Benefits of Sandplay: An Interview with Therapist Joan C. Concannon LMFT

Traditional talk therapy doesn’t always work for everyone. A great form of therapy that may is sandplay therapy. Sandplay therapy is a great way for children or adults to work through conscious or unconscious issues. To help understand what the benefits of sandplay therapy is and what a typical session would be like, I have interviewed therapist Joan C. Concannon LMFT.

Tell me a bit about yourself:

“I am a Certified Jungian Analyst and a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist practicing in Calabasas, California. In my psychotherapy practice of 25 years, I have worked with a variety of people, with a broad spectrum of concerns. Along with traditional talk-therapy, I incorporate other techniques that address the unconscious process and deepen the work. Some of these techniques include Sandplay, Dream Interpretation and Expressive Art. Engaging in Sandplay in my office has helped children, adults and even families.”

What is sandplay?

“Sandplay is a process whereby a client, child or adult, creates a scene in a tray, using sand, water and many small figures. These pictures are similar to dreams in that they express the client’s inner feelings or experience. This deceptively simple technique is quite powerful and effective in facilitating change in the psyche.”

“The form and structure of the sand tray allows for the digging down or the building up in this three dimensional landscape. The tray is approximately 30 inches by 20 inches and 3 inches deep. This size correlates with what the eyes can take in at one time. The bottom and sides of the tray are painted blue, to suggest water or sky. The tray is filled 2/3rd of the way with sand. There are usually two sand trays. One with wet sand and another with dry sand. The Sandplay collection includes thousands of little figures from the natural world and the archetypal world. These figures range from trees, rocks, people in various forms of activity, houses, religious objects, cars, animals, tools, food, hero’s, and monsters, just to name a few.”

“A woman named Dora Kalff, a Jungian Analyst, developed Sandplay. She studied under Carl Jung, noted psychoanalyst, who became aware of how successful she was with children and encouraged her work. Kalff understood that play facilitated a natural healing process in the psyche.”

“Play is the natural language of children. They instinctively act-out what is going on internally in their play. This is especially true in the presence of a caring and accepting therapist. Kalff emphasized the necessity of a “free and protective space” for both children and adults who sought her help. This accepting atmosphere allows the client to explore his or her inner and outer worlds through their imagination.”

“For example, an eight-year-old boy was brought to me due to anxiety and anger related to his parent’s divorce and his mother’s remarriage. He was not sleeping well, and was acting out both at school and home. In the sand tray, he made many scenes of two medieval armies engaged in battle. Each consecutive week was a new chapter in this story of this war. He clearly identified with one side over the other. This process went on for many months and at times his play in the sand was quite aggressive. Finally one day he came and made a totally different tray using cars, trucks and airplanes pointing towards the door of my office. I wondered, “What change is “taking off” in his psyche?” Then he immediately made a second tray with many families of animals, both wild and domestic animals. These two trays indicated that the inner battle was over, and he was now connecting with the realm of the nurturing family on the animal level. Subsequent trays showed various people using tools and working cooperatively in the world. This cooperative atmosphere in the sand tray was reflected in his life at home and at school. He had developed the inner tools to handle his challenges and be comfortable in his own world.”

What types of issues can sandplay therapy help with?
“Most any issue related to a child can be worked out through Sandplay. Children have been helped with anxiety, self-injury, depression, feelings related to a divorce, anger, bedwetting, dealing with illness — you name it.”

“Being non-verbal and symbolic, Sandplay has the ability to touch on those experiences that happened pre-verbally or cannot be readily accessed verbally. Certainly this is true for children, but also for adults. Not only can trauma be worked through in the sand, but other feelings or psychic dispositions that one cannot yet “name”.”

“Sometimes an adult client will get caught up intellectualizing his or her problem. The talk may go round and round, like the hamster on the wheel with little real progress. That is when I find it is especially necessary to engage the psyche by encouraging the client to do a sand tray or to bring in a dream. It is through this process of bringing together the conscious and unconscious mind, which allows for a connection to the deeper self. I have worked with many adults who truly found themselves by working in the sand.”

What would a typical sandplay therapy session be like?
“Often, children will immediately go to the sand tray and start making a picture in the sand. The hands push the sand around, adding water, creating various forms. Then placing whatever figures or structures are appealing. They usually tell me the story that they are creating. Sometimes a child will want me to participate in the making of the tray. I let the child direct my actions. I am very attentive to their process, and may ask questions or encouraging comments, but I keep the interpretations of the trays to myself. This is also true for adult Sandplay processes. Although my understanding of the sand tray facilitates further dialog with the client, specific interpretations of the sand tray would interrupt the process and be intrusive.”

“For the initial Sandplay session with adults, I give only a few instructions. I suggest that the client begin by having an inward, reflective focus, while touching the sand. There is no right or wrong way to do Sandplay, and I encourage the client to follow their instincts. “Let the figure choose you.” Since Sandplay is a non-verbal process, many adults make the tray without comment, yet some clients want to tell their story. However, the times when they say, “but I don’t know what that means or why he wanted to be there — but he does.” That is when I know something of the unconscious, something unknown has come in, and that, especially needs to be understood. After the tray is completed, I may ask what feelings emerged and if there is anything I need to know. Often adults and children feel a sense of calm or centeredness after making a sand tray. When the session is over, I take several photos of the tray. After a series of trays has been created, and only when the client and I feel it is appropriate, will I discuss the movement and meaning of the trays with the client or parent. Many clients never ask for an interpretive reading of their trays. I have found that most clients are very content to let the Sandplay process remain a lived experience. I believe this reflects the sacred quality of this work.”

What advice would you like to leave for someone who is considering sandplay therapy to help them heal and recover?
“As with all therapy, I believe it is important to find someone who is well trained in Sandplay Therapy and with whom you feel very comfortable. I would also like to encourage this person to let the process take time and to allow oneself to “drop down and play.” So many times adults, especially, feel restricted and feel that they have to do it right. When the client is able to surrender to the play, the unconscious process can come in, and then the work and healing truly begins.”

Thank you Joan for doing the interview on the benefits of sandplay therapy. For more information on Joan Concannon or her work you can check out her website on

Source: Yahoo! Voices

Categories: Benefits, Development, Sand, Sandplay

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply