Why is sandtray so effective?
The power of sandtray therapy lies in its access to the subconscious.
One groundbreaking study in the mid part of the last century highlighted this power of the subconscious and unknown. Richard Sperry conducted an experiment with people who had their corpus callosum cut, which is the part of the brain that connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This purposeful sectioning of the brain was often performed as a treatment for severe epilepsy.
Sperry, the ever-curious scientist, wanted to know the effects of a bilateral brain sectioning on the explanation of the behavior. Within the study, he displayed a command to walk across the room that could only be accessed by the right part of the brain. After he did this, the person promptly walked across the room.
The second part of the study is where it really gets fascinating. When Sperry asked the subjects why they walked across the room, all gave erroneous answers, creating explanations for their behaviors that were plausible but not accurate- none had anything to do with the direction to “walk” from the experimenters.
With this study, the left brain did not have access to the information as to the actual reason the behavior was performed. Such is often the case with trauma or other memories because these reside in the right side of the brain. Without prompting, the left brain may never have access to this pertinent information, hence the seemingly non-purposeful behavior performed by clients who have truly have no real clue as to why they need to do this- they just know they do it.
It is a fallacy to think that we have complete control of our motivations, behaviors and thoughts. Many times, our behavior is dictated by the lower or older parts of our brain. These are often not readily accessible to the higher level thinking parts of the brain.
Because sandtray therapy is able to access the right part of the brain while providing connections to the left, it provides holistic therapy, promoting more effective and speedier recovery. Since most of my clients have their corpus callosum intact, their brains are able to communicate between the right and left sections given the right prompt. The pictures and stories made in the sandtray provide the right brain with the fodder needed to stimulate the memories and feelings. The story-telling and processing of the sandtray therapy allows for the left brain to see those feelings housed in the right brain in three dimensions.
Take all of these aspects within the sandtray and the result is an effective, whole-brained therapy. This powerful method is able to uncover aspects of the self and issues that are not able to be accessed with just cognitive talk therapy.
Through sandtray therapy, we, as therapists, are able to provide clients with a powerful, whole-brained experience, while allowing them to be held in a non-judgmental and protected space.
With sandtray therapy, how could anything but powerful breakthrough moments occur?