Creating symbolic images from the unconscious
December 8, 2004
As a kid I played freely on the beaches of the Caspian Sea, which offered me
sand, water, and lots of opportunities for imaginative play. There was something
magical about digging into the sand and creating all sorts of things. Sometimes,
I would make a mountain with wet sand and cover it with dry white sand. This
way I made myself believe that I made a snow mountain.
I was too young to know
about the psychological process of playing in the sand, but I do recall the
liberating effect of playing with sand and water. Whether I was
happy or sad, I always felt
more centered after playing with sand. As I grew older, I assumed that playing
in sand is for children, and adults must act more seriously.
Many years later I was introduced to a process called sandplay
therapy, which enabled me to play with sand again. Sandplay therapy was originated
Dora Kalff, a Swiss Jungian analyst, in the 1950s and is a method of psychotherapy
and personal development to help a patient's individuation process.
name suggests, it consists of playing with sand and small figures. My first
with sandplay took place in the presence of my own sandplay analyst who silently
witnessed my playing in the sand. By means of figures and the arrangement
of the sand in the area bounded by the sandbox, I set up a world
to my inner state.
Often, I used water to mold the sand and create images.
not to think too much and let my imagination express itself freely. Each
tray that I created contained symbolic images from my unconscious.
As Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung stated, our unconscious speaks
to us in the language of symbols. Creating
symbolic images that pertain to my own psyche and having them witnessed
in a protected space is a powerful experience that I have not experienced
other forms of psychotherapy.
As a psychotherapist, I decided to study sandplay therapy in
more depth and utilize it as an additional dimension to my clinical
practice. My sandplay equipment consists of two wooden boxes (approximately
19.5 x 28.5 x 2.75 inches), dry and moist sand, and number of
small figures to facilitate the process of creating
whatever my clients' imaginations desire.
My training and my own
sandplay process has helped me to realize that playing is a healing
psychological process which can access a pre verbal place in
our unconscious, a place that may not become accessible through
Going through my own sandplay process has given me a better
understanding of my client's work in the tray. Silently witnessing
without judgment or interpretations, along with providing a "free and
are two important components of sandplay therapy.
Often my clients portray
opposite aspects of themselves in the sand tray and create images that
correspond to their inner conflicts. This three dimensional portrayal
of their inner
worlds helps to create a bridge between the inner and outer world or bridge
their inner opposites.
In fact, many clients have used an actual bridge
in their trays which among other things indicates a possibility
and hope about
uniting inner opposites. I learn a great deal about my clients' inner
world by looking at the images they create in the sand tray. Knowledge
about their inner dynamics helps me to tailor a more individualized
plan toward their psychological growth >>> Photos
© This article is copyrighted by Dr. Payam Ghassemlou,
a psychotherapist in private practice in Los Angeles, California.