October [31] 2008

An Overview of the Therapeutic Technique called “Sandplay Therapy”

By Art Rosengarten, Ph.D.

Background: Children have always delighted in playing in the sand, bringing their inner and outer worlds together through imagination. Different cultures have also used sand in imaginal rituals of visioning. The Dogon medicine men of Mali draw patterns in the sand and later read the paw prints left in the night by the desert fox to divine the future. Tibetan Buddhist monks spend weeks creating the Kalachakra sand mandala which is used for contemplation and initiation into Tantric practices. The analyst Donald Sandner, in Navaho Symbols of Healing, wrote about the Navaho sand painting ceremonies in which images of world order are created to invoke the healing powers that bring the psyche of the people back into harmony with the universe. Upon the completion of all these rituals the sand is brushed away and dispersed.

Dora Kalff, the Swiss analyst and creator of this technique of active imagination, was initially influenced and encouraged by Emma and Carl Jung, as well as her immersion in Tibetan Buddhism. Sandplay therapists working in Kalff’s method differentiate ‘sandplay’ from sandtray therapy. Sandtray therapy is a more generic term referring to a variety of effective ways of using sand, figures, and a container from different theoretical perspectives.

Sandplay therapy emphasizes the spontaneous and dynamic qualities of the creative experience itself. Its essence is non-verbal and symbolic. In what Kalff called the “free and protected place” provided by the tray and the relationship with the therapist, the client plays with sand, water, and miniatures over a period of time, constructing concrete manifestations of his inner world. My own therapy work with sandplay is almost exclusively with adults and teens. Occasionally during talk therapy something arises in a person’s process for which the non-verbal, intuitive AND tactile, sandplay experience calls out for. This is usually when words fail to get at the heart of the true experience a person is wrestling with, and something raw and visceral is needed. Personally, I undertook in a year-long course of sandplay with a therapist in San Diego (some twenty years ago) all in preparation for my first journey to N. India on a spiritual retreat. For me, it was mostly about relationships and “inner child work” but via 3D, dream-like, miniature objects in a sandbox constructing my deep inner rumblings synchronistically and creatively,  truly a remarkable healing experience for me!  When energies in the form of “living symbols” are touched upon in the personal and collective unconscious, healing can happen spontaneously within a person at an unconscious level. Very little rational analysis of a sandscape is necessary. As a more harmonious relationship between the conscious and the unconscious develops, the ego is quietly though palpably restructured and strengthened. One feels the effects of at the core of one’s being.

Sandplay may open the person to re-experience the pre-verbal and non-verbal states of early development. Children understand (recognize) language before they can speak (recall) language. Adults may have forgotten or never learned words for some inner experiences, yet they may recognize a figure intuitively without being able to recall why or what it is. That’s why sandplay therapists sometimes say, “Let the object pick you!”

The quiet tray with its smooth sand, and a trusted therapist nearby supporting and protecting the purity of the space, allows images to arrive for the maker. The variety of figures and the sensory experience of sand and water also stimulate the unconscious. The elemental nature of sandplay evokes the body and touches the mother within. Sand can be molded, water poured, fire ignited, and air blown. The elemental flow and balance that is created in the tray mirrors processes in the psyche as well as in the natural world.

A good thing to keep in mind when collecting figures is that you want a wide range of objects; the ideal (and impossible) collection contains:

Everything that is in the world

Everything that has been

Everything that can be

In other words, the matrix of all possibility in manifest form. Another guideline for sandplay collectors is to allow yourself to be “chosen” by your collection.  This is the same process we ask of our clients, so it is a good practice for us as well.  You may be surprised by what figures want to be in your collection. My own collection includes objects from my travels through India, Egypt, Mexico, Hawaii, California, the East Coast etc. and local second hand stores, relative’s attics, flea markets, toy stores, antique & collectibles stores, garage sales, kid’s stuff, street fairs, the garage, hiking in the woods or on the beach, as well as special internet and curio stores that specialize in sandplay miniatures.

As a spiritual/metaphysical tool, sandplay can be integrated with other processes beautifully. My tarot deck TNP (Tarot Of The Nine Paths) was actually built from scenes I created for each trump card of tarot, which were then digitally photographed and artistically crafted using a medium I call “metaphysical folk art.” (See Cosmographic Art for samples of this deck such as The Hermit card below). Much of the new 5 DVD documentary film, entitled THE GREAT WORK, and featuring on location interviews with myself, authors Lon Milo DuQuette, John Anthony West, and others, is filmed rather magically by filmmaker Chance Gardner in my sandplay office, with amazing scenes in the sandbox, including close-ups of my vast menagerie of interesting miniature objects, thus providing the perfect “subtext” to the commentary and esoterica of we six purported “wisdom experts.”

I have managed to effectively utilize sandplay objects, including the shelves, objects, and sandbox itself during magical rituals in private classes and small group settings in my home office (below); rather remarkably, sandplay invokes the living, breathing, magical quality of “religious practice” but in a very earthy, playful, FUN, and creative way.  As Kalff emphasized, the process “relativizes the ego” and activates the healing energy of spontaneous play–rather common ground for small children, but a rare treasure for over-enculturated adults.

Please contact me if you’d like to learn more about this wonderful technique and process, or to order TNP–Tarot Of The Nine Paths–the tarot deck I created out of sandplay scenes in my own office.


FROG SPECIMEN (Fluid Resonance Oracle Gnosis)

(From Art, October 16, 2008, The Expanded COMPLETE HATCHERY on tarotspsych (See Files)

This one’s for you, big guy, (with a sprig of mint)!

(Numbers) 366, 394, 192

(Taste): 437


366. Puer aeternus. Latin for “eternal child,” used in mythology to designate a child-god who is forever young; psychologically it refers to an older man whose emotional life has remained at an adolescent level, usually coupled with too great a dependence on the mother. [The term puella is used when referring to a woman, though one might also speak of a puer animus-or a puella anima.] The puer typically leads a provisional life, due to the fear of being caught in a situation from which it might not be possible to escape. His lot is seldom what he really wants and one day he will do something about it-but not just yet. Plans for the future slip away in fantasies of what will be, what could be, while no decisive action is taken to change. He covets independence and freedom, chafes at boundaries and limits, and tends to find any restriction intolerable.

394. Wounded Healer. An archetypal dynamic that may be constellated in an analytic relationship. This term derives from the legend of Asclepius, a Greek doctor who in recognition of his own wounds established a sanctuary at Epidaurus where others could be healed of theirs.

192. Phenomenology:  An approach to research that aims to describe and clarify a person’s own experience and understanding of an event or phenomenon.

(Taste) 437. Herby  Reminiscent of herbs, such as mint, sage, thyme, or of eucalyptus.

Frog Sandwich For Meta Joe:  Grow up, you big-hearted sop. Sure you covet independence and freedom, chafe at boundaries and limits, and tend to find any restriction intolerable, just like every Joe The Plumber does (at a different level).  But you hurt inside, Meta Joe, I sense the sweet earthiness in your demeanor like a twig of mint, but there’s some infection in your soil, and so you decided to become a meta-plumber (not like the average Joes) …that’s cool. Helping others plumb their depths, clean out their pipes, etc. all good stuff big fella…  BUT something seems awry within your metaphysics. There’s a little too much droopy-eyed dragon in you, if you know what I mean?  (And we’ve seen the fire-breathing beast aspect react QUICKLY when feeling perhaps a little misunderstood? Puer, puer, puer. [Jung said there was only one real cure for the puer…WORK! (shades of Maynard G. Krebbs, for you oldsters out there, no?].

Hey Meta-Joe: Please help us and yourself get to what’s really going on here with you…What actually are you EXPERIENCING (in the moment) that makes you so unpleased with the “condition” of the world as it is now Joe? Try not to embellish or dramatize your response, nothing “heroic” my firend, my friend, just what IS IT exactly?


A). One original idea “whose time has come.”  The “New Age” becoming politically-relevant and globally-active in its own style (i.e. “the puer generation” healing its mother complex without sacrificing its transpersonal magic, global desires and vision)

 B). An application relevant to the evolution and well-being of tarotpsych. Keep being “tarotpsych” i.e., bringing the phenomenology of our work into focus…answering the question “What Is it?” Having fun AND raising consciousness. 

 C). How this resonance touches your personal gnosis (spiritual truth)? Just call me Joe, The Slowly Awakening Meta-Plumber.

A Laboratory For Wisdom & Synthesis

Featuring A 72 page, 499 item, easy access, “meta-frogical” compendium for the production of Frogs. You must join tarotpsych to gain access: http://geocities.com/tarotpsych/


Instructions: Hatch a FROG, then post answers to A-C below (in
tarotpsych homepage window)… Ideally, hatch at least one green guy per month.


1. Generate 3 random integers (ranging from 1-499). Use PRNG simply by click here. [Note: “Pseudo” Random Number Generators (PRNGs) produce a sequence of numbers using a method (usually a software algorithm) which is predetermined and therefore, in theory, predictable. However the algorithm is sufficiently complex to prevent the sequence being predicted unless an initial “seed” value is known].

2. Use ‘OPEN SEQUENCE’ generator page. Generate 3 integers between 1 and 499 (or 1-394 plus Second Spin for “taste”), then scroll through HATCHERY to find each Number/Analogue. Reflectupon/record your synchronistically-obtained information.  (Use streamlined “Frogsheet” in Files to quicken production).

3. Blend/craft items together using your intellect, intuition, and imagination to create THIS unique “Frog.”  Hatchery categories include: Tarot (phrases & spectrums), philosophical constructs of Postmodernism, a dictionary of Paranormal and Psychic terms, Native American proverbs, a lexicon of Swiss psychoanalyst C.G. Jung, and the Wine Taster’s Glossary.

4. (Optional) Take a  “Second Spin” (for taste) by generating 1 separate integer (between 395 and 499).  Gives your Frog added nuance, and answers the question: “What KIND of FROG is THIS?”  For example, “A CHEWY Frog.”

5. Play with “Frog” meanings until something congeals in a fluid resonance. “What underlying message is communicated HERE?”  Post on tarotpsych homepage along with your Answers to  A–C:

A). One original idea “whose time has come” (stemming from your Frog).

B). An application relevant to the evolution and well-being of tarotpsych.

C). How this resonance touches your personal gnosis (spiritual truth)?

(See Old Frog Samples On This Site in CyberExperiments)

Created by the owner/moderator of Tarotpsych, Art Rosengarten