Sandplay after a Catastrophic Encounter: Analysing a Healing Process Revealed in Sandplay

Sachiko Taki-Reece
Los Angeles, California, USA
Society of Jungian Analysts of Southern California, Los Angeles

In 1994, I had the great good fortune to witness the Self-healing process of an earthquake trauma victim. A six -year-old boy was cured in one session through sandplay. This felt so miraculous that I was intrigued to discover and decipher the core dynamics of this child’s Self-healing process. The essential images and experience of the sandplay work have come to my mind again and again and some part of the mystery seems to unfold itself for me. Today I would like to share my experience and findings.

Basic Approaches to Trauma Healing

A few years ago, at the Jung Institute of Los Angeles, I attended a lecture on “Healing Trauma” by Peter A. Levine, Ph.D., the author of Waking The Tiger: Healing Trauma. I was struck by his statement “Trauma is physiological, not psychological.” He explained how the survival instinct in animals as well as in humans is activated in a non-conscious way and generates vast energy for the fight or flight response. When the danger passes, the animal soon regains its equilibrium. But when the survival reaction gets stuck – the body is left in the grip of a frozen state (dead), inhibiting the flow of spirit or life force – the victim will have various symptoms such as an Acute Stress Disorder. Levine explained that the survival program has to be completed through accessing body sensations and encouraging body movements. He used a part of the Isis-Osiris myth related to gathering pieces and re-membering as a model for the healing process; Isis recovered his wholeness by re-membering fragmented Osiris’s body. I cannot completely agree with Levine’s contention that “trauma is strictly physiological, not psychological,” because I have witnessed the healing of trauma in sandplay, and I know that body-mind-spirit, soma-psyche-soul, are all involved in any Self-healing. I will try to analyze and find the curative factors in the Isis-Osiris myth from a Jungian, archetypal perspective, so that we can see if the same curative factors are operating in my case study.

The Alchemical Operation in the Isis-Osiris Myth

Since I don’t have space to write a full description of the myth, I will limit myself to this brief summary:

Osiris was killed and dismembered by his brother Seth. Isis, sister and wife of Osiris, lamented in a flood of tears and searched all over the land for pieces of his body. She collected all of his body parts and put them together, except one missing piece – his phallus. She created a phallus, attached it to the body, and revitalized his body (she is a magician, too), and united with him. From this union, Horus was born. Horus, who was a successor to Osiris, killed Seth. Horus became a guardian of the kingdom and a healer, like his mother.

This Isis-Osiris myth signifies a powerful death and re-birth, archetypal reality. I interpret the essential activities in the myth for trauma healing as alchemical operations. The psychologically significant and curative factors include the following alchemical themes: (Edinger, 1975)

  1. Death and dismemberment of the body (separatio) (mortificatio)
  2. Lamenting in a flood of tears, wandering around (solutio and circuratio)
  3. Re-membering fragments (coniunctio)
  4. Creating a missing part (imaginalis)
  5. Vivifying the body of the dead Osiris and then uniting with the re-vitalized body (greater coniunctio)
  6. Birth of a divine child, Horus, an emergence of both king (Osiris) and a healer(Isis)

I see three stages of alchemical work: the first is Nigredo (#1 separatio and mortificatio), the second is Albedo, the working-though stage(#2 solutio, circulatio and #3 coniunctio); then the third stage, Rubedo, actualizing an emergence (#4 imaginalis and #5 greater coniunctio).

A Case Study: Overcoming the Earthquake Trauma

About two months after the Northridge earthquake in 1994, I got a call from the mother of a six-year-old child, Tom, referred by her friend, a sandplay therapist, wanting to make an appointment. She told me that because Tom had been absent-minded in the classroom, his teacher had requested a few counseling sessions for him.

At home, Tom had trouble sleeping because he feared the onslaught of another earthquake. The night of the earthquake, Tom’s older brother, who shared the bed rooms was sleeping at a friend’s, so Tom was all by himself when the earthquake hit. Tom said, “If my brother was home, I wouldn’t be like this. It’s his fault I’m so scared and can’t sleep.” He blamed his brother, and he got angry at his parents who had been blocked by fallen furniture and had not been able to rescue him right away. He also added, “They fought last night, that’s why the earthquake happened.” (Although the parents don’t remember having had a fight).

Tom, a Caucasian boy, was brought by his mother to the Jung Institute. He looked like quite a healthy, blond, blue-eyed, six-year-old to me. “I can’ t sleep because I’m scared the earthquake will come again. When my brother is not in our room, I don’t go in there,” he told me. With the true wisdom of a child, he then asked, “Do I get well if I play?” I nodded, “Yes, you do.” He requested that his mother remain in the room, so I asked his mom to rest on the sofa.

[Act I] I briefly explained about sandplay to him. Right away he went to a wet sand tray, touched it a little, checked the shelves then selected airplanes and a building and brought them to the tray. He got right into his play. He divided the space vertically into three. The center part was lower and had a fissure in the middle. Both sides were higher. He smoothed the surface. Then he placed a building with a red cross in the upper right corner and in the lower left, three planes (Picture 1 was recreated by the author). He held a plane in his hand and circled in the air with sound effects, boon, boon brooon, trying to land on the roof of the hospital building. It appeared to be a difficult task. The plane landed. “Safe landing!” I said. He smiled and repeated the pattern with the other planes. The landings were successful with great effort. Then swiftly he took all the objects out and put them back on the shelves. He said, “I want to make another one.” I said “O.K!” with enthusiasm.

Sandplay after a Catastrophic Encounter
Picture 1

[Act 2] He scooped sand from the central area, front to back. He worked quickly and energetically as he flattened the sand. Then he placed a log cabin on the right bank and a London bridge at the far end, at the center. An ambulance, fire engine, and police cars were coming into the open space in the center, circling around, with sound effects, and he placed two cars in front and two in back. He placed an American flag on the left bank (Picture 2). “Now they are ready, so if anything happens, they are ready. So we are safe,” he said. “That’s great they are ready!” I said, and hastily asked if I could take a photo. “O.K.” He posed for me, too.

Sandplay after a Catastrophic Encounter
Picture 2

[Act 3] As he gathered sand in the center to make a big mound, the sand did not stay put. I gestured to point out a basket upside down that he might use to solidify the mound. He nodded O.K. He put the basket over the mound and piled on more sand, but the sand kept falling. I said, “You may use water,” but he did not hear me. “Tom, you may use water,” I said it again. “O.K., go and get it,” he answered bluntly. He was in a trance-like state.

I left the room and returned with a pitcher. As I peeked in and stood at the door, he looked up and saw me; I mimed pouring water, and he was surprised. “Really?” he asked, his eyes round with disbelief. Then he quickly glanced at his mother, who was asleep on the couch. He poured water on the mound, a happy boy! He pounded it and made it solid. Then he sprinkled dry sand over the mound.

“Do you have a castle?” he asked. I found a part of a castle – a tower. He was delighted to put the tower on top of the mound. He went to the shelf and fetched a dome – an oven – and placed it on top of the tower. (I felt Wow! what a shape [phallus] he has created.) Next he selected a volcano, plugged the opening and secured it at the upper left corner. Then he got two small white castles and half buried them to the right side (Picture 3). They looked like eyes in the earth to me. “I am done,” he said, quite satisfied. “Now I remember only a word, earthquake,” he told me (Picture 3). I understood his statement as indicating that he had no more fear of earthquakes.

Sandplay after a Catastrophic Encounter
Picture 3

His mother woke up, glanced over at Tom’s work, and asked for another appointment. Tom told her, “I don’t need to come again.” But his mother winked at me and made the appointment anyway.

And then his mother asked me to explain the tray. From my observations, I had the feeling that Tom had undertaken and completed a task. His sense of accomplishment was evident in his parting statements. I also witnessed his joy, confidence, and ease. But it is hard to explain what really happened. I summarized his developmental and psychological needs at this point in life and illustrated what I meant by telling the fairy tale of “Jack and the Bean stalk.” “Imagine! What a terrible blow it would be, to have such an earthquake strike while a little boy is climbing the beanstalk to heaven. Tom had to reconstruct the segment in the stalk that broke when the jolt hit and regain the bridge from the motherland to the fatherland, a connection to his wholeness again.” She nodded, smiling.

The following week, when I called his home, his father told me that Tom had been sleeping peacefully since his one session. They did not return for a second session.


In one sandplay session, Tom conceived and completed a great task, with which he dispelled his fear. I did not do cognitive therapy to change his ideas about his experience, or behavior therapy. I did not assist him in verbalizing his feelings of a terrifying experience. Sandplay therapy is a non-verbal, non-directive approach. It is a unique and effective modality for traumatic experience due to catastrophic crisis. We clinicians witness and experience healing and transformation happening in each client’s core self. In a safe relational environment, bypassing character defensive layers, sandplay allows a client to release deep affects which form images and stories. Gradually and completely these images and stories emerge, until all the tension and turmoil are dissipated and the affective memories of trauma in the body are reconstructed. Body and mind become whole again.

First I will try to decipher and amplify the major motifs in what Tom created in his three acts: three alchemical stages toward his healing. And secondly I will focus on how these changes happened; the healing process of sandplay from a relational standpoint and the neuroscience and the affect regulation modality by Allan Schore.

Affect Images in Play

First stage: Nigredo which is the beginning of the work of separatio.

Tom spontaneously made a deep fissure, an image of dismemberment, dissociation, in the center of the sand. Neuroscientist Paul MacLean (1990) described the human brain as a three-part phylogenetic system: the reptilian brain at the core, the paleomammalian brain (or limbic system) wrapped around the reptilian brain, and the neomammarian brain. These parts don’t necessarily work well together; there seem to be problematic linkups between these different, cohabiting brains because of their differing “mentalities” which are metaphorically human, horse and crocodile (Hanpden-Turner, 1981), thus their tendency to become un-linked and dissociated.

This fissure of the earth seems to represent an impact to his whole being at the time of the earthquake. It was a painful experience of separation, not having been rescued by his parents right away. Witnessing his play, I felt in my gut, his experience of abysmal darkness, terror and panic at that time: 4:30 AM, in a 7.2 earthquake, all alone. Therefore, the building with a red cross, a Red Cross hospital, seems to represent a safe shelter for his dismembered body and soul. His action was surprisingly swift in contrast to his psychic-freeze state of the past two months.

Flying Objects and Red Cross Hospital

I thought of these planes as images of flying objects. A six-year-old boy would love cars and planes naturally. And he used them to express some movement in himself, which was in an “up in the air” state, letting himself touch down to the safe place. My association to these flying objects was that they were his departed souls which were detached by surprise. Being startled is a primary emotion which arises out of unexpected danger and crisis. (Stewart, 1996)

In Japanese, “surprise” is “Tamageru,” which literally means “a soul has disappeared”; loss of soul. Un-linking of neural networks seemed to have happened here. In every ancient society, primitive people knew this as a dangerous condition that needs the power of a medicine man or shaman. In Mexico City, when an 8.2 magnitude earthquake hit in 1985, departed souls were said to hover over the city and sounds of wings were heard. Volunteer psychiatrists who came from all over the world to treat the earthquake victims saw many people with deep depressions caused by the catastrophe. Not surprisingly, they prescribed anti-depressant medication, but it was not effective. In a documentary, television station KCET presented how the local healers, curanderos, incorporate the culture-specific psychic situation. I was curious about the curative factors of shamanic healing and I was attentive to the details of the procedure. I found that a curandera used “surprise” or “startle” effectively for healing. A young woman, a victim of the earthquake, was a babysitter for the neighborhood children. She had become incapacitated and could no longer baby-sit. So the mothers who depended on her collected money to bring her to a highly regarded healer, very expensive! The young woman, in a zombie-like state, staggered in with an assistant into the healer’s office. During the long chanting ritual, the patient lay on a cot in total trance-like relaxation. Then suddenly the curandera threw a glass of water over the woman. She jumped up screaming and shook violently. Then she got off the cot without an assistant and walked out of the room with a normal gait.

Psychologically speaking, “surprise” is a re-setting affect. (Stewart, 1996) The above example shows that one wounded by a surprise will be healed by a surprise. And trauma healing was successful by completing a programmed survival cycle through sensation and movement (Levine, 1997) to regain psyche -body equilibrium.

For Tom, safe landing on the hospital was achieved by movement of circulatio and coniunctio. My association to Tom’s theme of a safe landing was the Egyptian Ba (Picture 4). According to the Egyptian explanation, souls do not dwell in the dead, or, for that matter, in a “frozen” state either. Picture 4 illustrates a soul in the form of a bird departed from the dead which comes back every day to revitalize the body for its final resurrection. How does the departed soul re-enter a body? As Tom demonstrated with his three whirling and circling planes, it was not an easy job. Circling in the air is circulatio, and touch-down, a sensory-motor activity, seems to be coniunctio, like the re-membering operation in the Isis myth. Touch-down is necessary in order to be grounded and also to vivify the frozen state. Edinger (1985) states that circulatio is an important idea in psychotherapy. Because circular motion around a center and also up and down – “the power of the above and the below” are combined to the extent that the unified personality is created which connects personal psyche (below) with archetypal psyche (above). Act 2 is the albedo, the whitening stage of working though. At this stage coniunctio and circulatio continue to operate.

Sandplay after a Catastrophic Encounter
Picture 4

Bridge and Mandala in Motion

Tom’s second picture shows a bridge over the split at the top center, expressing conunctio in a higher area, which suggests his mental and verbal capacity and affective experience have bridged. Circular motion in the center depicts an act of centering and concentration. It is a mandala in motion. Dora Kalff (1980) had a case of an eleven-yearold boy who made such a moving mandala. She stated that it was an image of the Self. In Tom’s case, I see his ego and cosmic center, Self, are aligned, circling or spinning on the same axis. Healing depends on this alignment, whereby two centers, ego in consciousness and Self in the unconscious, get on the same orbit. In a neuropsychological perspective, this would be connecting, rebuilding neural networks and consolidating with the core Self.

As he finished the second tray, Tom made a statement that “they are ready,” they (the outer world) have gained a sense of safety and security, and he has regained his confidence through spontaneous play. He placed an American flag, a symbol of his identity, claiming, in essence, “Here I am.” It is clear that his activity was ensuring security and safety: “They are ready.”

Vertical Energy from the Mound

Act 3 was the third stage; the rubedo with imaginalis and greater conniunctio, an expression of vertical energy which reminded me of the “Jack and the Beanstalk” fairy tale, which, like the tray’s imagery, portrayed growth from a backyard and reaching to heaven; movement from the below, a personal space, to transpersonal space, the above; a son’s journey from Mother land to Father sky.

Dr. Kawai, a Japanese Jungian analyst who introduced sandplay to Japan, described the experience of a kindergarten teacher, whose young students draw a picture after listening to the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Most of the children aged five to six drew Jack climbing the beanstalk. The key point of the story to the mind of the five-or six-year-old was transition: leaving the safe and familiar ground to climb to the sky, movement toward a new world. A picture of Shiva’s vertical energy, Shiva’s lingam (Picture 5) is a powerful image suitable for the rubedo stage. My association to Tom’s phallus image was Shiva’s lingam, the creator who appears breaking through the shaft of flame while two deities bow down. What an image of life force!

Sandplay after a Catastrophic Encounter
Picture 5

Our Co-Transference

In addition to the autonomous image-making aspect of psyche, our relationship held a crucial importance in his healing. The role of the therapist here was as a container that maintained the sense of omnipotence, safety and security required for a successful outcome. He utilized the therapist as a part of himself when I first suggested that he water the sand, then reacted to my entrance with the pitcher as if it were an unexpected element outside his scope. This delighted him so much. And this little emotive moment was a joyful mutual experience.

The Castle on a Mound: An image of greater conniunctio

What more does he need after he has already regained his confidence in Act 2? I see this part as the third stage of work, actualizing his goal; the Rubedo and the Imaginalis.

I see the castle here in Tom’s third tray as a central archetype, grounded in the firm mound. In Tom’s creation of it, he exuded a sense of a triumph. He also shut off the volcano, primitive affect, from erupting. Children in this age group still experience a strong vertical flow of archetypal energy, a powerful life force which needs to be mediated or moderated by the parents; the energy needs to be humanized by a containing adult presence. Having or not having this presence makes a great difference to their psychological well being and development. When children are not protected from archetypal phenomena due to natural disaster because of absence or illness of a mother figure, they often suffer and become fearful, unable to sleep at night and unable to focus during the day.

Another association I had that helped me to understand the nature of my interaction with Tom was Jung’s earliest dream, described in Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1965). He was three or four years old, and his mother had been hospitalized due to marital stress and depression. He had a dream in which he witnessed a great phallus standing on a golden throne in a mysterious underground chamber. At that moment he heard his mother’s voice from above, saying, “That is the man eater,” telling him the nature of the phallus. This dream was a part of a complex reality that entwined with his religious experience at that period. Jung describes this dream as an unforgettable primal experience. For the young Jung, the phallus took on a threatening form; he imagined it would crawl off the throne and come after him. He had difficulty sleeping for some time.

As noted, Tom was six years old. The phallus stood not on an underground throne but as a castle, a tower above the ground, on the mound. It seemed that the presence of an interactive therapist-mother was a mediating factor that depotentiated the threat of vertical force so that it no longer disturbed his sleep. Tom, like Horus (Picture 6), is a new child, having conquered dangerous and hostile elements through his imaginal work. He healed himself from within, once placed in a safe containing environment that also make available the outer resources (the sandplay figures and tray) that activated and mirrored his inner resources (the latest contents of his imaginal psyche).

Sandplay after a Catastrophic Encounter
Picture 6, Horus as a child with the power to overcome harmful forces [Shaw & Nicholson, p. 133.]

Active Imagination

Tom’s healing process contains the three stages of healing nigredo, albedo and rubedo introduced in the Isis-Osiris myth. When one’s nature gets traumatized and the body becomes lifeless, just moving about and re-membering are not enough to regain wholeness. Nurturing interventions are needed: psychotherapy and evoking imagination and the treasures of the imaginal realm, in the context of loving attention. We see this in the Isis myth as well as in the sandplay case. They are the key factors for care of the psyche, the body and soul. As Tom put it, “Now I remember only a word ‘earthquake.’” A neuroscientist explains that the appearance and disappearance of the fear factor will be registered and appraised by the amygdala in the limbic system. At the end of rubedo stage, Tom reports that change has happened which means that the hippocampus has responded to the change and inhibited his affective dysregulation and Tom’s memory of fear was successfully “reconstructed.” (Demasio, 1999, 2004) Sandplay therapy, a non-verbal psychotherapy, successfully accomplished its goal: symptom reduction and the emergence of a new confident self. This will sustain Tom for other trials in his life situation.

How these changes happened: The relational aspect of Sandplay

When I found out Tom was cured by one session, I was stunned. What did he do and how did we do it? My answer was, “I did nothing! He healed by himself.” The sandplay therapist will simply provide a safe space and a client will play freely in that space. Then his Self will be activated and it will lead the way toward healing and/or the individuation process. The sandplay therapist will follow its unfolding silently, trying to maintain ego-Self connection without interpretation. When the child has “Integral ego” as Neumann (1973) defines it, in a child who has had a sufficient, good-enough primary relationship, the compensatory function in his psyche starts to bring forth a teleological process to modify negative environmental forces.

Today, in the second part of my study, I will focus on the relational aspect of sandplay, e.g., “mother-child unity” by Kalff and “affect regulation” perspective by Schore (1998, 2003). (In the following section, I will include Schore’s commentary on this case which was transcribed and edited by this author.)


In Tom’s play we have seen a process of reorganization of traumatic disorganization (as Schore states). Psyche has progressed rapidly, overtly toward a resolution, some type of reorganization, a fast-acting prototype of internal, psychic alteration to symptomatic relief. This situation should be understood as a relational, two-person psychology. This change is occurring in a relational context.

(First Picture) I am focusing on the process, the dynamic way that Tom is relating, intra-psychically and externally in sandplay, allowing the process to happen in relational context. His mother is in the room and his therapist is in the room at the same time. They are a background regulatory presence, which serve as growth facilitating environment, and that is the critical factor here. So the child is able to create his own structure, moving through stages of development now. How do we create such environmental context to put him back together? He has within himself all the faculties to reorganize disorganization. We see here the evidence that he is a securely attached child. An insecurely attached child would take weeks and months to create such a context. Trauma work is different with a securely attached child and an insecurely attached child. We have witnessed the easiest work which reorganized itself so quickly.

Therapist as Background Presence: #20 from Splendor Solis

Tom’s mother is comfortable with putting him in the hands of the therapist and she is not an intrusive mother. There she is fading to the background; she is a background presence. She is immediately social referencing the therapist; she is indicating to him, literally, on a nonverbal level: “I can trust the therapist. How safe I feel, I demonstrate to you by relaxing and taking a nap.” She creates a safe context here – but even nicer – she transfers her secure regulatory capacity to another person, i.e., social referencing.

This trauma is not relational trauma but was caused by the physical, external environment. At that moment of separation, Tom was not able to use the parent’s regulatory capacity. It is important to recognize the nature of the trauma. If it is misunderstood, that will prolong or rather deepen the trauma. Scaffolding and supportive context will enable the child to reorganize himself. Implicit and explicit self, unconscious and conscious, ego and Self, were disconnected, disintegrated, so he needs to re-integrate these connections within himself. This will allow him to go back to his normal self.

The fissure in Act 1 seems to represent callosum disconnection of the right hemisphere and the left hemisphere, rather than shattering within the hemisphere. Because there was corpus callosum disconnection, implicit self and explicit self, there was dissociation. It is non-verbal.

The therapist felt intuitively, that Tom had skill and so built on that. He picks it up very rapidly, recreates through attachment transfer. He must feel (non-consciously) some sense of safety, at a lower subcortical level – ready to move, safe enough to reveal, to imagine, to get down to the psyche – bring them up. He must feel a presence here to understand him and that it’s safe enough to allow it.

The critical elements here are a non-conscious sense of safety recreated by his mother and by the therapist; the therapist’s nonverbal behavior, by the therapist’s tone of voice, by her resonance with him and also by her not being in front of him but behind him. The sandplay therapist is non-directive, just more or less following him. Tom said at the beginning, “Can I get well if I play?” The therapist answered with a necessary “Yes.” For some types of personality, this would take weeks and months to achieve. Art of clinical skill and art of experience are critical elements of the therapist; they include how to form resonance to sense of connectivity with the child and how to be responsive to the child.

There was no-preconception of where he would go. The therapist uses the client’s spontaneous forces to organize elements and how they will work. When Tom is on the move, shifting passive to active mode, the therapist allows his need for activity to create the solution, and supports him to achieve of the solution. The sandplay therapist is not giving interpretation; interpretation is telling him how to do it. The sandplay therapist does not emphasize changing his cognition to regulate the self, nor how to re-mobilize the forces, nor how to get back to the dynamic flow from the state of fear, passivity, and being frozen. The sandplay therapist knows that self-regulation comes from an energetic quality deeper within the child and follows its flow. Here, the self system is disorganized by the nature of the trauma. It is essentially a regulatory problem – that is, how to go about regulation – from dys-regulation to regulation.

Right Hemispheric Representation

In Act 1, we see a nice right hemispheric representation in which he recreates an internal world –shattering fissure in the earth (Picture 1); dissociation. The Self begins to represent physiological and psychobiological disruption of the body and attempts to bring the fearful state of the body to the next level of representation. Fissure and visualization of a safe place (hospital with a red cross): this representation means that he can imagine in his mind that there could be a place to re-regulate himself. This is the beginning of a dialog from higher hemisphere to lower hemisphere. He could be calm and soothed on the basis of his past experience. He had a secure attachment –he goes to an internal regulator and he has, in a sense, an inner representation of regulation.

Movement of the flying objects means connecting, being able to touch down to stabilize, to get back. This is a good use of symbols for regulatory dynamic purposes.

Recovery happens in stages, so at this stage, a basic level of work needs to be done to move up to the next level. After three planes landed successfully, Tom informs the therapist that he is ready for next stage. This would take weeks and months for some people, but he has this therapeutic environment with this therapist here.

Act 2 (Picture 2): Clearly now shows – no fissure! We see a circular motion, representation of Self as sphere. Now we see the potential outline of the self, the outline of a boundary. There are helping vehicles. These are the people who are there to take care of us when we are in danger. They provide interactive representation. The house, in the lower area, as a representation of a secure regulatory place, and the bridge in the higher field are interesting. At the end of the second act, he tells his therapist, “Now they are ready – if anything happens, they are ready.”

Tom feels the background presence, which is critical. In early development, the mother’s presence is a background presence. In a session, a therapist and client, mother and child pair, jointly create the solution. The therapist is there in the wings waiting, and now and then puts her own creative power forward. Interactive regulation looks on the surface like this. This subtlety of providing the background environment so that the child has a continuity of being together with his imagination, is so subtle that it can be missed.

Tom knows he can trust and so he now can be more than just passive, moving now from a frozen, passive state of fear to waking up, breaking out into an active state, working in the safe environment, in order to create solutions.

There is a bridge up there at the upper center (Picture 2), the bridge between the non-verbal and the verbal realm. He is moving from the physiology of the fear image to the state of “now I remember just a word – earthquake.” Now there is a bridge – corpus callosum which connects the right and left hemispheres. The work has been done in the right hemisphere.

This is a study to show that the right hemisphere is dominant. Negative emotion, the process of fear structure and trauma are stored in the right hemisphere. It is a core early self – the right hemispheric self – where the work needs to be done. We have observed the work move from the lower right, go up to higher right (non-verbal) and move toward the left callosum (the verbal).

Act 3, the third stage: Tom gets into more and more symbolic expression, but clearly now the relational aspect of therapy comes in, the therapist’s timing is right on, in synchrony. He comes to a place in which he doesn’t know the solution. When the therapist gives him the elements, i.e., some gestures and suggesting the use of water, at that point he is open. The therapist is not giving an interpretation, but a piece of equipment which he can understand now. Here we see a joint therapeutic alliance: a pair is co-creating the ultimate situation. I see here a therapeutic alliance which has been done on a non-verbal level. (Incidentally, later the mother’s winking to therapist is at a non-verbal level, and a non-verbal communication is strong.) Essentially, in this therapeutic alliance the therapist’s planning structure and the child’s planning structure after the regulatory structure has been done, his higher planning and therapist’s higher planning, come together. Now the pair do things to solve the problem. The therapist gives her energy and now he can create. What we get in Act 3 is essentially a dys-regulating structure; he tries to create and it’s difficult. The volcano, which was spewing force again, is a beautiful representation of overflowing regulatory force. He stops the gap, plugs the volcano, closes the fissure.

The therapist associated two curious structures on the right wall as watchful eyes; they are probably eyes of the mother, or the therapist’s. Tom has the background presence, he is not just by himself but there is someone trustworthy is in his world. And he used a clay oven at the top of the structure which is purposeful and controlled, regulated affect. In some cases, affect is so far dissociated that you just want to intellectualize the situation. But with Tom, the affect is still here but now can be controlled. As the result of interactive regulation, he is now coming to his own regulation.

(Commentary by Allan N. Schore with his permission.)

Acknowledgement: Part of this article was published in Japanese, “Kokoro o Yomigaeraseru (Reviving Mind): Kokoro no kizu o iyasu korekarano saigai kaunseringu (Trauma Healing in the Contemporary Disaster Counseling),” by Hayao Kawai and The Association of Japanese Clinical Psychology, 1995. Tokyo, Kodansha.


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  • MacLean, P. D. (1990). The triune brain in evolution: Role of peleocerebral functions. New York, Plenum.
  • Neumann, E. (1973). The Child: Structure and Dynamics of the Nascent Personality. Trans. Manheim, R. New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons.
  • Schore, N. A. (2003). Affect Regulation and The Repair of the Self. New York. W.W. Norton.
  • ______(2003). Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self. New York, W. W. Norton.
  • Shaw, I. & Nicholson, P. (1995). The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt, London, British Museum Press.
  • Solms, M.& Turnbull, O. (2002). The brain and the inner world: An introduction to the neuroscience of subjective experience. New York, N.Y., Other Press.
  • Stewart.L.H. (1996) (1986, 1987). “The archetypal affects.” Chapter 12 in Knowing Feeling, ed., Nathason, D. pp. 273-287. New York, W. W. Norton & Co.
  • ______ (1987). “Affect and archetype in analysis,” in Archetypal Process in Psychotherapy, Wilmette, Ill., Chiron Publications.

IAAP Executive Committee

Link to the IAAP Officers and Executive Committee