What is Sandplay

I am often asked about Sandplay and how it is used in personal coaching sessions. Sandplay works through the use of active imagination and creative symbolic play and is a practical, tool that helps you create a bridge from the conscious to the unconscious mind, from the mental and spiritual to the physical daily understanding and from the nonverbal to the verbal.

The following description is borrowed from an unknown author so apologies for the lack of referencing. The coach provides a safe and accepting environment in which you can allow your inner voice to speak. Sandplay allows you to access your innermost feelings and represent images as to what is happening in your outer world. By making concrete what your unconscious inner voice is expressing, you bring your own relationship with yourself into reality and this allows unconscious material to be revealed.

Sandplay takes many forms. The connection with the sand helps you to ground and centre yourself and often takes a person back to a childhood memory. Some clients use no objects at all; they touch the sand, make formations in the sand, and even write in the sand. (So it’s really easy to use on the beach – weather permitting). Some people use very few objects and some use many, some use the sand dry and some wet it with water. Some build their world very quickly, others reflect, some create a static world, others an ongoing and moving story. Some report the experience as centering and tranquil, others experience deep emotions and reconnect with past pain. There is no right way or outcome and as the Coach, I trust that each client will do what s/he needs to do at that moment in time.

I will be as aware as possible of your biases, values, preferences and unresolved issues so as to be present with you at your pace. It supports a gentle conversation. Sandplay is an addition to other coaching tools and techniques. It works well with visualisation and imagery, body work and movement, art therapy, outcome thinking and timelines if you have worked with these previously. If not it is an invitation to come and play in a safe environment, to reflect and to gain insights into your own make-up.

Where did Sandplay originate?

 Sandplay started with the sand paintings of the Navajo religion where ritual sand pictures were used for healing as well as divination, exorcism and the passing down of legend and history. These activated psychic energies and helped pass from one state of mind to another; in addition, they enhanced communication between the participants.

The use of the Sandtray goes back to the 1920’s where it was used as a therapeutic process for children. This practice then re-enforced Jung’s advice on the use of imagination and creativity in the growth process. Margaret Lowfield took this forward, believing that play provided an environment for expansive thinking in adulthood and in the 1950’s Dora Kalff, one of her students started to lecture and train other Jungian therapists.

In the 1980’s Gisela de Domenico conducted research in the use of Sandplay with couples, families and groups of people and the healing process that occurs during the different phases of the process.

Sandplay is now being used as an add-on to therapy as well as Coaching, with both verbal and non-verbal approaches. There are no rigid rules and interpretations. It is used for trauma cases, inpatient mental health facilities, schools, retreats for personal growth and businesses.

Benefits of Sandplay

  •  The images become a language through which to communicate difficult or hard to verbalise material
  • It utilises most of the senses
  • Defence mechanisms are by-passed as it is non-threatening
  • It invites spontaneous play, no right or wrong way
  • The process of play helps you move from feeling like a “victim of experiences” to a “creator of experiences”
  • It enables me to do highly personal work, sometimes ‘content free’, so you only share what you want to
  • Deep transformational work evolves through the use of kinaesthetic movement as well as imagery
  • As in every-day life the solution evolves while respecting the past and using the past as a springboard for the future


Further reading

 Sandplay – Silent Workshop of the Psyche, Kay Bradway and Barbara McCoard

Sandplay – a psychotherapeutic approach to psyche, D.M. Kalff

Sand tray world play; a comprehensive guide to the use of sand tray play in therapeutic transformational settings, G.S. De Domenico

I offer sandplay sessions for individuals and pairs, working with personal and organisational issues on a half or full day basis. Contact dr.sallyvanson@gmail.com for further information and an informal discussion.

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