Midterm--History of Sandtry Therapy Student #2

by Julie Berger
(Atlanta, GA, USA)

The History of Sand Tray Therapy

Dr. Margaret Lowerfeld, British pediatrician and child psychiatrist, is generally credited with the development of the therapeutic use of miniature figures in a tray of sand at her Clinic for Nervous and Difficult Children which she opened in London in 1928. Many children were coming to her because they had been traumatized after the war between Poland and Russia. Dr. Lowerfeld wanted to find a way to directly access the children’s thinking so she developed the World Technique where she provided miniature toys in baskets for children waiting in her clinic and asked them to “make a world.” She got the idea of playing with miniature toys after reading the book Floor Games (1911) by H. G. Wells where he talked about sitting on the floor playing with his two sons. The children then proceeded to place the miniatures in a sand box in the clinic.

The idea of putting miniatures into sand was expanded and popularized by Dora M. Kalff, in Switzerland, based on the psychological principles of Carl Jung, and she created the term “sand play.” Being a neighbor and friend, Carl Jung recognized Kalff’s intelligence and encouraged her to pursue a psychological career for two reasons. First, she was a widowed concert pianist and needed a job that would provide her with more money. In addition, when Jung’s children went to Kalff’s house to play, they always came back subdued. In 1954, Kalff attended a lecture presented by Margaret Lowenfeld on the World Technique. She was intrigued and impressed with the possibility of using the World Technique with children. With Jung’s encouragement, Kalff went to London to study the World Technique with Margaret Lowenfeld in 1956.

Although both Lowenfeld and Kalff used sandplay therapy, they had different approaches. Dr. Lowenfeld customarily interpreted the Worlds for the children before the end of treatment while Dora Kalff recognized that a delayed interpretation was important as it allowed the client the opportunity to undergo transformation at the deepest layers of the psyche. Lowenfeld regarded the World Technique as a way for children to communicate and express their thoughts and emotions as well as be a vehicle for the release of conflicts and tension resulting from discrepancies between their inner and outer realities. Kalff saw that the therapist’s silent, but knowing attendance to the sandplay process activated this potential in the client because according to the fundamental Jungian concept, the psyche has an inherent tendency to move toward wholeness. Kalff saw the immediacy of the re-ordering of the psyche occurring in the creation of the sandplay itself. With her Jungian background and deeply intuitive nature, Kalff recognized that a process of transformation occurred through a series of sandplays and felt it was a perfect vehicle for the Jungian treatment of children. Kalff was responsible for the idea of putting the miniatures on shelves.

Sand tray therapy was originally developed for children because cognitively, they have not yet developed the abstract thinking skills of adults so this therapy was a way for the children to communicate. Now, it is also used for adolescents and adults, and with individuals, groups, couples, and families in a wide variety of clinical settings for treatment of psychiatric disorders, trauma, and for developing personal growth.

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