I am a Registered Sandplay Practitioner (RSP) and member of Sandplay Therapists of America (STA).
The psychotherapeutic use of sand-based play was originally publicized by a psychiatrist named Margaret Lowenfeld, and was intended to provide children with a nonverbal means of better communicating and expressing their internal worlds given the limitations of verbal speech. As Lowenfeld postulated, "the central task of psychotherapy is that of making contact with the whole of a patient's mind." For a child, "thought, sensations, concept and memory are inextricably interwoven. A child's thought is fluid and movement can take place on several planes at once." With the aim of "making contact with the whole of a patient's mind," Lowenfeld created the World Technique; this approach entailed the provision of a tray filled with sand and access to various small objects. The child was informed that "there is a gap between a child's world and that of the adults of his environment, and thus a lack of mutual understanding." As such, the child was encouraged to create a "world" in the tray utilizing the miniature items given that "many things are more easily 'said' in pictures and in actions than in words" since "this is the natural way of 'thinking'" and can "make a bridge between two worlds--that of the child and that of adults."
Fifteen years after the World Technique was publically introduced, Dora Kalff, a Jungian analyst, sought mentorship under Lowenfeld due to her eagerness to better understand the complexities of this approach. Given her relationship with psychiatrist, Carl Jung, and personal analytic background, Kalff practiced sand-based play with children by integrating Jungian symbology as well as hypothesizing that each tray was, like a dream, an expression of the psyche's fundamental and inherent drive toward wholeness. With time, Kalff coined this approach, "Sandplay," after the German word, "sandspiel."
Today, Sandplay is practiced with both children and adults alike. Sandplay is a nonverbal, non-interpretative approach that is intended to create what is known as a "free and protected space." The creation of a "sand picture" is a sensory, intrapsychic, and interpersonal experience that neurally, mirrors early childhood development, and is unrestrained by intellectual or verbal confines given that "psychological healing is an emotional, non-rational phenomenon." Clients are provided with a tray (that is specifically sized to match the typical field of vision) and filled with sand. A series of miniature objects are available to emulate various aspects of life. Clients also have access to water to utilize as they see fit. The "space" created by both the physical tray and client-therapist relationship invite "free" expression of what is normally inexpressible: the psyche's unconscious contents. The tangible parameters of the tray as well as the psychological containment of the client's unconscious material by the therapist facilitate the provision of a "protected space." Thus, the "free and protected space" serves as a womb-like holding place for a client's psyche to instinctively and effectively navigate the relationship between conscious and unconscious worlds. Informed by Jungian depth psychology, Sandplay facilitates "the renewal of the personality and the expansion of consciousness" by creating a context in which the compensatory function of the unconscious can thrive.
Quoted material was derived from the following sources:
Lowenfeld, M. (1993). Understanding children's sandplay: Lowenfeld's world technique. Eastbourne, England: Sussex Academic Press.
Weinrib, E. (2004). Images of the self: The sandplay therapy process. Cloverdale, CA: Tenemos Press.