The Jungian approach to sandtray is known as sandplay. The term sandplay was coined by Kalff (1971) who described the process as ?a union of opposites through the act of playing? (Kalff, 1981, p.vii). Bradway (2006) described three distinguishing characteristics of sandplay: process, delayed interpretation and dual processes.

Bradway (2006) explained that sandplay is a process that ?requires the patient’s making a succession of trays. It was when Kalff noted that a series of trays showed a ?process of individuation described by C.G. Jung? guided by the ?unconscious totality? that sandplay was born? (p. 2).

By delayed interpretation, Bradway (2006) meant that the focus of sandplay is on the patient?s unconscious rather than any intervention by the therapist. It is the nonverbal understanding of images that help therapists stay attuned to what is going on in the sandplayer. When interpretations take place months and even years after the completion of the process, it is a mutual experience with input from both therapist and sandplayer (p. 2).

According to Weinrib (2005), the dual processes in sandplay involve analytical interpretation and deliberate regression into the preconscious. She stated that analytical interpretation included ?concrete daily life events, as well as unconscious material such as dreams, fantasies and active imagination? (p. 50). Deliberate regression is necessary so that ?the wounds of inadequate mothering can be soothed and healed, not by talking or thinking, but by regression back to infancy? (p. 50).

To summarize, sandplay involves the creation of numerous trays over a period of time in which a process of individuation can be observed by the therapist and client. When a client creates a scene in a tray, the therapist does not intervene nor does he/she interpret the tray until months or possibly years after the tray was created. The focus of sandplay is on gradual analytical interpretation and on a process of regression through which clients experience healing.

Humanistic Sandtray

Bradway (2006) describes sandtray as a ?generic term? and sandplay as a specific method. To an extent I agree with the word generic but only when it sandtray is used generally. Humanistic sandtray is a very specific method just as sandplay is but with very different goals and foci. Some sandtray practitioners use sandtray as a technique without theoretical support but the humanistic approach to sandtray is grounded in counseling theory in much the same way as sandplay. Sandplay views the client through the Jungian lens and humanistic sandtray through the humanistic one.

First, I would like to discuss some similarities in the two approaches. Like sandplay, humanistic sandtray is a process but the process in humanistic sandtray does not have to stretch over a period of months or years; it can occur in one session. Jungian sandplay looks at a process of individuation while humanistic sandtray looks at a process of experiencing in the moment. The here and now is the focus of the humanistic approach and the therapist helps to facilitate an experience of growth and awareness (Armstrong, 2008). Both approaches are intuitive, indirect, metaphorical, and bypass the usual defenses that clients erect. Both Jungian sandplay and humanistic sandtray therapists value and stress the importance of the therapist being attuned to the client. In both approaches, clients express themselves magically in a safe world created by them using self-created metaphors. In addition, sandplay and humanistic sandtray provide a healing process that allows clients to work through past wounds and pain.

Second, I would like to focus on important differences in the approaches. In sandplay, the therapist does not intervene with the client once the tray is created. Instead, the therapist keeps the focus on the unconscious of the client. By contrast, the humanistic sandtray therapist is actively involved in facilitating an experience of awareness and growth. Verbalization is an important part of a humanistic sandtray therapy session. Analysis, which is a delayed part of Jungian sandplay therapy is only a part of humanistic sandtray therapy after the fact. Here and now awareness rather than analysis and interpretation are the focus of the humanistic approach.

A deep and trusting relationship is critical in the humanistic approach and only when clients trust the therapist to a significant degree is sandtray introduced (Armstrong, 2008). Given the here and now, feeling-based nature of humanistic sandtray, the experience is too threatening to clients without a deep bond to the therapist. The core conditions of empathy, unconditional positive regard and genuineness (congruence) are essential elements of humanistic sandtray therapy and the therapist assists the client in a process of exploration of self. In sandplay, movement occurs over time while significant movement may occur in one session of humanistic sandtray. The healing process in humanistic sandtray is also quite different from the one describe above in sandplay. The healing in sandplay is without words but in humanistic sandtray, verbal expression is part of the healing process in which old wounds are felt and if clients are brave enough, they let go of deep pain, guilt and resentments.

Thus, the humanistic approach stresses a more active role for the sandtray therapist, an emphasis on the here and now and emotional experiencing in the client, a deep and trusting relationship between therapist and client and a process of facilitating awareness and growth that includes expression and exploration of feelings. All of these characteristics are a contrast to sandplay and define the uniqueness of humanistic sandtray therapy.

Armstrong, S. A. (2008). Sandtray therapy: A humanistic approach. Dallas, TX: Ludic Press.

Bradway, K. (2006). What is sandplay? Journal of Sandplay Therapy, 15(2), 7.

Weinrib, E. (2005). Introduction to sandplay and creativity. Journal of Sandplay Therapy, 14(2), p.49.

If you are interested in learning more about sandtray, check out our 6-part sandtray therapy training videos.