Sandplay And The Arts In Therapy


Wild Geese – Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

monster gathering flowers

I Didn’t Realise There Was A Field Full Of Flowers – Dominique Velarde

‘It is the artistic imagination and not the wilful mind, that effortlessly transforms the torturing demon into an inspirational daimon…the image is a guide who goes ahead and initiates change, which we internalise through reflection.’

Shaun Mcniff

The Arts have been used as a healing force and profound form of communication throughout time. Sometimes words are not enough or are too much. Finding a way to express ourselves through image and metaphor or sound and movement enables a shift in perspective and experience, often bringing surprising and powerful new insight and feeling. When we are depressed or anxious, our imagination is often frozen, paralysed or empty. By entering fully into these landscapes via image, we paradoxically make room for movement to occur.

‘Slight shifts in imagination have more impact on living than major efforts at change.’  

Susie Gablick

Art can be both a container and a release. That is to say, it can help us to hold powerful and complex feelings or traumatic memories, providing relief from painful and troubling emotions, as well as offering a means of expressing and discharging strong sensations and affect.

figure in water

Quick Silver – Dominique Velarde

In this way we neither deny nor become overwhelmed by our emotions, rather we become able to consider feelings as guides rather than terrors to be avoided and ignored. Image can crystallise an awareness of sensations in the body and release blocked energy, thereby increasing our vitality and well-being and enabling us to feel more truly embodied.

Art-making can encourage risk taking, experimentation, increase our self esteem and enrich our lives. It enables interaction between different aspects of ourselves, makes room for contradictions and multiple points of view, and proffers possible solutions. It can reveal and hold paradox and show us the middle point of balance.

It can be intensely pleasurable and rewarding, challenging and confronting, playful and amusing or deeply soothing and calming.


Just Before Flight – Dominique Velarde

When we allow our imagination to inform us, whether through inner images or through paint, pens, clay, sandplay, pastels, puppets, movement or sound, we give ourselves time to step outside the dictates of the ego and our habitual explanations for things. We have a chance to play and create from a different source. We see a bigger picture, we attune to beauty.

A sand tray for example can vividly portray an inner or an outer situation we find ourselves in, and hold all perspectives simultaneously. We can see where we are stuck, we can experiment with different actions, we can express our thoughts and feelings by entering into the various images and their placements in the sand. We can try out new possibilities and rehearse new behaviours. We can explore internal and external conflicts and experiment with being and feeling the opposing viewpoints. We may be surprised by the greater understanding this can bring.


All art mediums facilitate the spontaneous expression of our inner world and give form to sensations felt but not yet apprehended. We can give life to the inner figures and landscapes of our dreams and bring a mood or a foreboding more fully into consciousness. By entering more fully into an emotion or sensation or thought by depicting it, we, paradoxically, allow for more distance, clarification and change. We come to develop more compassion and acceptance of both ourselves and others.


Holding On – Dominique Velarde

‘The exercise of the imagination involves….a movement of mind and heart from one vantage point to another.’ 

Mary Watkins

Learning to reconnect with aspects of ourselves we may have tried to avoid for a while, whether this is sadness or anger or fear or joy for example, can invite us to be kinder and more nurturing towards ourselves and therefore others. We may also find, when we can love the vulnerable child within our own selves, that we take ourselves more lightly and regain what Helen Luke describes as ‘the laughter at the heart of things’.

Beginnings – Pru Heath

‘The great man is he who does not lose his child’s heart’. Confucius

Keeping a track of our psychological journey via our image making can be very rewarding. Our art records our experiences and meanings giving us a direct visual map of the changes in our patterns of thoughts, feelings and responses over time.

Arts therapy can be beneficial for people of all ages and you do not need to ‘be good’ at or have any experience in art making. Sandplay and arts psychotherapy are about finding an intuitive means of self expression rather than creating polished works of art, there really is no right or wrong way to make an image or object and it can feel very freeing to see what emerges without any forward planning.  The capacity to play and the creative imagination are intrinsic to us all and can flourish with a little encouragement.

‘The artist is not a special kind of person, but every person is a special kind of artist’ 

Satish Kumar


The Swan- Mary Oliver

Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air –
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music – like the rain pelting the trees – like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds –
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?