Workshop Review: A Sand Therapy Continuum Facilitated by Dr. June Atherton – Nov 2009 and Mar 2010

Reviewed by Catherine Conneely – Heneghan

‘Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.’   Carl J Jung

The journeys from Silver Strand, Louisburgh, Co. Mayo to Dublin to take part in workshops running over two weekends, conducted by Dr. Atherton were enlightening. Dr. June Atherton is President of the International Jungian Sand therapy Association and visiting Professor in Jungian Studies at the State University of St. Petersburg, Russia. In joining with a group of therapists at June’s home, the workshops proved experiential. We were invited to create our sand tray creations in an atmosphere of perceptive wisdom and gentle compassion. June explored our sand tray creations with great diligence, wisdom, empathy and understanding. I was very struck by her enthusiasm with the Sand therapy as if it were something she had just found and fallen in love with. June has been working with and teaching Sand therapy for many years.

In Sand therapy, adults and children create a scene in a tray of sand using a selection from hundreds of miniature figures. Psychotherapists usually provide two trays for clients. One tray is filled with dry sand and one is used with damp sand, either may be chosen. The trays measure 191/2 x 231/2 x 3 inches. The interior of each tray is painted blue to give the impression of water or sky when the sand is moved aside. Sand therapy is a psychotherapeutic technique that enables clients to create a sand tray corresponding to their world. The essence of Sand therapy is symbolic and non-verbal. Healing can happen spontaneously within a person at an unconscious level, when energies in the form of living symbols are touched upon in the collective and personal unconscious.

The Sand therapy room should contain a wide variety of miniatures (there is no standard collection) including:

People: domestic of many nationalities and races, mythological, fantasy, military.

Animals; wild, domestic, zoo, farm, marine, prehistoric.

Natural objects: seashells, pine cones, bones, feathers, stones, rocks, eggs, wood.

Symbolic objects: wishing wells, treasure chests, glass marbles, jewellery.

Buildings: schools, houses, castles, religious and non religious.

Vehicles: land, air, water, space, war machines.

Structures: gates, doorways, fences.

Vegetation: trees, bushes, flowers, plants, vegetables.

After the creation of the sand tray, if the client is comfortable to engage in verbal communication it allows them to integrate new insights and feelings and to clarify personal meanings that may have emerged.

The psychotherapist must have mastered Jung’s Analysis Psychology. In addition to psychological training, the psychotherapist must have a profound knowledge of the language of symbols, especially the interpretation of depth-psychology as expressed by Carl Jung through myth, fairy tale, religion and literature. In order to accompany the client’s experience effectively, the psychotherapist must, on the basis of their own psychic maturation process, have experienced these symbols and their efficacy.

One of the benefits of sand therapy is that we see the invisible. I was impressed by June’s work, her ability to teach, to bring us along with her into this world to see the invisible that I warrant familiar to us all.

Catherine Conneely-Heneghan MIAHIP, works in private practice as a psychotherapist in Silver Strand, Louis Burgh, Co Mayo