On the History of ISST
by Dr. Martin Kalff
Dora Maria Kalff (1904 – 1990), Jungian Psychologist and student of Margaret Lowenfeld, developed in the late fifties the therapeutic method called “Sandplay Therapy”. It is based on the Depth Psychology of C.G. Jung and on the “World Technique” originated by Margaret Lowenfeld, an innovative paediatrician and founder of one of the first psychological clinics for children in England in 1928. Lowenfeld set up the classical tools later adapted by Sandplay Therapy, a tray filled with sand and miniatures allowing to represent inner psychological contents in the creation of a three dimensional world. Bringing together the two methods did not only originate a tool adapted to the work with children but also added to the Jungian Psychology the element of the earth and engagement in a physical activity through the manipulation of the sand. It was a method which later also proved to be very valuable for adult clients as well. Dora Kalff’s intensive interest and studies of Eastern philosophy in particular Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism and Taoism contributed to a deepening of vision and understanding of both the creations in the sand as well as the therapeutic attitude of the therapist. Her book “Sandplay: A Psychotherapeutic Approach to the Psyche” first published 1966 gives a good introduction to her method mainly focusing on the Therapy of children.
Her method became gradually known outside of Switzerland and she traveled to teach Sandplay Therapy not only in Europe but also in America and Japan.
In the 80s she initiated yearly meetings of a selection of psychotherapists and advanced students of Sandplay from Switzerland and other countries where she had taught Sandplay.
With time there arose a need to provide a more formal structure for the study and practice of Sandplay Therapy in order to protect, develop and spread its practice. It is for this reason that the international group which was gathering regularly at her home in Zurich decided to found the International Society for Sandplay Therapy founded August 13, 1985 in her home in Zollikon. The fourteen founding members included members from Switzerland (Dr. med Kaspar Kiepenheuer, Dr. phil. M. Kalff), Italy (Dr. Paola Carducci, Andreina Navone) , England (JoelRyce Menuhin, M. phil.), America (Kay Bradway PhD, Estelle Weinrib MSW, Chonita Larsen PhD, Cecil Burney) and Japan (Prof. Dr. Hayao Kawai PhD, Prof. Dr. Yasuhiro Yamanaka MD, and Prof. Kazumiko Higuchi, D. Min.). In the following year Sigrid Löwen Seifert from Germany was included in this founding circle of the ISST. A majority of the founding members were Jungian analysts.
It is a unique quality of ISST as a professional organisation of Therapists that from the beginning it profited from a shared enthusiasm for this work in various parts of the world and started a long way of development through the joining of experiences stemming from a variety of cultural environments. In this way the history of the ISST is a fit testimony for an archetypally grounded common human essence which helps to transcend cultural differences.
The ISST defined guidelines for training in Sandplay Therapy as well as guidelines for becoming a teaching member ISST in order to protect the high professional standard of the work. At the same time it provided and continues to provide an international forum for the exchange of professional experience with Sandplay Therapy.
Thus the years that followed are marked by regular international congresses of the growing membership of ISST all over the world. Even as far as Japan Sandplay Therapy fell on fertile ground, where it corresponds well to the Asian mentality. Thus ISST congresses took place in England, America, Canada, Germany, Japan, Italy,and Switzerland.
As a fruit of the efforts of the ISST and the untiring work of Dora Kalff the foundation of many ISST Member Societies followed allowing to create specific structures adapted to the particular national needs.