Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Sandplay Therapy Used to Help Teens Heal. (Processing Emotions)

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Sandplay Therapy Used to Help Teens Heal. (Processing Emotions)

Article excerpt

A fallen lighthouse toppled over into the sand, surrounded by superheroes who dropped like stones from the sky.

They never collaborated, but that's how dozens of Montclair, N.J., high school students portrayed the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, using sandplay therapy.

As a self-directed, expressive therapy, sandplay is not diagnostic, and the students received no direction or interpretation of their experience. But Rosalind Winter said it was a valuable aid in helping students process and contain their emotions.

"Sandplay accesses unconscious material and makes it conscious by giving it form," said Ms. Winter, a certified Jungian psychoanalyst who brought sandplay therapy to Montclair High School after Sept. 11. The therapy can help relieve symptoms of emotional trauma--anxiety aggression, and even physical pain.

The sand tray in Montclair High School became the repository of fear and anxiety mourning, and even pride, as students used the sand and hundreds of tiny figures and symbols in a 21-by-30-inch sand tray to express their emotions about the tragedy. The symbolism of the fallen superheroes is easy to interpret, Ms. Winter said, and the meaning of the lighthouse also was obvious--at least to those who lived in Montclair.

"In this community we oriented ourselves by the Twin Towers," she said "When you saw them, you always knew you were looking east, you knew where you were. I think that is the lighthouse connection for these kids."

On the day of the attacks, Ms. Winter happened to be in Montclair High School. In the days afterward, she gave teachers on-the-run courses in crisis management and brought in a sand tray and an extensive collection of miniature figures. She placed the equipment in a walk-in closet near the nurse's office with a simple, one-word sign: "Welcome."

As word spread about how the simple technique encouraged teens to express, contain, and symbolize their emotions, teachers and counselors from other schools in the town asked for sand trays as well. With the help of colleagues from the Sandplay Therapists of America, Ms. Winter was able to place 10 more trays and miniature collections in schools throughout the system.

The project captured the enthusiasm of the community Residents scoured craft and toy stores for hundreds of figurines to add to the collections, said Ms. Winter, whose papers on sandplay therapy have been published in the Journal of Jungian Theory and Practice and the journal of Sandplay Therapy. Town employees and administrators were also able to take advantage of the experience when Ms. Winter set up a sandplay station in the town center.

Sandplay as therapy originated in Great Britain in the 1930s. Dr. Margaret Lowenfield, the founder of the London Institute of Child Psychology developed it as an extension of play therapy In 1966, Jungian analyst Dora Kalff enriched the technique by giving it a Jungian orientation, using archetypal figurines that allow patients to work with their emotions symbolically. …

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