earlier trays. Instead of collecting dead grasses from the garden and bush, William chose green leaves and branches of trees. After completing the sandtray and talking about it, William went to the place where he had hidden the treasure in the therapy room. He then carefully placed the treasure at regular intervals around the edge of the sandtray. Williams next sandplay reflected significant change. The scene (photo 5) was a nature scene. Each tray had a number of serpents either in the tray or on the edge of the tray. There was an eagle in the lower right-hand corner, a dragonfly, a dinosaur, a butterfly in the extreme top left-hand corner and a bird in a tree in the mid-left-hand side. The gorilla was placed under a canopy of yellow flowers and there was a dinosaur in the left-hand tray also. William described the pine cones in the sandtrays as big buildings. He hid the treasure in another part of the therapy room but this time, instead of putting a He-Man action figure on guard, he put a skeleton. Perhaps this skeleton was a symbol of the death of the need to be like a He-Man to guard his inner treasure. Outside the tray William described the floor as a dangerous ocean in which he placed a hippopotamus, a lobster and other dangerous sea creatures. Williams sixth sandplay (photo 6) showed a calmer, more reflective scene a central lake, trees animals, insects. It also contained a leaf from a lily pad gathered during a nature walk we regularly took before commencing the sandplay. William christened these nature walks his walk on the wild side. The walks become symbolic of his journey. Elements of his emerging material which could not be acted out in the confines of the session room were acted out in our large bushland garden. Initially, many enemies were spotted 104
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and killed; danger lurked behind every clump of tall grass and in every tree. There was a huge excitement about exploring the garden, but fear of what we might find spiders, toads etc. Finally, during one of our regular walks the one in which William collected the lily pad for his sandplay he reported to his mother that we had been on a walk and we didnt need any guns. It seemed that life and the world was becoming far less dangerous and threatening to William. In the sandtray William had been able to express the chaotic conflict inside of himself. Each sandtray brought about an easing of the tension about how he experienced the world a re-focusing of the lens through which he viewed life. By the time Williams last sandtray was created his academic performance had improved dramatically, work in remedial classes had reduced significantly and the hostility in his relationship towards his mother had eased. Their connection has become more open, more communicative and his behaviours less abusive towards her. Sadness and frustration at the changed relationship with his father remains unresolved at this stage, but when returning from access visits he can now verbalise his hurt and anger rather than internalising it and acting it out on his mother or school colleagues. William is now much gentler on himself and no longer strives to portray a tough guy image. His creativity is now finding new channels for expression his walks on the wild side continue but we now occasionally go armed with a camera instead of guns. An interest in both nature and photography has replaced the fear of hidden dangers in nature and the need to constantly be on guard against ambush.

Cassie aged 6 years

Cassie was just six years old and living with her maternal grandparents after being assessed as a child at great risk and removed from her mother. At school each day she spent a lot of time crying without being able to verbalise her upsets. On her second visit Cassie did a sandplay (photo 7) and built a scene of a frozen world. This world was a land of ice and snow where everything entering it died because it is so cold. She told me that nothing could survive in there. There was a little girl, her father, a mother, some dolphins and fish. Significantly, prior to putting any of the symbols in the tray Cassie marked out a cross in the centre of the sand. In this session Cassie was unemotional, detached, cold and seemed quite frozen in her relationship with the world, with her grandparents and with the therapist. Cassies next sandplay (photo 8) showed a very different world. In this sand picture the central theme was a little girl who had found a path home to mother. There was danger in the ocean and Cassie said that she would not go near the ocean (the turtles were dangerous she said). In the top righthand corner was a woman who had to travel across a bridge to reclaim the treasure but had first to get past a person holding a Stop! sign. Cassies picture carried the message that there were some frightening things that she didnt want to face at this stage (the turtles in the ocean) and there was hope
Sandplay stories


in finding a path back to her mother. As well, there was a treasure to be reclaimed. The lighthouse in the top left-hand corner remained unexplored. Cassies third and final sandplay (photo 9) was, she said, a funeral. But it was a happy funeral. Two people had died and been buried, but friends came to wave goodbye and there were lots of flowers. In this sandplay, the final symbol to be placed was the circle of silver beads. Placement of the beads made a mandala-type picture which had a very calming effect on Cassie. The final picture depicted a more centred, calmer state. The funeral seemed to represent an end to tensions and fears in Cassie. After completion of this sandplay Cassie began to talk more openly with her grandparents about some of the trauma she had experienced; she was able to share her fears of the dark and her nightmares.

Barry aged almost 10 years

Barry came for just one sandplay session. On arrival he was hostile and resistant to speaking or coming into the therapy room. Eventually he looked inside the door and saw a sandtray with a completed sandplay and asked if he could do some of that stuff. He created the scene in photo 10. During the session Barry said very little. Despite the chaotic scene which he created, he placed each figure with care. His only comment was that everyone is at war ... everyone is fighting and being killed. Barrys parents had separated a few weeks after the birth of his second sibling. His father had since remarried and had a child with his second wife. His mother was feeling very stressed with other younger children to care for and was still experiencing grief and shock from the separation and divorce. Barry had had a very close relationship with his father prior to the separation they had worked on many projects together and had lots of times of rambling and camping together. Since the separation Barry had seen his father only occasionally. At the end of the session Barry stood up to leave the therapy room. As he went to walk out he spied some colourful glass balls on the treasure shelf. He picked up five of the glass balls and a small handful of coloured glass wishing stones. He threw the balls and the wishing stones into the tray and said There! Now Im done and left the room.

Jason aged 11 years

Jason lived in substitute care and was not thriving. Quite a few of his care placements had broken down because of his behaviour. His current placement was also at risk. His mother had committed suicide and his father had remarried within a short space of time after Jasons mothers death. Christmas was approaching and his perception was that he would not be permitted to rejoin his father and two siblings for Christmas unless his behaviour improved and unless he could prove he could be responsible. Jasons first sandplay (photo 11) involved the creation of a mountain with a king on the top. The king had lots of guards around the base of his mountain but these guards were fighting each other. There was a tiny black cat in 106
Sandplay and Symbol Work

the top left-hand corner of the tray. This represented Jasons real-life cat. He expressed a lot of love for his cat and talked about his joy in caring for it. There were rocks in the sandplay which Jason described as doorways to underground caves in the mountain. After the sandplay was completed Jason was asked what was in the underground caves and the answer was treasure. Jason then did a role-play exercise, becoming the King of the Mountain. The King furiously poured molten lava down on all the morons and idiots below. After this sandplay Jason went for a swim and began to speak freely about difficulties he was having with his substitute care situation. He felt discriminated against in the foster household but felt powerless to say anything or do anything. He also spoke freely and clearly about what he felt he needed in his relationship with foster parents. Jasons second sandtray (photo 12) was a minefield created during a session in which he seemed very flat, depressed and unhappy. Christmas was getting closer and the hope of spending Christmas with his family seemed a remote possibility now. In this creation Jason took great care to make many holes in the foreground of the sand picture and then carefully chose the symbols from the shelf. He chose three very angry symbols, three very sad symbols and three symbols which he said went with the panicky feeling he gets inside. He then chose a fabric sand-filled lizard because it reminded him of feeling very strong and good about himself. He also chose a cat symbol because it was beautiful like his real-life cat. Jason did not place all these in the tray. He chose one from each category a spider, a purple doll, the cat, the sand-filled lizard and a radio. These symbols were placed in the minefield. The radio didnt care if it was going to be blown up because it had no feelings. The spider was afraid that it wasnt going to make it home because it had so many legs and therefore knew it could not avoid being blown to pieces. The purple doll wanted to die anyway because it was in such pain and wanted to go to heaven where it would be out of pain. The sand lizard knew that it would probably be blown up but felt helpless it couldnt stop it happening. The cat could see home from where it was in the minefield, but wasnt sure that it could make it home. The purple doll was the first to fly out of the minefield. God had seen the pain it was in and had decided that he (God) did not want this doll to die and performed a miracle so that it didnt step on any mines. The radio was blown up it didnt really care. The spider made it through the minefield because its legs were so thin that it was able to walk carefully. The spider was happy then. The sand lizard made it through the minefield, but a land mine exploded right at the end and damaged its tail. The cat made it through the minefield because it was able to walk very gently, as cats do. Those that made it through the minefield went to grateful, happy homes.

James aged 14 years

James was struggling to embrace the internal shifts from childhood to adolescence. In addition, his parents had separated some three years before and the
Sandplay stories


separation had come as a shock to James. He had enjoyed a good relationship with both parents but when they separated he felt a responsibility to stay with his father because his father would otherwise be too lonely. His mother had moved to another city and contact with her, although regular, was not frequent. In his first session James was reluctant to talk about his life or to express anything about what he wanted or how he really felt about the separation. He created the sandplay in silence and relayed the story afterwards (photo 13). This, he said, was a land where animals had humans as pets. There was a cheetah taking a human for a walk on a lead in the top right-hand portion of the tray. There was a land where pigs had parties; the elephants were heading home and there was a God in his boat on a beautiful lake. James identified the most important part of the sand picture as the burial ground in the centre. He said that the glass stones were not colourful enough and he wished there were brighter colours. In his second sandplay (photo 14) the central burial ground appeared again but this time James used natural stones and a native mask. The sandtray contained many archetypal symbols, Excalibur, the eagle and serpent, four Chinese wisdom figures and quartz crystals all placed with care and precision. James left this sandplay session without comment. James seemed to be working through issues of establishing his identity, finding his new land without home and family the way it used to be. His sandplays reflected elements of change, death, new life and a strong connection to an inner spiritual strength and sense of order.

Veneta aged 15 years

One week after Venetas fifth birthday her mother suicided. Three months after her seventh birthday Venetas father committed suicide. Venetas remaining family was a sibling just two years older than her as well as maternal and paternal grandparents. The families had become hostile to one another and there was a breakdown in the normal family caring arrangements. Veneta and her sister were moved interstate to live with relatives. There she became depressed, the living arrangement broke down and Veneta was eventually hospitalised in a psychiatric unit for a brief time. Her prognosis for the future did not look promising. She had been assessed and was classified as at risk for potential suicide even though this was assessed as a low-level risk. Venetas experiences left her highly traumatised. She felt that there were times at which she become physically, emotionally and verbally paralysed. Sandplay was offered but Veneta was initially reluctant to engage with the sand and symbols. Instead she created worlds and action, to help integrate her experiences, in the many stories and poems she wrote during her time in therapy. At one point in her therapeutic work she used plastic letters to spell out a message in a sandtray. The message was spread your wings and fly. Finally Veneta asked if she could do a sandplay (photo 15). This was an important step because she had identified a therapeutic technique that she 108
Sandplay and Symbol Work

wanted rather than going along with something offered to her. The scene created showed a winding road with bridges. The road began with mediaeval knights battling each other. The next step on the road showed a jungle. An angry ape could not fit in the jungle so had to be placed on its own in the top right-hand corner of the tray. Leaving the jungle, an alien stood by the side of the road. Next there were crashed cars one was overturned. The next point of interest on the road was some small bottles and an upturned cup. These represented alcohol and drinking alcohol. Veneta talked about this road. In summary she said it was how she felt it all starts with the fighting, everybodys fighting, then she feels angry, then she feels like an alien, things crash and ultimately she wants to drink and get drunk. The sad dog in the middle of the tray was just a sad dog sitting by the side of the road. On her next visit Veneta drew a happy face in the sand (photo 16). She chose three symbols but after choosing she said they could not go in the sandtray because they just dont belong in there with the happy face. She explained the three symbols (photo 17) as the part that wants to control everything (man in black suit and bowler hat), the part that wants to have fun and be silly (reclining elf) and the part that was hopeful (star carefully placed by Veneta on elfs shoulder). The next session (photo 18) brought a sandplay which showed hope for the future for Veneta. In the tray she created two scenes. On the left-hand side was herself as a child. Her mother was the pink fairy figure in the middle of the tray. This side of the tray she identified as her life as a child. On the right-hand side Veneta placed symbols of people with disabilities. She said this represented the people she was going to help when she grew up people like herself who were hurt. In the foreground she placed a golden sailing ship and on the top mast she placed a small human figure with a telescope. Veneta explained that this was herself sailing towards an unknown future but looking ahead to it. The next sandplay (photo 19) showed a tree in the top left-hand corner representing a tree Veneta had planted to commemorate her mothers birthday. The cross and child in the middle represented the death of her mother. The figures in the lower left-hand corner represented herself and her mother. Behind the cardboard screen symbols were placed for all the things about Veneta which her mother would now not be able to take part in her first boyfriend, her graduation from university and her wedding. Veneta had asked for a screen which could not be seen through and so chose the piece of cardboard to state the fact that her mother would never see Venetas life. The angels placed throughout the sandplay were the angels Veneta felt were watching over her as she went through life. At the time of this publication Veneta continues to work with the therapeutic process and her journey, using sandplay and ERC. She is a strong, bright, energetic young woman whose wish is to help young people, like herself, who have to face, overcome and integrate trauma.

Sandplay stories


Nathan aged 11 years

Two of Nathans sandplays carried themes of chaos and destruction (photos 20 and 21). He presented as an emotionless, disconnected young person. The issues which brought him to sandplay and symbol work therapy were parental separation several years prior, physical aggression with two younger siblings, verbal abuse of parents, unwillingness to cooperate with parental requests and inappropriate responses in the school setting. Nathan worked well in the sand and created complex scenes of interaction. Immediately after telling the sandplay story he would enact sudden and absolute destruction of the whole scene. Everyone was killed off, everything was destroyed. Among the symbols there was always an authority figure (identified by Nathan) who had ordered the killings and destruction for no apparent reason, but then this authority figure would also be killed because, according to Nathan, there was an unknown, even higher, authority figure behind the boss man. In his next sandplay (photo 22) Nathan chose two alien figures as the central symbols. There were people standing around screaming because they were afraid of the aliens. The aliens too were screaming because they were scared of the humans. The aliens clung to each other but then the scene ended up in the usual chaos and everyone, including the aliens, was killed. Nathans last sandtray was very different (photo 23). This time he began to create the chaos as before but then decided he needed a small lake which then became a bigger lake and then an ocean. He eventually moved to an empty sandtray and built a small bar of sand against one