THE THERAPIST’S USE OF SELF IN SANDPLAY: PARTICIPATION MYSTIQUE AND PROJECTIVE IDENTIFICATION
Journal of Sandplay Therapy, Volume 6, Number 2, 1997
KEY WORDS: therapist’s use of self, sandplay therapy, participation mystique, projective identification, transference, negative transference, affect, transformation, containment, clinical example.
ABSTRACT: As the sandplay client symbolically places unconscious, disowned parts of self and the associated affect in the sandtray, the tray silently returns these affects and parts of self to the client in a more tolerable and usable form. The therapist’s subjective experience of the transference is then not as wrenching as it might be, because the transference has both manifested and has been transformed in the container of the sandtray. It is hypothesized that the sandplay becomes a container for the unconscious communicative bond between therapist and client. In Jungian terms, this form of communication may be called the participation mystique, and in psychoanalytic terms, projective identification. Two brief case examples are presented in which countertransference experience is explored. The first case is one of a disassociative client who is uncomfortable being grounded. In this case, three containers-the sandtray, the therapist and the consultation group-are all needed to contain and metabolize the projective identification/participation mystique. In another case, that of an anxious client, the resolution of his anxiety is both facilitated by the sandplay and is actually felt in the body of the therapist.