The founder of the sandplay therapy method, Dora Maria Kalff was born in Switzerland on 21 December 1904 in a prosperous family living in a small town on the shore of Lake Zurich. She received a comprehensive education, which included knowledge of several languages, music and Eastern philosophy. After marrying Danish banker Leopold Kalff, Dora moved to Holland, which she had to leave during the German occupation. Returning to Switzerland, Dora Kalff settled down in a mountain village, the climate of which was healing for her son Peter. There, thanks to the friendship of their children, Dora made friends with C.G. Jung’s daughter Greta Jung-Bauman and through her with Carl and Emma Jung.
Noticing Dora’s talent, Jung advised her to study psychology. At the age of 45, she started a course at the Jung Institute in Zurich. Thus, when Dora Kalff began her career as an analyst, she already had a rich and diverse life experience. Looking back, she will say that all the difficult life events and diverse experiences became an invaluable foundation for her therapeutic activities. This also applies to playing the piano, which Dora Kalff often included in her work with children.
Carl and Emma Jung inspired Dora to work with children. Carl Jung told her about Margaret Lowenfeld’s lecture, which he had heard in Paris and advised Dora to attend a lecture by Margaret Lowenfeld about her World Technique at a congress in Zurich in 1954. Dora Kalff received training by Margaret Lowenfeld at her institute in London. Later, working with the World Technique in her practice in Zollikon, she discovered that this method not only gives children the opportunity to express fear and anger, but also ensures and supports the processes of transfer and individuation that she studied together with Carl Jung.
Putting the play of children with sand on the foundations of Jung’s analytical psychology and adding ideas drawn from philosophy, religion, art and culture, Dora Kalff created her own method and called it “sandplay”. Jung’s views on the transforming properties of symbols and the understanding of symbols reflecting archetypical content provide a conceptual basis and strength for this method.
According to Jung, where a rational language is completely powerless, a person is able to create, using artistic means, something similar to cryptograms that would reflect the inner state of the soul. Jung spoke of the need to maintain a constant connection between the inner and outer worlds of man. “Fantasy is the mother of all possibilities, where, like all psychological opposites, the inner and outer worlds are joined together in a living union” (Jung, C.G. Collected Works, Volume 6 Psychological Types, 1971). The technique of active imagination developed by Jung can be considered as the theoretical foundation of sandplay therapy.
Jung wrote that the contents of the unconscious first of all want to be seen, and this can be achieved only by giving it a form, and it also wants to be judged only after all it wants to say is given a tangible form. Further, if there is a joint conscious effort on the part of the author of the sand picture and the therapist, the new content can be integrated. At this stage, the leading role belongs not to the unconscious, but to the Ego.
The essence of Jung’s theory is that the psyche has an autonomous tendency to heal itself and develop striving for wholeness. And, if there are suitable conditions, this tendency can be activated. Such conditions arise when creating a series of sand pictures in the therapeutic process.
The founder of the sandplay therapy method, Dora Kalff, believed that the creation of a free and protected space was the main principle underlying her work, in which a client – a child or an adult – could express and explore his or her world, transforming his or her experiences, often incomprehensible or disturbing, into visible and tangible images. “The sand picture that is produced by the child can be understood as a three-dimensional representation of some aspect of his psychic situation. An unconscious problem is played out in the sandbox, just like a drama. The conflict is transferred from the inner world to the outer world and is made visible” (Kalff, D. Sandplay: A Psychotherapeutic Approach to the Psyche, Temenos Press, 2003).
Due to Kalff’s frequent educational trips, therapists and Jungian analysts from different countries began to incorporate sandplay therapy into their practice, and her work spread throughout the world – with the book “Sandplay”, first published in 1980, as well as audio and video materials of her many master classes.
With her knowledge of the German, Italian, French, Dutch and English languages, Kalff was able to freely communicate with a diverse Western audience in their native languages, conveying the spirituality of her work in a very personal way, stirring up the imagination of the audience. The sandplay was of interest to those therapists who were looking for nonverbal methods of working with the client – methods that would complement traditional verbal therapy and provide more complete psychic self-expression.
Dora Kalff left relatively few texts, but her students and the students of her students wrote and keep writing. In their books, they explain Kalff’s intuitive insights and describe the experiences of meeting her. For example, in the book “Sandplay Therapy: Treatment of Psychopathologies” the Jungian analyst Wilma Bosio writes: “Kalff was a liberation. ... The highly beautiful images she showed were surely a part of what I found so convincing, but I was first of all impressed by her attitude to the patients whose creations she presented, She communicated a great sense of calm and peace of mind, and I intuited her ability to help my inner daughter, who was still in difficulty. ... Two years later, I began my sessions in Zollikon, and later my training in sandplay therapy” (Bosio, W. Image and the Analytical Relationship in Sandplay Therapy. Treatment of Pathologies, 2004).
By combining Jung’s theory with the Lowenfeld’s technique, Kalff created her own unique method. She gave a new meaning and direction to Lowenfeld’s method, putting it on the theoretical basis of analytical psychology and Eastern philosophy.
Kalff’s long-term, inspired pedagogical activity borne fruit: more and more specialists all over the world continue the work she began. The tradition created by Kalff is implemented by the International Society for Sandplay Therapy (ISST), which she founded.