Martha Nodar's Sandtray Therapy Journey to the Unconscious

by Martha Nodar: Sand Tray Therapist
(Atlanta, GA)

Martha Nodar's Sandtray Therapy Journey to the Unconscious

Martha Nodar's Sandtray Therapy Journey to the Unconscious

A Sandtray Therapy Journey to the Unconscious
By Martha Nodar, A graduate counseling student at Mercer University and Sand Tray Therapist

Sunny summer days have a way of seducing us into thinking of easy strolls on the beach or jumping into a refreshing pool. For me, summer is a time of the year when I reminisce about trips to the coast and visiting with family members who are no longer there. Memories left behind are imprinted in the photos I took and I think of the distances I have traveled in my never-ending personal journey of self-discovery. For me, this journey involves reaching the unconscious.

With that in mind, I am representing my journey into the unconscious in a medium-size wooden tray filled with sand and a section in the middle symbolizing a small pool of water.

Faithful to his training in psychoanalysis, Jung believes the unconscious is the part of the mind (psyche) that is out of our conscious awareness for the most part. The goal of psychoanalysis is to bring the material in the unconscious to conscious awareness. According to Jung, the closer we get to the unconscious, the closer we get to our real Self—and that is where I’m headed.

I began creating the scene by placing a miniature of a Well on the left-hand side, followed by a miniature of a Fairy diagonally opposite to it on the right-hand side, then, a miniature Tiger in the center background. I was compelled to keep this sequence of placing the miniatures in the sand for reasons beyond my conscious awareness at the time. Meaning emerges in sandtray not only from the symbolic miniatures, but also from the sequence in which they are placed in the tray, and on how the miniatures may relate to each other. Surrounding the miniatures are shells and stones seemingly containing a specific space in the tray.

Whereas the Fairy seems to be leaning toward the direction of the Tiger, the Tiger is headed toward the Well. Fairies represent acceptance of the true Self with its human limitations and tend to manifest themselves intermittently, which is consistent with the material in our unconscious (Chevalier & Gheerbrant’s Dictionary of Symbols, 1969).

The Tiger represents one’s primitive instinctual impulses (Chevalier & Gheerbrant’s Dictionary of Symbols, 1969) which Anna Freud believes are the primary source of one’s anxiety—that is, the fear of our own unconscious, instinctual reactions.

The Tiger “stands for a whole family of urges . . . ever ready to take us off our guard” (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, Dictionary of Symbols, 1969, p. 1008). Although the Well appears to be the point of destination for both the Fairy (representing the conscious), and the Tiger (representing the unconscious), a stone in front of the Tiger in the path to the Well may be a symbol of the intrinsic challenges we are frequently called to overcome in our process toward self-awareness.

Wells symbolize a sense of abundance, a “contemplative wisdom, a higher stage in spiritual development . . . a depth of knowledge . . . and may represent the human being itself” (Chevalier & Gheerbrant, Dictionary of Symbols, 1969, p. 1095). The miniature positioned closest to the Well is the Turtle, a symbol of transformation, a survivor of losses trying to make its way into the water—another symbol of transformation.

My interpretation of the entire sandtray:

It seems to me that while I may be for the most part consciously aware of my human limitations symbolized by the Fairy, I remain concerned with the power of my unconscious and primitive impulses represented by the Tiger. And, yet, my commitment toward my journey of self-discovery appears to be represented by the Tiger moving toward the Well in search of wisdom to manage my unconscious reactions.

With its consummate spiritual guidance, the Well is my destination—and most likely the reason it was the first miniature I placed in the sand as my guiding light.The Fairy came second and I placed it at the opposite end of the Well as if consciously recognizing I have a long way to go. The Tiger came third and I placed it right in the middle between my conscious awareness and my thirst for self-knowledge. I placed the miniature of the Turtle last.

The Turtle symbolizes transformation and the ability to survive loss. While I started building the sandtray evoking wisdom, it appears I finished it embracing transformation as the result of experiencing loss. Many times we derive wisdom from our losses.
The shells, representing my female intuition, and the stones symbolizing my ability to rely on myself, are my fellow travelers as I embark in this metaphorical journey of self-discovery in the sand.

Let’s meet in the sand. . .:)

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*If you ignore the disclaimer above are using these techniques on yourself and you feel any discomfort or upset it is highly suggested that you seek out a licensed  mental health professional immediately.

"Beyond Art Therapy" is the concept from Dr. Stangline that combines all creative fields in therapy. It is not the traditional "art therapy" but goes beyond to include sand tray therapy, play therapy, mindfulness, meditation, color therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a vast majority of other therapies.

For any other type of mental health emergency call your local 911 / Police Number immediately.

Dr. Stangline does not offer advice / suggestions to anyone who is not a professional mental health provider, or a student who is studying this field and has questions about mental health programs of study.

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