Sandbox therapy is based on psychoanalytic theories and seeks to express unconscious conflicts through representations. Let’s see how you can help us!
Litter box therapy is a resource to complement any type of psychological approach. First of all, because it allows therapists to know the perceptions that their patients have regarding the world around them. Through play, people are able to be more expressive.
The main idea of therapy is to provide the patient with a safe space (a litter box) in which to represent the various situations in his life with the help of some miniature figures. Clearly, this process is accompanied by a therapist, who monitors the course and answers questions.
Some of its history
The origin of this therapeutic model comes from an innocent game between the young children of the British historian and writer Herbert George Wells. On one occasion, Wells noticed that his children expressed their daily conflicts through representations with figures.
Later, the child psychiatrist Margarita Lowenfeld would use this resource in her therapy sessions in order to facilitate the work of expressing problems for young people. But it would not be until the 1950s when it became official as a formal therapy.
The psychologist Dora M. Kalff is the one who finishes consolidating the litter box therapy as a way of making contact with the unconscious aspects of patients, regardless of age. Hence, the fundamental bases of this model are the archetypes proposed by Carl G. Jung.
In this framework, Jung’s postulates regarding archetypal images (symbolic representations of the world) were complemented with data from Margarita Lowenfeld’s experience in child therapy.
How is litter box therapy performed?
To choose to carry out this therapy, the therapist must be trained in certain psychoanalytic notions. Mainly because a complex interpretive process is required regarding the creations of patients in the arena.
What the mental health professional does is provide the person with the litter box with the symbolic elements in a messy way, so that the patient can unleash their creativity and recreate their perceptions in the safe environment of the sand.
The therapist should give the instructions and then leave room for expression through sand and figures. However, the intervention of the psychologist is always possible to answer specific questions.
The duration of the procedure varies depending on the case. Anyway, you could take all the time in the session to work out the symbolic representations. In this case, the psychologist should not rush. All analyzes and interpretations will be done in private, later.
How can you help us?
This therapy is helpful in many ways. But, in particular, it helps to produce an “awareness” in people. To begin with, when the patient begins to shape his representations, he is taking charge of the conflicts in his life in a hierarchical and organized way.
Based on the above, this process is an exercise in insight for those who carry it out. For example, difficult family relationships begin to unravel in the sand. As a result of this therapy, people become aware of some aspects that had been unconscious.
Obviously, it is not enough just to represent reality through symbols. As can be inferred, it is the psychologist who allows the patient to face the representations, using conversational techniques during therapy.
Does litter box therapy really work?
The effectiveness of this therapy has been questioned, as have psychoanalytic methods in general. This is because the resources most used in conventional psychological therapies are those that have scientific validity. For example, cognitive-behavioral methods.
The lack of scientific validity significantly limits psychoanalytic treatments, including litter box therapy. In this sense, it could work for some people, and there could also be situations where it is not effective.
In any case, the results of this therapy could be considered anecdotal. However, it will depend largely on the knowledge and experience of the therapist, who being well trained can increase the chances of success.
Litter box therapy for adults
Contrary to popular belief, play therapy can be effective in adults. Litter box therapy can be applied to people of all ages. In older patients, representations in the sand tend to be more abstract compared to those of children.
Adults have developed abstract thinking and have incorporated more archetypes into their belief system. On the other hand, children tend to focus only on the basic archetypes of childhood: mother, father, grandparents and other family members, in addition to teachers and classmates.
In this sense, adults not only move between basic archetypes, but also subtly introduce other characters to the scene. Such is the case of lovers, common archetypes in adults. From all this it follows that the therapist should be more suspicious when applying this therapy in adults.
In which cases is it most effective?
When people show significant difficulty in expressing themselves through speech, this therapeutic modality is a good alternative. An example could be a case of sexual abuse, in which the victim is unable to relate the events effectively due to the intensity of the trauma.
In any case, as we mentioned before, it is important that the therapist is trained in this modality. Knowing how to interpret the process and accompanying doubts is key.