Sandplay in Jungian Analysis
by Karen Kurtz, Jungian Analyst © 2009
Origins of Sandplay Therapy
“Sandplay Therapy” was developed as a psychotherapeutic tool by Swiss Jungian psychologist Dora Kalff (1904-1990). Kalff studied with British child psychiatrist Margaret Lowenfeld*, who is generally credited with pioneering the therapeutic use of miniature figures in sand trays. Lowenfeld recognized in her work with children that there were parts of the psyche which cannot be expressed in words. She saw that if children were given adequate space for play, their non-verbal thinking would spontaneously be expressed symbolically. Dora Kalff quickly realized that Lowenfeld’s methods could be enriched by applying the concepts of Jungian Depth Psychology.
Dora Kalff’s son, Dr. Martin Kalff, writes that his mother originally used this nonverbal method exclusively with children. However, upon seeing the transformative changes occurring in children through sandplay, she soon began offering sandplay therapy to her adult clients as well. The effectiveness of Kalff’s method for accessing unconscious feelings and bringing order to chaotic content in the psyche has been well documented through decades of sandplay therapy throughout the world.
In our sand tray room there is a wall full of figurines representing all sorts of people, animals, mythological characters, and objects found in the world. A rectangular tray of white sand provides the “landscape” for a scene, which is created by adding miniature figures to the tray. Martin Kalff observes that the sandplay technique creates “a space that awakens and supports the self-healing strengths of the patients.”
Over a period of weeks, a series of scenes are made in the sand tray, which activates a dialogue between the conscious and unconscious aspects of one’s psyche. The conscious mind, or ego, relaxes its control, allowing what lies at a deeper level in the psyche to rise to the surface. One does not “plan” a scene in the sand; rather, the scene is allowed to spontaneously evolve. The ego steps back and is simply “curious.” To activate an attitude of curiosity, one might try thinking, “I wonder what image will show up in the sand today.”
One client describes his sand tray experience in this way:
When I first sit down [at the tray] I try to just watch while my hands move the sand around. Maybe I’ll add water to the sand so I can define the landscape more. Then I look over the figures on the shelves and I’m drawn toward certain ones. . . I seem to know they belong in the scene. At some point I know the tray is finished. Sometimes the tray is completed in 15 minutes; other times I spend close to an hour. It’s been years since I’ve given myself permission to play like this. It is wonderful! And there is always something meaningful to me about the scene I’ve created. Sometimes it can be quite moving.
The importance of “Play”
This client has touched on a key to the sandplay method. Giving oneself permission to play is difficult for many of us. But, as Martin Kalff notes, “…we often observe that the therapy really gets started at the precise moment the client is able to surrender to the play. This is a highly valuable creative process, because fears, tensions and fixed ideas begin to fall away, quite unintentionally. Deep changes in feeling are activated by the emerging sandplay pictures…” 
The images that appear in the sand tray come from the unconscious where internal conflicts, emotions and forgotten potentials are waiting to be expressed. The unconscious takes an active role in the selection of the figures, in their placement in the tray, and in the shaping of the sand.
In sandplay, as with other forms of expressive arts, images bridge to parts of the unconscious which have no words. New attitudes and insights often develop through this process; inner order is gradually restored. Sandplay moves one toward a greater sense of an integrated self; that is, toward wholeness. And wholeness is the aim of the individuation process.
 Turner, Barbara A. (2005) The Handbook of Sandplay Therapy. Cloverdale, CA: Temenos Press, 691.
*Lowenfeld’s World Technique, c. 1929, was a therapy which allowed children to spontaneously fashion with small toy figures miniature worlds and scenes in what she called “the wonder box.” Lowenfeld wanted an instrument that allowed for the direct expression of the mental and emotional experience of the child, without intervention of an adult by transference or interpretation.
 Kalff, Dora M. (2003) Sandplay: A Psychotherapeutic Approach to the Psyche. Cloverdale, CA: Temonos Press, Forward by Dr. Martin Kalff, xiii.
 Ibid., viii.
 Ibid., viii.
 Ibid., xi.