Church Point / Mona Vale NSW 2105 Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm Ph: 0417 462 115 FB Logo1
Maarit Rivers, Child Therapist

Ph: 0417 462 115

Church Point / Mona Vale
NSW 2105

Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm

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Sandplay therapy – what it is and how it works.


Sandplay therapy is unconventional, creative and primarily nonverbal. It is hands-on psychology – and vital where a child is too traumatised to talk. It works for adults too. For example, as Jung explains: ‘Often the hands know how to solve the riddle with which the intellect has wrestled in vain.

A sandplay therapist provides two trays. On is filled with dry, the other with moist sand. The sand play therapist has also miniatures of every conceivable kind. Together, sand, water and miniatures enable a client to explore, create, venture and play. In effect to build a three dimensional picture.

A client is thus freed of trying to explain inner feelings, emotions, bodily sensations and images in words. They are expressed by parts of the brain that have no verbal language. Sandplay therapy is thus invaluable when working with adults and children alike.

Swiss psychotherapist and teacher Dora Kalff developed sandplay therapy in the late 1950s. She specifically recognised that forming three dimensional pictures in a ‘world’ of sand and adding selected miniatures reveals a client’s inner states. It accordingly provides material client and therapist alike – to thus work mutually towards healing.

Sandplay therapy opens layers of the mind

Sandplay therapy opens layers of the mind that are deeply unconscious, inaccessible, forgotten and/or difficult to express in words. The unconscious thus becomes visible. Moreover, it is brought into the conscious and hence worked through. Internal conflicts, such as anxiety and depression anger and other maladjustments, particularly, become healed. Sandplay therapy provides a safe creative play world of childhood. It almost automatically mends damage that historically happened, by making situations recognisable and explainable.

Sandplay therapy aids client self-discovery. It awakens creativity and lateral thinking. In addition, it rechannels misdirected energies, and moreover opens blockages.

Sandplay therapy allows the client to explore deep murky feelings usually hidden and repressed. They are known to none but themselves. It is our ‘shadow’ side. It includes weaknesses, inferiorities and primitive qualities unacceptable to our conscious self, or our society. The ‘shadow’ surfaces as rage, anger, jealousy, wanting to hurt someone, meanness, gluttony, lust, greed, wrath, excessive pride and such.

The therapy sessions become a sanctuary. There, it is safe to face the shadow. Change then emerges.

Sandplay therapy moreover works for everyday dilemmas. It helps to gain objectivity and clarity of situations at hand.

How sandplay therapy works

Clients using creativity to express feelings, release anti-anxiety chemicals in the brain. These chemicals are opioids and oxytocins. They create the feeling of being safe. They reduce that of anger and aggression. Clients thus begin to feel calm, and psychologically strong. They progressively gain a deep sense of well being, resulting in their immune system becoming stronger. Furthermore, they progressively sense that there is meaning in life. Learning capacity too increases.

Completing the three dimensional picture in the sand is deceptively simple. However, the understanding and using it as a therapeutic tool is not. A sandplay therapist, for instance, undergoes many years of training and supervision. To qualify, they must do their own Sandplay therapy. Training and supervision is ongoing. Some (including myself) have several associated university degrees.

Sandplay therapy stimulates psychic growth. It consequently enables the client to live a fuller, more creative life. This deep, inner transformation typically changes the client’s entire relationship to that life.

Sand play is typically only part of a therapy session. It may also include, talking, painting, drawing, music, puppets, clay and craft. With children, simply playing is also part of the session.

Sandplay Bibliography:


Cunningham, L. (2013). Sandplay and the Clinical Relationship. Sand Francisco, USA: Sempervirens Press.

Friedman, H. In

Hong, G. (2007). Sandplay Therapy. Research and Practice. New York, USA: Routledge.

Kalff, D. (2003). Sandplay. A Psychotherapeutic Approach to the Psyche. Cloverdale, USA: Temenos Press.

Kalff, M. (2003). Sandplay. A Psychotherapeutic Approach to the Psyche. Cloverdale, USA: Temenos Press.

McNally, S. (2001). Sandplay. A Sourcebook for Play Therapists. Lincoln, USA: Writers Club Press.

Turner, B. (2005). The Handbook of Sandplay Therapy. Cloverdale, USA: Temenos Press.


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