Sandplay therapy is one of the most effective ways to treat children and adults with stressful and traumatic experience or want to give meaning and transform their emotions and behavior. One of the many reasons, it offers an expressive and projective intervention, that automatically provides the needed therapeutic distance to deal with issues of pain and chaos in the sand. In order to clarify that, the projective intervention uses such a method, that has the ability to reveal inner conflicts and “hidden” in the unconscious emotions from the past, which could influence, the real behaviors, moods and attitudes, without being able to be controlled. Moreover the sand and the play itself offer a unique sensory experience, that could heal a person in distress and crisis and the benefits are both psychological and neurobiological, but first let me explain a little bit about the true nature of trauma.
Trauma is caused when a huge amount of stress is exceeding the ability of a person to assimilate and integrate the emotions that arise out of the stressful experience. This leads to a sensory overload at the time of the initial experience, causing the unconscious avoidance of each and every consequent re-experience. Furthermore, trauma causes abnormal activity in the limbic system, that is part of the central nervous system and is responsible for emotions, memory and behavior necessary for self-preservation. In other words, during a traumatic experience, a person’s brain responds first emotionally before it could switch on its “thinking” part, situated in the cortex. This prevents the verbalization and the ability to detach from negative emotions, making the person overreact and intimidate others.
In order for a painful experience to get “assimilated” by the psyche, without being repressed in the unconscious, blocking the self-regulating function of the psyche, it should be recalled and re-experienced in a way. Problem is, by doing so, this decreases the ability to verbalize and assimilate cognitively the information, making it almost impossible to communicate through language, whose center is situated in the left hemisphere of the brain. Traumatic experience, on the other hand, is stored as somatic sensations and images embedded in the right hemisphere, responsible for the nonverbal, metaphorical and intuitive. This means that the sensory nature of trauma makes it extremely suitable to be processed and treated through an expressive intervention, such as play and creative arts.
Sandplay therapy is primary based on play with miniatures in the sand and storytelling about the world created in the tray. This activates both the limbic system and the cortex, spanning both hemispheres, as the symbolic world unfolds into words. Basically the therapeutic work with the sand helps a person to externalize creations of internal “worlds”, presenting difficult life experiences, and gives a way for mental and physical assimilation. It allows the use of symbolic language and metaphors, promoting insight, healing and change in the psyche.
This all makes the use of sandplay therapy perfect for treating children and adults, who have difficulties dealing with stressful events, traumatic experience and strong emotions like pain and sorrow, that have not yet been expressed but instead are blocking the natural self-regulating process of the psyche.