Stepping into the closet to discover Narnia, is similar to stepping into a Sandplay therapy room. A new world, a symbolic world, filled with mother nature in the form of sand and water, real and imaginary miniatures and a tray for support and containment. This symbolic world allows for healing at a deep unconscious level and transformation for young and mature.
The items on the shelves provide the client with a unique opportunity to explore, create and bring new life and meaning to their self-understanding. The precise meaning of the symbolism and what is created is not of concern to the client, the process as a whole is.
Sandplay therapy is very potent as a therapy for children and adults because it allows a client to actively engage with the miniatures (symbols) for transformation. Carl Jung wrote an entire volume about this very topic. Clients select the miniature from the shelf and it only gets placed within the tray its right. This right is not a conscious decision, it’s a knowing within the body, mind, brain and heart in that instant. Clients will pick up and put down miniatures they love but only the needed ones in that session will be placed within the tray. It stunning to watching a client play with all the possibilities and choose their right for that moment, that session, this time in their lives. The right will be spoken by the client on a conscious level while also having a felt sense of the miniature being right on another level which is without words.
The Sandplay therapy journey can be too confronting and challenging for some as it gives a solid container for diving into the darkness of ones soul and resurfacing changed, refreshed and more complete.
Sandplay Therapy – A Complimentary Therapy to Process Psychology
Where has Sandplay Therapy come from?
It is based on Carl Jung’s psychodynamics and other child and Jungian therapists such as Lowenfield, Klein and Kalff.
It is a worldwide applicable nonverbal therapeutic approach for all ages, which is needed in our brain heavy world. Sandplay therapy is a powerful therapeutic technique as it aids the healing process, develops one’s personality and allows for growth without having to find the ‘right’ words.
Sandplay therapy gives the gift of healing through the combination of symbolic creation and play for an integrated psychotherapy approach. Clients have the choice of either going straight to the tray to begin creating with some (or no) talk therapy towards the end, or talk therapy to start the session and the themes are then expressed in symbolic form in the sandtray.
The sand tray is a specific size, the exact size to fit within the human field of vision, so the client, regardless of age, doesn’t have to turn their head. The sides and bottom of the tray are painted blue to represent water, rivers, lakes, whatever the client chooses. The miniatures are collected by the therapist and if lucky enough (like myself) clients create/make symbols and add them to the collect for others to use and enjoy. Miniatures can be real (humans, pets, animals, dinosaurs, plants, building, vehicles, stones, shells etc or fantasy (fairy tale characters, myths and legends etc)
What a client creates in a scene are symbolic representation of feelings, experiences, unconscious conflicts and so much more. Sandplay therapy taps into psychological depths beyond our conscious awareness and logical thinking, while also being within what we can cope and deal with at this moment. Our unconscious protects us and gives us opportunities to heal. The healing can come from seeing their feelings and experiences formed in the tray, visually presented in a new way, which produces new thoughts and insights and answers.
Analysis of the emerging scene and themes with the tray are not undertaken with the client, so as to avoid the cognitive distraction. What the client sees and feels from the scene is what is important in the session.
Why Sand and not another texture or substance? Dora Kalff created the sandplay tray and utilised sand because symbolically it is strongly associated with eternity and mother-nature. Sand can be worked easily when dry or wet and mostly brings back fond childhood memories. Memories are packages of events and emotions, which are oh so important. Encouraging clients to select items from the shelves is a wonderful experience as they explore new depths, feel enjoyable and challenging emotions linked with seemingly unrelated items from the shelves…i.e a open mouth female hippo for themselves, an alert silver back gorilla for their mother etc, brings a flood of emotion and images from a childhood experience, while the client went into the tray expecting to design a scene about the relaxed, calm and enjoyable weekend they’d just had. As the therapist my understanding of the symbolism is important, but so is the symbolism and representations the client is bringing to the tray they create. I adore learning new symbolism from my young clients as they have such limitless imaginations.
If you wish to get your hands picking and creating your own self-discoveries and healing or if you wish to support your child be more whole, please contact me today about booking an important.
Over the next couple of blog posts we will be looking into the dance options available to us, whats our go to dance and how to change dances when they aren't working for our relationship.
This blog will be focusing on the "Protest Polka", a term coined by Dr Sue Johnson. Would love to hear what you call your dance in the comments below:)
We are starting with this dance because it is the most common and starts early in relationships from research done by psychologist John Gottman. The main steps within this dance can be forever moves, without intervention. The steps involve one partner reaching out (usually in a negative way), and the other partner steps back. Repeat, like a broken record, because the needs driving this dance are powerful and hardwired. Hardwired because we are made for connection and attachment relationships are the other aspect of life on earth where any response is better than none. When the response from a partner is no response, we protest, trying for a response, a connection and reassurance. This dance can be subtle, a demanding, active protest for connection meet with withdrawing, a quiet protest against the implied criticism. Missing each others signals for connection and therapists often hearing about communication problems or constant tension/unease. Secure relationships can see the protest polka happening but the partners have skills to repair the disconnection. Insecure attached couples, the protest polka speeds up and gets more intense either creating insurmountable differences, communication issues and/or offering connection that the other partner doesn't want. For example a withdrawn husband will initiate sexual intimacy but this will not fulfill their partners attachment needs.
This has been shown in infant studies where a baby will try everything within their power to get a response from a stonewalling mother. If no response still occurs, "deadly" isolation, loss and helplessness will inevitable ensue.
This dance can be between lovers, parents and children and brothers and sisters. In fact anyone when an emotional connection is involved.
One partner can feel unimportant, not valued, experiencing separateness in regards to life and death, lonely and excluded, abandonment at a time of need, unable to depend upon their partner, anger at lack of responsiveness, and experiencing a lover more as a roommate.
Conversely the other partner might be feeling hopeless, no confidence to act in appropriate way, having to deal with challenging feelings of shutting down/numbing, feeling inadequate, judged, and unaccepted, denying their attachment needs, doing everything to not enrage their partner, or create moments of disapproval, and using logical and reasons above emotional interactions.
Research into couples relationships give us five key messages about how to create a new dance and a more health secure relationship:
1) Acknowledgment and willingness to see the whole dance. The 'how' of the dance and what it says about your relationship, not just argument details. We need to look beyond and above the hurt and feelings of being attacked in the moment.
2) Involved the recognition that it takes two to tango, or protest polka in this case. That one partner draws the other into the dance. One attacks and the other unwittingly becomes defensive and needs to justify rather than remaining open and available. Or one partner is 'gone', aloof and distant, pulling the other person into feeling alone, isolated and pursing/pushing for connection.
3) Polka = attachment distress. As with parenting and supporting children in distress (aka tantrums) connection is the key. Removing logical and problem solving and rather implementing awareness of the dance steps will lead to safety for connection. Each partner needs to learn their own and their partners dance moves so the protest polka dance becomes a dance of connection not distress. For example, I yell, scream, threaten, anything to get a response, or I shut down, not listening because all I hear are my faults and short comings or I say the same thing over and over again as no-one listens to me or I end up not asking, withdrawing and just doing things by myself because I've asked before with no outcome, I've given up.
4) Seeing the dance, the polka, the distress which leads to the disconnection and this learning teaches us that our partner isn't the enemy, but the dance itself is.
5) Name it tames it. When both partners see the dance and their parts within it, they are able to call it out, name it out loud and the power it has diminishes. It gives space for safety and secure to grow through new moves involving discussing attachment needs and emotions.
Thinking about your present relationship, a recent experience of disconnection, can you identify each persons steps. Imagine you are a fly on the wall, what are you actually seeing each person do?, what are their attachment needs underlying this behaviour? Behaviour is communication after all, what are to communication to your partner?, is this what you want to be communicating? Being honest with ourselves can be challenging, seeing our own moves can be difficult. Can you fill in these blanks: The more I........, the more you......... and then the more I......., and round and round we go.
As said above we can have this dance with any person we have an emotional bond with. If it is initially too challenging to think about it with your lover, think about it with a sibling, parent or our child.
If you are brave enough, let us know your dance steps and how you go altering the steps. We'd also love to hear what you've name your relationships dance.
Conscious parenting is a movement centering on the relationship between parents and their kids. Whom influences who? Whom teaches whom?
Conscious Parenting and Parenting from within, would assert that the relationship is flowing in both directions. Parents influence children and parents teach children AND children influence parents and children teach parents. Research tells that a wonderful predictor of good enough parenting and secure attachments is when a parent has made sense of their past. A great slab of our parenting struggles come from not being open to the learning and growing up our kids are helping us with. This block could be coming from our belief system/our BS or the internal movie we keep playing which no-one else knows they are playing parts in...causes a lot of pain when we keep buying tickets to the same movie and not choosing a new movie of reality. A big one of these I see within myself and the clients I support, is emotional intelligence (EI). Emotional intelligence and/or emotional regulation is a big and challenging part of parenting. EI is a greater predictor of life success than IQ is, so what are we modelling, what lessons are coming from our kids and what tools can be teach ourselves and our kids to increase EI.
A story to illustrate:
A little boy is forced to sit in a role within his family we could call the emotional expression seat. His mum has her BS surrounding a not imposing her needs and feelings on others, so outward expression is limited. His Dad has his BS surrounding male stereotypes of not expressing emotions, depression and anxiety so outward expression is limited. This little boy has the weight of emotional expression all on his little shoulders and with no skills. As behaviour is communication, what is being shared here? Another important part of mum is teaching her kids that even when you are at your worst I've still got you. So what does mum and dad need to learn from and become conscious of in their parenting? If mum wants her boys to know emotions, both challenging and pleasant one, are welcome, natural and that love is unconditional. Is there behaviour communicating this as well as their parenting words? Id argue, no. Mum and Dad are not conscious of the impact that they are having...actions speak louder than words after all. I gave mum some homework which was to step into the emotional expression seat within their family dynamic. She did it with great results, somewhat to her surprise. This homework was not easy for mum, expressing was the second step for her really, the first and rather challenging was the acknowledgment of her own feelings. There was a perfect opportunity one day and she grabbed it. Her son, who has a strong fight within his nervous system, was in the beginning stages of a down stairs tantrum. In addition to her practice of connecting to his feelings, she also connected to her own in that moment and gave permission for her tears to flow. She spoke to her son about her internal world in age appropriate language, without putting the blame on him an important element. The son 2years later speaks of this encounter with his mum as precious and mum speaks of it as a turning point in her conscious parenting journey.
Emotional regulation and EI can start in lots of ways, as in the above example. The importance of not placing blame is vital, never make a child say sorry for their emotions, ie "You need to say sorry for crying and making Daddy angry", please never do this. More will be blogged about this in coming blogs:)
Another easy and family fun way to support emotional regulation is via this awesome Calm Kit. Please download, use and tell us how your family goes with it. We've found wonderful results in our family. Enjoy.
Click here to download your CALM KIT :)