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- Aaron Glogowski
Dr. Michael E. Dunn
Swan, K. L., Schottelkorb, A. A. (2013). Interpreting Children’s Dreams Through Humanistic Sandtray Therapy. International Journal of Play Therapy, 22 (3), 119-128. doi: 10.1037/a0033389
Swan and Schottelkorb open this article with a statement on dreams and adolescence. They first not that studies have shown that children as young as three years old are able to recall their dreams. Some studies have even hypothesized that children’s dreams can reveal what they think about themselves. Afterward, they proceed to show an example of how children’s dreams change as they develop. Children tend to take on a more active part in their dreams as they get older, and their dreams from ages 4-12 become scarier, based on events in their lives. In this way, traumatic experiences could wind up playing a large part in children’s dreams. In their analysis, Swan and Schottelkorb determined that they wanted to find an approach to aid children in examining their dreams for various thoughts and feelings that may be hidden within them. But to do that, they needed to develop a method of experimentation first, and they wound up choosing the sandtray method.
According to their research, Margaret Lowenfeld is the person responsible for creating the World Technique, which gave the base for the development of sandtray therapy. The sandtray method is meant to allow children to recreate scenes from their dreams on a sandtray, which they are then able to explore.
Through their experiment, Swan and Schottelkorb hoped to determine whether the children’s dreams could be based on past or present events, in addition to providing them with an outlet to explore their dreams. To carry out their experiment, they began by creating four distinct phases through which the study would occur. These included the precreation phase, the creation phase, the dream processing phase, and the postprocessing phase. Each phase had a very specific goal attached to it.
In the first phase, the precreation phase, the aim was to help the children recreate the dreams in their mind, and to bring them to a state of relaxation. The phase began by putting the child through a sense of meditation. The therapist took them through a series of steps to relax them and help them focus their mind. They started by giving them simple statements about themselves or their environment, before moving their attention to the dream aspect of the therapy. The therapist would ask them a series of questions about the dreams to get the child’s thought process focused on the dream’s details. Once they were done asking questions about the dream, they proceeded to the next step.
In phase two, the creation phase, the focus shifted to the child’s creation of their dream. At the beginning of phase two, the child was given a sandtray to recreate their dream to the best of their ability. They were told to use as much or as little as necessary to properly create the dream. Swan and Schottelkorb note that it is imperative that the therapist stays engaged and focused on the child, watching their process silently, in order to maintain the proper therapeutic environment for the child to continue to create their dreams in the sand. It was offered that the therapist may note their thoughts and feelings as they try to track the course of the dream. Once that phase concluded, they moved on to the actual dream processing.
Phase three, the phase of the processing of the dream, was divided up into several steps. This phase was designed to help better understand the dream and the feelings associated with it. The dream processing phase began with the therapist asking the child to explain the scene that they had created. Swan and Schottelkorb note that by doing this, the focus was able to shift from the child to the creation in the sand, thus making it easier for them to discuss the dream, and any issues or problems that may go along with it.
In the first step of the process, the therapist’s goal was to get a firm idea of the world of the dream, asking the child very specific questions about the objects that they had created within the sandtray. At that point, the therapist would ask questions about what happened between certain objects. In the next step, the therapist would ask the child about how certain objects made them feel. The therapist would try to follow along in a way that mimicked the child’s feelings, for example, telling the child about things that they saw with them when they were talking about a certain object. The goal of this portion of the phase was to take notice of how the child felt toward certain triggers. Step three involves the therapist and child trying to figure out what the child sees or imagines when he is presented with a specific object from the set. The hoped to use this step to discover hidden meanings with objects, and how they may be associated with other experiences that the child may have had. Step four is about examining any possible events that could be in some way linked to the formulation of the dream. Swan and Schottelkorb say that the therapist may need to ask questions in a more solid way to get the specific responses required based on the issue of determining specific triggers for past or present memories. The final step is about reflection, or trying to piece all of the information together. The therapist may ask the child some questions about how they feel about what the dream means, allowing the child to come to terms with the dream as well.
The final phase of the study was the postprocessing phase, in which the main goal was to determine the ultimate meaning behind the dream. The therapist asked the child to create a title for the sandtray creation. They hope that this title would help to create a single idea for the meaning of the dream. The child was then asked to create a phrase to sum up how they discovered the meaning of the dream. They make it clear that a picture should be taken of all of the dream scenes to monitor the therapeutic process. They also caution against resetting the dream scene in the sandtray until the child leaves, as it may serve as an extension of the unconscious.
Swan and Schottelkorb note one particular case in which a ten year old patient by the name of Mary was subjected to this form of therapy. Mary’s mother had brought her in to therapy because she was worried about Mary being abnormally anxious and sad. The therapist used the sandtray process to uncover the meanings behind a dream that Mary had involving an attacking clock, a fighting wolf, and a protective dog. Through the process, Mary and the therapist were able to determine that she was having these feelings of sadness and anxiety because of her parent’s recent divorce. After the session was over, Mary revealed that she was now feeling more at ease with everything. Swan and Schottelkorb note that the sandtray method used in this instance seemed to activate a healing process for the patient.
They end their study by stating that dream based therapy may prove useful for children experiencing emotional difficulties, but where there is no official evidence on the specific type of therapy, counselors should make sure that they obtain full consent before using the method.
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