What is the value of a experiencing a feeling fully during the processing phase of a sandtray session? Actually, allowing oneself to experience feelings fully has several payoffs. First, there is an issue of being comfortable with what goes on in my own skin. How comfortable am I with my own experience? I like to call it being at home with myself. Being at peace with one’s own issues is invaluable. Do I have to wall off certain experiences in myself or am I able to lean into them? Second, it relates to a law of nature that I have discovered. In order to move through an experience or feeling, I must experience it fully. Rogers (1989) noted that once “a troubling feeling has been felt to its full depth and breadth, one can move on. It is an important part of movement in the process of change” (p. 151).
Now, I would like to focus on how to go deeper with a client. Imagine that your adult client is struggling in her marriage. You have asked her to create a sandtray scene of her marriage. In her scene, she positions the miniature representing her husband on one end of the tray and her figure on the other end. As she is processing the scene, she says, “I don’t love him anymore, but I’m afraid to leave him.” If you have ever worked with couples or clients who are struggling with their marriage, I am sure that you’ve heard something similar to this statement. In this approach to therapy, we call this kind of statement a polarity.
Let us look at some possible options for responding to the client who does not love her husband. It is critical to notice the polarity in the client’s statement. One option for the therapist would be to ask the client which of the two parts (part 1-do not love him, part 2-afraid to leave him) she is more aware of now. I might say, “Right now, are you more aware of the part of you that doesn’t love him or the part that is afraid to leave?” Let us say that she says she is more aware of the part of her that is afraid. I might ask, “Do you feel the fear right now?” If she says yes, I might say, “What is the fear like? Describe it to me.”