Thursday, July 8, 2010

Relational Sandplay Therapy: Expanding Our Capacities for Holding in the Free and Protected Space

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Image by Eric Cheng

I discovered the four archetypal relational fields by accident. I was curious about certain kinds of sandplay work that did not seem to meet the classical Kalffian criteria. These sandtrays were difficult to understand, and like Kohut’s self state dream, did not seem to hold symbolic meaning. Sandplay therapists seemed baffled by these sandtrays, and were also quite self-critical, assuming that they “weren’t holding” the process “well enough.” Kalffian ideas about the free and protected space emphasize the therapist’s unconditional positive regard for the client. The Rogerian stance of warmth, genuineness, and unconditional positive regard are, of course, givens in any therapeutic situation. However, when we attend to unconscious processes, other feelings and experiences may arise within this loving psychic embrace. These “other” perhaps more negative experiences often indicate the therapist’s resonance with the client’s preverbal trauma. This resonance provides an important avenue toward healing that is supported by findings in neuroscience.

In my interviews with sandplay therapists, I found that they actually experienced a full range of countertransference experience, from emotions to experiential states and body sensations, to memories, thoughts, images, fantasies and dreams. The diagram below illustrates this full range of subjective experience of the therapist, superimposed on colored bands that each represent one of the four archetypal relational fields.

Relational sandplay therapy was created to help the sandplay therapist expand her/his capacities for holding within the free and protected space.
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