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in the shadow of cherry treeI celebrated a birthday at the weekend. Not a ‘big’ one, but big enough…it felt big because of the process and transition I feel I am in post retreat. There is something distinctly ‘mid-life’ about this transition. I speak with many clients about their experiences of reaching mid-life; the nature of it like climbing up a mountain in the first half of life only to get to the top and realise the view isn’t what they expected. I shared this metaphor with a friend at the weekend and he said “yep, its all downhill from here on in”. Is this mid-life? Am I halfway through? What does downhill mean? It gets easier? Or is that a reference to the final finish line?

I’ve shared in recent weeks how I have connected to a sense of ‘loss’, or more accurately a fear of loss. In coming back from retreat and re-connecting with friends and family, I have been hearing news of separating relationships, diagnoses of cancer, loss of jobs and deaths of loved ones. The very stuff of ‘life’. I carry these in my heart while I sit and listen to similar narratives from my clients. Spring is in the air, normally a time I connect with life, with renewal…but things feel differently this year. A little darker, a little more shadow. Yet there is a sense that this period of shadow is incredibly powerful and profound; a potential for growth and ultimately healing.

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In my blog last week I started describing my experience at a workshop on using sandplay in therapy. A workshop that emphasised the experiential can be powerful on many levels, and last week I hopefully got across how inspired the workshop has left me to use this creative process more often in my therapy and also, how it touched me deeply. It felt like a timely reminder of some of my experiences on retreat, reminding me of what I ‘know’ deep within but needed reminding of.

Day 2 of the workshop was equally profound: we created another 2 trays. We also discussed some of the theory behind the sandplay process, considering as to why it might take clients deeper than conventional talking therapies.

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sandtray roomLast weekend I attended a workshop on sandplay therapy run by the Association of Integrative Sandplay Therapists. Sandplay, which can be used in therapy with children and adults alike, is a process self discovery using a sand tray, small objects and play figures. Originally created by psychiatrist Margaret Lowenfield and later developed by Carl Jung and jungian analyst Dora Kalff, the sandplay method is said to “release blocked psychological energies transforming restrictive narrow world views and opening up creative capacities.” In my case, this certainly seems to be true! It felt like a perfect weekend to aid my transition back to ‘normal’ life post-retreat; a chance to re-connect back inwardly and re-remember many of the experiences on my retreat.

The weekend was mainly experiential: we created four different trays, a mix of ‘directed’ (we were given a question to work with) and ‘non-directed’ trays (no instruction given). Through this, group processing and discussion of the symbols emerging in the trays, our facilitator helped us understand the map of the psyche that sandplay work can bring forward and how this can be integrated in to our normal mode of ‘talking therapy’. I have used sandplay work a little before - indeed I have a sandtray and sets of figures in my therapy room - and this weekend was intended to get me using this creative mode of therapy more. As a Gestalt psychotherapist I am familiar with working creatively: sandplay work has much in common with the Gestalt ‘experiment’. This weekend also took my interest in Carl Jung’s approach deeper, and it was again reassuring to see the overlap in his ideas with those found at the very heart of Gestalt.