Interview: HARRIET FRIEDMAN, MA, MFT, Jungian Analyst and Sandplay therapist

Harriet S. Friedman, M.A., M.F.T., CST- is a licensed marriage and family therapist and Jungian Analyst in private practice in West Los Angeles. A founding member of Sandplay Therapists of America, Board Member of the International Society of Sandplay Therapy, she has also served on the Board of the Jung Institute of Los Angeles, and Director of the Hilde Kirsch Children’s Center. She is co-author with Rie Rogers Mitchell of Sandplay: Past, Present and Future and Supervision of Sandplay Therapy and published numerous journal articles and book chapters. She serves on the faculty at the Jung Institute of Los Angeles and has lectured nationally and internationally on integrating sandplay and Jungian psychology.

Interviewer: Marion Anderson, PhD

MA: Hello Harriet how are you today?

HF: Excited to talk with you about Sandplay.

MA: Today I wanted to interview you about Sandplay for the Brazilian online Sandplay journal.

People in Brazil certainly want to know more about you as a senior sandplay therapist and experienced teacher.

HF: People want to know something about me?

MA: Yes,maybe we start with a bit of your personal history on how you first got interested in sandplay?

HF: The analyst, with whom I was working with at the time, was a good friend of Dora Kalff. Dora was coming to Los Angeles soon and was going to give a talk. My analyst said: this is something that you should go and listen to. When she came to town I went to listen to her and I was totally taken with what she was saying, mostly I felt moved from somewhere deep within myself when she talked about sandplay. I was immediately drawn to what I heard and saw.   I also took my own children to do sandplay and some art work with Dora and during my conversation with her she said, you seem very interested in my work, would you like to come to Switzerland?I was most excited and of course I accepted her invitation. I quickly organized myself to leave my three young children for two weeks with my husband and friends, and in two brief months I went to Switzerland to visit and actually work with this most special woman to make trays.  I was very excited and had no idea about how two weeks with Dora would work out for me.

MA: And how did you study and train in sandplay?

HF:Every day in the morning, 5 days a week I would walk to her home to make a tray with Dora Kalff.  Three afternoons a week I went to back to her home where she would give a seminarthere. When I had free time, I took a few courses at the Jung Institute nearby where I was staying. Each time on the day before I left to go back home, she would sit me down, and then show me all the photographs of the trays I had made and,then she and I talked about them. I would say that Dora Kalff herself was my main teacher.

MA: And when she came to Los Angeles again she would do more talks and seminars?

HF: When in Los Angeles, she was engaged by a nearby hospital,where she gave talks to the public.  She also taught the children’s analysts who were working in the hospital clinic.  I attended all of those presentations as well. Dora also went to San Francisco mostly because she didn’t like being in Switzerland during the winter.  She trained both candidates and Analysts in both San Francisco and Los Angeles.I attended most of the teaching in San Francisco as well.

MA: So you did most of your training with her as well.

HF:  Yes. However, later on I was introduced to Kay Bradway who lived in San Francisco. Once or twice a year I would go to see her, fly to San Francisco and show her slides and talk with her about them. I also went to New York and also did some work with Estelle Weinrib after I read her amazing book’Images of the Self’.

MA: With all the important American founders… so if asked by someone who wants to train to be a sandplay therapisttoday, what advice would you give?

HF: First, before any serious training, I would suggest that people make their own process. To see, in reality, if getting connected with the sand and the miniatures really touches those important places inside us that inform us about what we are drawn to, or not drawn. I believe that is the most important ingredient.

It is here that we will find, within us, the answer to this question.

MA: In your process was there any meaningful symbol that drew you in early on?

HF:  I think I went in phases.  When I was with Dora, her miniature collection was so amazing… Initially I wanted to use everything in her collection however…Initially I wanted to use everything in her collection however that was impossible so I left my thinking part of me so just used just what drew me to it, and just went with my gut. I think I just had to do it that way rather then follow my mind.

MA: How do you see the sandplay movement here in the United States and in the world?

HF: How do I see it?  It worries me. On the other side, it also makes me happy to see that so many people are so responsive, but when I see people using it in ways that are not productive in my mind, or I see people trying to make a lot of money on it that saddens me a lot.

I recently saw online that somebody advertises that you can be fixed up in one week if you come and do sandplay every day with them. It just doesn’t work that way.

When Sandplay is being used for something that I don’t respect, when it can be used so beautifully to help people to find out who they are and what is going on with them and can be so healing. So, it is a concern to me to see when these types of things happen and undermine the beauty and meaning of this technique.

MA: They don’t use it in the way it was set up originally.

HF:  It’s hard for me to see when those kinds come into my world.  I also worry about the many people don’t really get excellent training, trying to experience their own process with this one and that one. For me, I was lucky to be able to have such good mentors and then I fell in love with it, it helped me, it helped many people that I don’t think would’ve easily been helped without sandplay.

MA: What do you think are the biggest mistakes that people make with sandplay?

HF:   The biggest mistakes are that they are not trained well enough, I hear all kinds of stories about some peoples training, they talk throughout the process, not enough silence, different ways of using sand, etc.  However, I am dedicated to try to have the reverence and a most meaningful experience for each of my patients, but maybe, I’m just an old fashion girl

MA: That is why we want to hear your opinion.

HF: I think often people talk too much and interpret it right there. It’s not that Dora didn’t talk or say something about what I put in the tray.  So, using it in the original way is most helpful especially with a good understanding of Jungian psychology. Dora Kalff came from a Jungian training, she was candidate herself. She originally did not get certified, she did later on.  So that bothers me that people use it in so many ways that lose the sacredness of this technique.

MA:  You have been to Brazil in 2003, what do you remember of the work in Sandplay in Brazil

 or do you know about Sandplay in the Brazil recently?

HF: Let me go back to the work my experience in 2003, I am sure it is different now. I was most impressed with what I saw. There was nothing that gave me the creeps. Sometimes I feel what are these people thinking about, but I do not remember having seen that in Brazil at the time. I saw respect and reverence and good training, that was my impression when I got back. Is it still that way?

MA:  I wouldn’t know that much because I left in 2009 but I think there’s a very lively interest in Brazil

HF:  I felt they really did a good job in getting it right.

MA: Is there anything that you want to stress or address about sandplay that we have not talked about?

HF: I use verbal therapy and sandplay, I do not just use sandplay, I do need to know who and where people are, I do need to know their dreams, I do need to know what is going on in their life, so analysis of the dreams is important. However, not everybody wants to do it, but if they will do it, they get into connection with psyche more deeply. Not everybody is ready to do that and you also have to have patience.

One time I worked with a man, who really was uncomfortable with even going into the room with the trays and miniatures were.  Then one day he said when he came in to my office he just announced that “I am ready” and he went into the room and he did it. He only did it once but he got it, he had his own experience that day and it meant a lot to him as well.

MA: You speak about respecting the process of the client…

HF: Yes, and I have to respect it if they are not ready to make a tray

MA: I think this important advice for people interested in working with sandplay.

HF: Yes exactly,

MA: Taking into account all the manifestations of the psyche so to speak,

HF: I have great respect of how far clients want to go or can go at any given time.

MA: Is there anything else you want to leave us with?

HF: Let me see, I want to say that I have a deep respect for the silent essence of what goes on in Sandplay and the connection, the unconscious connection between the therapist and the patient. The healing comes in the delayed interpretation, the silence and a deliberate discouragement of directives thinking. I often say: put on your child’s mind don’t know too much.

MA: Thank you so much this is very helpful.

HF: I thank you.