Sandplay for Trauma Survivors
The primary goal in trauma treatment is the integration of traumatic memories with a completed personal narrative. Through the use of sensory and kinaesthetic modalities, Sandplay allows for the exploration and reconstruction of trauma narratives in a non-threatening way, which ultimately facilitates trauma recovery.
The Sandplay process provides an emotionally safe, protected and facilitative environment to explore and to heal. It is respectful of the trauma survivor’s inner wisdom and inner processes as they are in complete control of their own Sandplay creations and their uniquely individual meanings.
The use of symbols allows clients to distance themselves from profound emotional experiences and thereby allows them to safely engage in contemplation and reflection. Symbols also provide clients with the opportunity to re-enact problems in non-threatening ways (for example to process traumatic nightmares).
© Detail of sandplay creation
Reconstructing the Trauma Story
Most trauma survivors experience some form of dissociation from traumatic memories. Through its multisensory modalities, Sandplay allows the invisible, unknown, and dissociated aspects of trauma and the traumatized self to be given symbolic form, and to be witnessed and related to safely.
When clients touch and move the sand, bury figures and arrange them in the sand, or moisten the sand with water, this imaginative and sensory play opens pathways for trauma victims to express in 3-D scenes what they have been unable to say with words. By concretising or making visible any conflict or tension, the client is able to reconstruct the situation, gain insight, access new resources and move towards integration and healing.
"Often hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain."
- C.G. Jung -
© Detail of sandplay creation
As work in the sand tray is essentially non-verbal, it can provide clients with a useful bridge across the limitations of traditional talk therapies. Sandplay can be used to free creative inner resources and to express feelings, perceptions and non-verbal memories, bringing these into a contained space for processing and healing. As such, it can provide a powerful modality for clients whose verbal and cognitive skills might otherwise form a barrier to safely processing trauma memories.
Sandplay has been described as a ‘garden for the soul’ where clients can re-unite all aspects of themselves, including the wounded parts, the forgotten and disowned aspects, and to discover untapped resources and inner wisdom.
It provides an ‘in-between-space’, where the link between a clients’ inner and outer life can express itself and develop strength to rebuild trust and sense of self. In trauma therapy terms, the integration between the ‘experiencing self’ and the ‘observing self’ can take place, leading to greater awareness. Sandplay empowers clients to more competently cope with problems and issues in their real life context and to become conscious creators of their lives.