Jobes’ Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore, and Symbols is one of my most treasured resources. In the introduction, Gertrude Jobes writes about how her curiosity about symbols and her desire to understand dramas, epics, poems, vase paintings, and other works resulted in her two volume dictionary. “I must confess that as the work progressed it served me more and more in another way; it opened a vast expanse for flight, a boundless space for contemplation“ (pg. vii). As I look through the dictionary to understand the meaning of miniatures used in clients’ trays, I also see the many meanings as an opening to more “wondering“ and “what about…?“.
During my internship, I received a referral to work with an 11-year-old gifted boy. He was small for his age, somewhat shy, and very bright. In our first meeting, his mother seemed both dominating and anxious and reported becoming quite frustrated with her son’s current behavior. The presenting problem was enuresis with occasional encopresis, which happened both at school and at home. Over the course of his therapy, we worked together on the “problem“, his anxiety in general, and his relationship with his mother and father.
In the sessions I employed a variety of play therapy techniques and sandplay. He was studying myths in school, so I asked him if he would like to try his hand at using the sandplay to depict a hero’s journey. (He created three separate trays over three consecutive sessions.) My instructions were brief. He was to decide on a “hero“, three “helpers“, three challenges, three “things“ gained after each challenge, and a treasure or reward at the end of the journey. He eagerly chose the miniatures and began to create his hero’s journey. Each tray was powerful and revealing regarding his struggles and his challenges. Yet he also demonstrated his use of “helpers“ and his acquisition of skills he used to deal with the presenting problems.
In the second tray, he acted out the hero’s challenge – the evil stepmother/queen, from Snow White, and the hero’s battle to stand up to and to conquer her anger and negativity. The item gained was a key, which he used in the third tray and added to the treasure. His ability to conquer the queen (perhaps his frustrated, critical, over-protective mother) manifested in his ability to stand up for himself and to take control of certain aspects of his life (such as it is for a gifted, slightly built, 11-year-old boy). I still think about his hero’s journey and the resulting positive changes in his demeanor and in his interactions with his family and his peers.