About this course
At level 1 learners will have had some experience of Sandtray Therapy either as a sand player or as a beginner therapist. The knowledge in this course is essential to know for any beginner and is a good review for practicing practitioners.
We use verbal language to communicate how we feel and think, our thoughts and emotions can be written, verbal or acted out in behaviour.
Language is learnt by an infant at birth, in fact a growing baby will react to noises outside of the womb, it will know its mother soothing voice, or the other aggression. Prior to acquiring language we think in images based on our sensory experience. This sensory motor experience is the basis of how a non-verbal trauma can be released into the sand world, without re-traumatising the sand player.
Essentially language is made up of a series of symbols. In the English language our culture accepts many 'signs' such as the male and female symbol often seen on toilet doors. Our roads are made up of signs in the form of symbols. We integrate these into our non-verbal language.
How can images act as a language in Sandtray Therapy where a sand player who is suffering from intergenerational trauma does not have the words to express how and why they feel or think the way they do?
Lowenfeld understood the power of the images and the picture these images formed when placed into a sand world, they told the untold story. If we take as example a tree, this tree as an image carries with it the interpersonal meaning of the sand player. The meaning held within the tree image used in a sand world in a creative nonverbal way, increases the implicit mental processing. A tree to you may evoke a meaning of a magical forest, for a traumatised child a tree may have a very different meaning. Say a father took this child outside when they were 'naughty' and told them to break a branch from the tree, of which was used to whip them. In this extreme case we see that for this child a tree may mean punishment, abuse, hurt, pain, terror.
In order for the child or adult to readdress the meaning associated with the pain held in the image of a tree he or she can recreate a sand world, or a series of sand worlds. This is often seen as a theme, made up of a series of sand worlds done over a period of time e.g. 4 sessions or more.
A theme in this case could consist of the sand player using the tree in different ways to express the emotions that are held within the image of tree. It may begin with fear, or panic, a sand player may tap into their courage and begin to explore these emotions.
The role of the therapist is significant, and as such it is vital that therapists have already explored their own fears, childhood issues and other psychological events.
Children and adults will go about Sandtray Therapy differently, children will often explore, express, bury, build, cut down, blow up and be very hands-on with the sandtray miniatures as they tell their intrinsic stories.
Adults may want to verbally explore their sand worlds, the therapist can help them to see that they are able to create a new narrative. This is the beauty of Sandtray Therapy as a standalone method, clients choose how they will heal.
Languages and images are measured in different parts of our brains. Understanding how the brain works is now an integral aspect of neurobiology. In Sandtray Therapy we can say that this method is aligned to the 'bottom up' approach. Where the sand player is having a sensory experience, this felt sense is linked to the neurological processes in the brain.
The Mind can be described in concepts such as perceptions, thought, imagination, memory and emotion. Our mind is a warehouse of thoughts, triggered memories, active imagination.
In neurobiology we talk about the two brains - left and right. These are often referred to as our logical left brain thinking and our creative right brain, or left brain explicit which uses language to express or right brain implicit that is independent of language.
Brain injury, complex and developmental trauma all hinder the healthy functioning of a child's brain development and as a result the two brains become unable to converse. We will see this in Sandtray Therapy when a client child or adult is unable to play in the sand, unable to create a sand world.
I this occurs remember it is enough for the sand player to simply be able to run their hands through the sand, make mounds, tunnels, push the sand, pull the sand. It is vital that a therapist acknowledges that severe trauma has inhibit the sand players ability to produce a sand world.
During a traumatic re-enactment in a sand world, the left brain may be inhibited or overwhelmed. The sand player will have no language to express their grief, however the right brain is activated. The sand player does not require a verbal dialogue in order to process, and traumatic experiences may not be readily available to the sand players conscious memory. The implicit memory is the means by which a sand player is processing these memories, by using the meanings attached to the symbols they are using in their sand worlds as communication.