Workshop Review: An Introduction to The Art of Sandplay Therapy Facilitated by Ursula Somerville and Maria S. Mohan of The Dublin Sandplay Therapy Institute

April 21st 2012, Fountain House, 55 Main Street, Rathfarnham, Dublin 14

Reviewed by Lydia MacKenna

I recently completed a certificate course in Jungian Sand Therapy in Fountain House Rathfarnham. This one day introductory course was instructed by Ursula Somerville and Maria Stanley Mohan. Having had very limited experience with sand therapy I was unsure about what to expect from the day, however, the experience excelled any hopes that I had and both Ursula and Maria made me feel very comfortable and safe.

The day began at a relaxing pace with each of us introducing ourselves and giving an insight into our backgrounds. This was followed by a preliminary discussion about the origins and art of sand therapy and the importance of symbolism. During these discussions the significance of the powerful and sacred nature of this therapeutic tool were not overlooked. It quickly became clear to me that the sand tray itself becomes a safe and secure space in which the client’s internal world is explored as a means of emotional healing. The simple process of selecting miniatures or symbols and placing them in a sandbox without conscious thought allows the client to create their own ‘world’ by means of a visual representation of their unconscious thoughts in a non-verbal way.

As the day progressed we were encouraged to try this technique for ourselves. The inordinate nature of the sand tray as a means of self-expression suddenly became very apparent. Working in pairs each person participated in making their own tray as the client and observing the tray being created as the therapist. Although we were all aware that this was a training exercise and not a personal session each of us was struck by the deep emotional experience it presented us with, both as client and therapist.

As my personal training is psychoanalytic I was amazed by how busy the therapist must be during the sessions. Even though the therapist has a deeper conscious understanding of the process and symbols, the work appears to be in the holding of the clients developing unconscious content while all the time recording the clients movements, engagement with the process and actions. I was also struck by the non-verbal aspect of the therapy, yet its deeply insightful nature. The therapist does not attempt to interpret the tray. The meaning subjectively develops as the client processes it and shares their thoughts if they so wish.

From a personal perspective I came away from the day with a great excitement about the process, yet at the same time a sense of being extremely mindful and cautious about the importance of training for anyone who wishes to use this approach in a therapeutic setting. The day for me was a very positive journey and I feel passionately about the work of sand therapy. Both Ursula and Maria exhibited a tangible passion and dedication to the work and its benefits that was contagious and I thank them both for a wonderful introduction to a truly worthwhile experiential creative therapy. I cannot recommend the experience highly enough.