Sandplay Therapy

Sandplay Therapy

Outer play for inner peace

How can sandplay therapy nourish you?

Sandplay therapy is a visual therapy using sand, water and small figurines[1] representing a person’s reality. This safe, serene approach involves arranging symbolic objects to realise and release internal conflicts or trauma. 

A sandplay creation mirrors a person’s inner world so concerns can be explored in non-threatening ways, and may be especially effective for those having trouble connecting with their concerns and communicating them.

This modality may also be combined with psychotherapy, as after the play with sand, therapists and participants reflect on toy choices, arrangement patterns and possible symbolic meanings.[2] As it transcends language and culture, sandplay is a therapeutic technique that’s gaining worldwide popularity. 

Sandplay therapy was created by Swiss psychologist Dora Kalff[3] in the 1950s. It was developed on the foundations of sandtray therapy (established in 1929 by Margaret Lowenfeld),[4] Eastern philosophical beliefs and Jungian psychology,[5] which believes that images and symbolism can provide insight to the psyche.[6] While they have similar aims, they have different processes and psychological underpinnings.[7]

Sandplay therapy requires the use of exact tray sizes, and therapists give no directions during play. In contrast, sandtray therapy is open to different psychological theories models, is flexible with tray sizes, and therapists may provide directives or offer interpretation during play. 

Though certification programs exist, certification is not legally required to practice sandplay therapy. Ideally look for a licensed mental health professional, therapist or counsellor with advanced training in sandplay therapy. Therapists accredited through The International Society for Sandplay Therapy undergo over 120 hours of training[8].   

Benefits of sandplay therapy

Sandplay therapy can benefit both adults and children. As a pleasurable sensory experience in a safe space, sandplay therapy is believed to be particularly powerful for those struggling to express repressed trauma. Identifying and reconciling internal issues can assist a wide scope of psychological problems. Making changes in their mini world can empower clients to make changes in their real world. 

Studies have found that sandplay therapy can assist sleep issues in children with autism spectrum disorder,[9] and help child victims of sexual assault process their complex emotions and trauma.[10]

A 2019 overview[11] of 16 randomised controlled trials and 17 effectiveness studies on sandplay therapy suggested significant improvements with a variety of child and adult mental health problems including aggression, negative peer interactions in children,[12] adults coping with childhood abuse,[13] emotional resilience,[14] stress,[15] separation anxiety disorder,[16] facial expression recognition in children with Asperger syndrome,[17] sleep issues in children with autism spectrum disorder,[18] PTSD[19] and communication in clinically depressed children.[20]

Sandplay therapy may assist in relieving symptoms related to:

Anxiety Autism Behavioural issues Bullying Circulation and cardiovascular conditions Communication and self-expression Concentration, focus and problem solving Confidence and self-esteem Conflict resolution Creativity Depression Love and Relationships Mood imbalances PTSD and trauma Stress and tension Show all

What to expect from a sandplay therapy session

Sandplay sessions are structured in a relaxed environment where the therapist does not interpret, interfere or direct your free flowing expression. 

After providing the sand tray and figurines you will be asked to create a miniature 3D display. The creation is believed to emphasise what you are experiencing in the moment, hence you will be given free reign to design what you want without interruption other than encouragement. 

Analysis takes place after the sandplay therapy session, which can last for 30 to 60 minutes. You may choose to participate in one session or continue indefinitely if you find it helpful. 

The therapist may encourage communication with gentle enquiries such as, “Would you like to share anything about your tray?” If the patient prefers to keep quiet that is also accepted. 

The therapist also may ask to photograph the sand trays so changes can be reviewed over time. 

Sandplay therapy offers a fun forum for emotional insight, expression and resolution.  

As with any wellness program, please consult your medical professional before commencing sandplay therapy. If you have any concerns at all, also speak to your sandplay therapist, who will be happy to address these and evaluate whether sandplay therapy is a suitable treatment for you.


  1. Home | ISST | The International Society for Sandplay Therapy
  2. Sandplay Therapy | Psychology Today
  3. Dora Kalff | Introduction to Sandplay Therapy
  4. Margaret Lowenfeld’s World Technique |
  5. Jungian Therapy | Psychology Today
  6. Jungian Sandplay |
  7. Sandtray vs Sandplay |
  8. Sandplay training |
  9. [Curative effect of progressively integrated sandplay therapy on core symptoms and sleep management in preschool children with mild-to-moderate autism spectrum disorder] | PubMed
  10. Sandplay Tray in Children That Have Been Sexually Abused | Frontiers in Psychology | PubMed
  11. Sandplay therapy: An overview of theory, applications and evidence base | ScienceDirect
  12. Effects of a sandplay therapy program at a childcare centre on children with externalizing behavioral problems | The Arts in Psychotherapy | ScienceDirect
  13. Sandplay therapy with an adult survivor of childhood abuse | International Journal of Play Therapy | APA PsycNet
  14. Structured group sandplay to improve the resilience of college students | The Arts in Psychotherapy | ScienceDirect
  15. Improving Chinese Teachers’ Stress Coping Ability through Group Sandplay | The Spanish Journal of Psychology | Cambridge Core
  16. [PDF] The Effectiveness of Sandplay Therapy in Reducing Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Children 5 to 7 Years Old | Semantic Scholar
  17. [PDF] The Effectiveness of Sandplay Therapy in Reducing Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Children 5 to 7 Years Old | Semantic Scholar
  18. Clinical effect of integrated sandplay therapy in children with Asperger syndrome | Chinese Journal of Contemporary Pediatrics | PubMed
  19. Changes in verbalizations during sandplay: an empirical study | PubMed
  20. Changes in verbalizations during sandplay: an empirical study | PubMed

Frequently asked questions

Sandplay therapy is a visual therapeutic approach utilizing sand, water, and small figurines to represent a person's inner reality. It distinguishes itself by providing a non-verbal and non-threatening way to explore and express internal conflicts or trauma.

Sandplay therapy allows individuals to create symbolic representations of their inner world, providing a unique avenue for exploring and releasing concerns. It can be especially beneficial for those who struggle with verbal communication or connecting with their emotions.

Sandplay therapy is versatile and can benefit a wide range of individuals. It is particularly effective for those having difficulty expressing concerns verbally and may be integrated into psychotherapy for added depth and insight.

During a session, individuals use sand, water, and figurines to create symbolic scenes. Therapists do not provide directions during the play. Afterward, participants and therapists reflect on the chosen objects, arrangement patterns, and potential symbolic meanings.

Sandplay therapy was developed by Swiss psychologist Dora Kalff in the 1950s. It draws on sandtray therapy, Eastern philosophical beliefs, and Jungian psychology. Jungian psychology posits that images and symbolism can offer profound insights into the psyche.

Sandplay therapy typically involves using specific tray sizes, and therapists refrain from providing directives during the play. In contrast, other modalities like sandtray therapy may have more flexibility in tray sizes and may involve therapist directives and interpretation during play.
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