Interview with AISPT on Sandplay, the Indivduation Process and the Importance of Play

by Maria Kendler, Switzerland.

1. The relationship between Sandplay therapy and the individuation process as C.G. Jung had defined it:

I like the idea that the process of individuation has not been “invented” by Jung. Even Jung himself found that humans at all times were moved by a mysterious force that lead them to explore new zones of their inner world in order to become more complete as an individual. Alchemical experiences as they were practiced in all cultures reflect this research for example; or Jung’s playful constructions with all kinds of material that he found at the shore of the lake of Zurich during his personal crises after the separation with Freud. These two examples show that the methods of the individuation process can use practical material as a support. Inner contents that are not conscious yet can be projected on concrete objects, figurines, materials etc. and thus, throughout a free activity of creation, be brought nearer to consciousness.

It was Jung’s revolutionary idea that the access to the unconscious, which is the basis for the individuation process, is not only possible through dreams but through many other practices. In his early text about the Transcendent function (which was written in 1916 but only published in 1956) he already explained that all kinds of creation with concrete material (painting, drawing, clay, dancing, etc.) in a state of loosened mental activity (abaissement du niveau mental) will open the communication between conscious and unconscious.

At that time, Sandplay therapy did not exist yet, but it is no surprising that Jung later recommended to Dora Kalff to study Margaret Lowenfeld’s World Technique, with the idea to adapt this method and its creative material to the Jungian practice. Even if it was initially thought to provide a Jungian approach for children, we nowadays know how useful Sandplay can be for adults as well, and their specific search for individuation.

The advantage of Sandplay therapy is that the symbolic process is rooted in a body-near area of the psyche, due to the sensorial experience of the sand. The individuation process with its challenges, its fabulous and sometimes uncomfortable discoveries will arise from an inner area of deep preverbal realities. In contact with the sand, the contents that are ready to emerge come out of a felt experience. The sense of touch, which is the most archaic sensorial function, gives birth and form to these contents.

The individuation process can express itself on many different levels of a person’s life. But if a client can regularly give creative form with sand and figurines to inner images that arise spontaneously, the sandtray becomes a solid and continuous container of this process on a very concrete level. The constancy of this container allows the therapist to directly observe how the psychic energy that is activated in a specific individuation process takes form and transforms throughout the process.


2. The theme that I presented at the ISST Congress in Jerusalem and why the topic of “East meets West” interests me:

At the Congress in Israel I spoke about the importance of play in Western and Eastern philosophy and mythology. In the second part of my presentation, I tried to illustrate how the essence of the Hindu idea of playfulness can appear in Sandplay therapy.

It was interesting for me to observe that from Western antiquity to present times many philosophers and even theologians value the attitude of playfulness as an attitude of wisdom and even spiritual practice. In Eastern mythology we find the idea of “Leela” in different traditions of Hinduism, Leela means “play”, especially “divine play”. When I presented one of the most popular manifestations of Leela which is related to the myths of baby Krishna, the audience reacted very positively to the God’s attitude of an uneducable boy. In fact, little Krishna refuses every rules and norms, he does not accept to be conditioned by human constraints and thus represents the absolute freedom of the divine essence of our being. His attitude towards life is play, dance, creativity. And in this attitude of inner freedom and no personal identification with serious life events he even fights demons and liberates the earth from its burden.

Similarly, in Sandplay processes we can sometimes observe how complexes and emotional burden can be transcended by the simple fact of coming to a creative and playful expression. I showed several clinical examples with sandpictures where static patterns could become flexible through the growing connection with playfulness.

Deconditioning is sometimes necessary, especially for adults, in order to become able to play. Sandplay therapy offers a material that allows creation with minimal play acts and can help to lower resistances to play.

In Hinduism, the attitude of playfulness and inner freedom (Leela) is possible because there is a felt relationship to the indestructible ground of being. This relatedness is felt as an ultimate protection and provides the opportunity to go beyond the limiting patterns of suffering. In this context, I also showed a sandpicture where the client could choose a single object that showed which part of her was not touched by her omnipresent suffering.

Finally, I showed a sandtray in which the numinous reality of unification which is an important experience in the individuation process is not only represented in its aspect of stillness (like in a stable Mandala), but from the perspective of its joyful and energetic side of Leela, where dance and dynamic liveliness fill the space of the sandtray.

To resume we could say that Leela is playfulness in a spiritual vision of complete inner freedom and relatedness to the indestructible essence of being. I am always glad to observe how this playful energy of Leela is activated by Sandplay. And it was especially interesting for me that East and West value this playful attitude since thousands of years.


Maria Kendler, Msc, MPhil, Clinical Psychologist and Teaching member of SGSST/ISST with professional experience in individual and institutional settings.

Presently she is working in a private practice in Morges and in Vevey, in the French part of Switzerland. She uses Sandplay with children, adolescents and adults.

Since many years she is teaching Sandplay Therapy in Switzerland and abroad.

She is the president of the Swiss Society for Sandplay Therapy (SGSST) and Vice President of ISST for Europe, Africa and Middle East.

Since 10 years she is the responsible editor of the Swiss-German Journal for Sandplay Therapy (Zeitschrift für Sandspieltherapie).

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L’AISPT, espressione italiana della International Society for Sandplay Therapy ISST, si occupa di formazione, ricerca, condivisione di esperienze e conoscenze sulla psicologia con il metodo del Gioco della Sabbia, all’interno di una rete internazionale che facilita lo studio, la discussione specialistica e lo scambio tra i terapeuti. La Sandplay Therapy fornisce un linguaggio simbolico anche a chi non ha parole per esprimere il proprio malessere, consentendo di rappresentare il mondo interno così come si è costellato.

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