Book Review: Sandplay in Three Voices: Images, Relationships, the Numinous by Kay Bradway, Lucia Chambers and Maria Ellen Chiaia published by Routledge 2005 ISBN:1-58391-729-2

Reviewed by Ursula Somerville

The introduction to this book tells us what it is not and it is not a book on how to do Sandplay Therapy nor is it a history on Sandplay Therapy. Likewise, it is not about the practice of Sandplay Therapy. But it is a book about looking at the minute movement within Sandplay Therapy. As I read it, it is like being a fly on the wall as three well established sandplay therapists come together and discuss topics like the “mechanics” of therapy, albeit using Sandplay, i.e. silence, therapist, client, mother, numinous, shadow, chaos, child and self. Throughout the book I realised that all of the above could be applicable to all manner of therapy but I believe the depth of the Sand is what will make the difference to the level of work that takes place. So, the three come together and discuss the above topics and after they have discussed it each therapist has a personal chapter to pull together their understanding of each element of the relationship.

They talk about the cognitive techniques and theories which were so carefully centred on during our training, being gently bypassed when using the Sand and therapists being present, to commit to exploring the hidden mysteries at the deepest level of the psychic space. There must be a willingness to be partners in the participation of the creation of the making visible the deep psychic unconscious. This is not an easy thing to do and the importance of the therapist having gone to that deep level of unconscious themselves makes them the only person capable of accompanying the client on this excavation journey.

One very important aspect to working with a client in the sand is to avoid thinking that you understand the meaning of what anything implies.  “A boat in the sand does not necessarily mean a journey any more than a circle would mean the aspect of the Self”.  In these circumstances, if the therapist interprets these with meanings they will have moved from meeting the client in the relational field of the unconscious. The therapist will have been seduced by the unconscious of one or both i.e. the client and the therapist. Jung says “by no device can the treatment be anything but the product of mutual influence, in which the whole being of the doctor as well as the patient plays its part, hence personalities of doctor and patient are infinitely more important for the outcome of the treatment than what the doctor says and thinks” (page 25).

This is a book that is worth having because of the experience of the level of discussion of each of the elements we as therapists work with and for the purpose of the word count of this review I am concentrating only on the Silence aspect of our work.

As a reader you will experience new insight into Silence (my favourite aspect of this work).  This, silence, is not to be taken as resistance as was so often the case in the Freudian theory but Silence is very powerful and insightful when used to journey to the greater landscape of our psyche. Like all things, silence also has a shadow side which is that of banishing the other in a relationship (sending one to Coventry) but it is not about the shadow side that therapy is about but it is the growth that can happen when silence is treated with reverence and respect.  Silence allows us to hear the other side and so if we hold our silence and not react I think that can open up the road to real dialogue.

When the client is experiencing silence with a therapist who is comfortable in the waiting period, waiting for the two unconscious of both therapist and client to connect, does not create that same tension experienced at analytic level where it can be described as, and has been described as “resistance” in the work.  The therapist must be comfortable in their skin to be able to sit in the silence and with presence to allow that deep core work to start to take place.  It is not necessary to ever talk about or interpret what is taking place in that silence because the client is able to access a part of themselves that will actually welcome that silence for further growth and vision of themselves.  Jung talks about never having a “Dogma” as he was always open to something else coming into view and I think that is one of the qualities that sandplay therapy brings to the client the potential that there is something else there and not suggestive, for silence can’t suggest, but it is more an organic checking in with what’s at the core of the psyche of the sandplay, and when they get there, oh they know they got there and there is a body felt understanding at a deep place within the therapist facilitating that.

The book advises of Karen Signell’s three different types of silence: “an Ego Silence/Conscious Silence – the kind you experience stepping into a library. Natural Silence – the kind you experience when you walk into a forest and Deep Silence – a profound state of silence when you enter into the deeper layers of the unconscious where you find a more profound and ineffable place within you” (Page 27).  So it is in that Deep Silence place that we experience sandplay and this is where both (client and therapist) experience a transformation.

The three authors share with us in this book a wealth of wisdom highlighting the many levels of our relationship with our clients.  I feel that this wisdom is pertinent in all aspects of therapeutic work and not just to the Sandplay medium.

Ursula Somerville is a Psychotherapist, Child Psychotherapist, Sand Therapist and Creative Supervisor working in Private Practice in Dublin. Email: urshome@gmail.com