The concept of the sandtray and the therapist as a "container" for the client’s work is often discussed in case presentations both at conferences and in publications. When I hear the level of respect and support for client’s sand tray work, I am reminded of the role of the therapist as container and provider of a free and protected space. The tray itself is often discussed…dimensions, wood or plastic, wet or dry?
The sandtray is a container of specific proportions used in a specific way. Usually about 19" by 28" by 3" deep and constructed of wood or plastic, the sandtray is often painted blue on the bottom to represent water. Estelle Weinrib, in Images of the Self, describes the dimensions of the tray as "limiting and containing" in that it can be viewed in its entirety thus "focusing and reflecting back the inner vision". The sandtray is also a symbol of containment at it serves to provide a sacred place to create scenes or manipulate the sand itself. Jeanette Pruyn Reed, in Sand Magic, views the sandtray as "a controlled space in which there are opportunities to build, shape, change, imagine, order, simplify, perfect, and embellish a concept or an idea".
In Sandplay – Silent Workshop of the Psyche, Kay Bradway and Barbara McCoard state "… therapists do provide the necessary container or tenemos." Dora Kalff described this tenemos as the free and protected space. Bradway and McCoard refer to this concept as the "holding container of the countertransference", a term used by Bradway to describe the transference-countertransference always present in the treatment room.
Weinrib states, "Essentially, the emotional and psychological free and protected space is provided by the personality of the therapist as the psychological container and protector of the process." In the Journal of Sandplay VIII, 1, Rosalind Winter’s article on Sandplay and Ego Development describes the role of the therapist as container "as someone who provides the safety, the non-judgmental presence that allows the psyche to unfold and to heal itself."
Maria Ellen Chiaia writes about "a containing space held by the therapist within the silence of relationship". She further describes the role of the therapist by stating, "We hold the space open, so that the emergence of the patient’s material may occur more easily." Both the client’s experience of working in the tray, and the knowledge and training the therapist brings to sandplay, support the client’s process.
(See Bibliography Category for references)