„If someone wishes for good health, one must first ask oneself if he is ready to do away with the reasons for his illness. Only then is it possible to help him.“
Last week was really interesting and productive for me because I gained new insights into the cause(s) of my health issues and came up with a new idea for dealing with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E and Fibromyalgia. It is just an idea at this point and needs to be tested by people who are on the path of recovery. Although I thought I was fully recovered and had dealt with all of the origins of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I discovered something new. In fact, I believe I finally reached the core.
I had a chance to experience sandplay therapy and found it simple, but profound. I did a Google search, but interestingly, did not find any stories about it having been used by CFS/M.E. or fibromyalgia patients. Surely with as many people as there are with these issues, SOMEONE must have tried sandplay therapy. Perhaps they haven´t reported or it has not worked, I don´t know. But I believe sandplay therapy could be useful, and something tells me I may be onto something. If you have tried the method or are willing to try, please let me know. I´d love to hear from people who have had a chance to experience this wonderful method.
The new idea is about combining the principles of mind-body healing (described in this blog and my book) with sandplay therapy and TAT (Tapas Acupressure Technique). I hypothize that this is a combination of methods that could work well enough to be used for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and other non-specific conditions. However, I am not a doctor, therapist, nor researcher, so this is not a scientifically proven method. I am just someone who has recovered from CFS using the mind-body approach and various healing techniques. Please read and decide whether you would like to try the combination of ideas and methods I am describing.
At the beginning of last week, just two days after my 33rd birthday, I had an opportunity to experience a fun-sounding healing process called sandplay therapy. I was offered a free session for raising my awareness about myself, and I decided to take it. „After all, what harm can a simple play in a sandbox do,“ I thought, and got excited. I didn´t know what to expect… and when the session was over, I thought „Oh boy, I could never expect THAT. This was profound!“
Sandplay therapy is a Jungian therapy that has existed for about 60 years and has proven its effectiveness enough to be used worldwide today. It involves placing figures in a sandbox and creating three-dimensional pictures (representations of your current life situation, an old trauma or a problem you want to address). Your reason for doing it could be a relationship problem, excessive worry, tension, stress, anxiety, unresolved trauma, sleep disorder, depression or anything else that has its root somewhere in your (un)conscious mind. In the process you will be guided to follow your feelings while you are „playing“ with the figures in the sand. The idea as I understand it is to gain a better contact with your inner feelings, traumas, phobias and explore the ways to resolve them by playing them out in the sandbox. Sandplay therapy has been effectively used for traumatized children and adults alike. It is used for phobias, relationship issues, traumas, and possibly many other problems we face in life. I think Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E. and Fibromyalgia could be included in the list as well.
I am going to describe my experience and hope it will give you an idea what the process is about.
As with most therapeutic processes, it is helpful to think of a problem or question before the process starts (I suggest you formulate your question with the aim to learn about the cause and origin of your illness). Since the offer to try the method came quite unexpectedly, I didn´t have a specific question to begin with, so we just explored my current life situation with the therapist. I was told to place the figures I felt a connection with into the sandbox and lay them out to represent my life. So I took whatever I felt I needed from the box and threw them (the therapist pointed this out to me later because I was unconscious of it when doing this) into the sandbox and arranged them the way I thought they needed to be arranged. Then the therapist asked me to look at the picture I had created and inquired about my feelings related to it. I had to go from thinking to directly feeling my emotions, and was surprised to see that my feelings were totally different from my thoughts (even after all these years of mindfulness practices!). I didn´t feel good about the picture, so I was told to change it in a way that I would FEEL comfortable with it. I ended up putting most of the figures back into the box until only I myself (the figure I chose to represent myself) remained in the middle of the miniature desert of sand. It was an interesting feeling to be there all alone, but it didn´t feel entirely comfortable. So I added a woman, a heart to represent love, and felt better, but still not great. I was guided to add something that supports me into the picture. I chose to add my parents´ house, but the therapist pointed out that it´s just a house – how could I be sure that my parents are actually in there? That´s right, I thought! And so she told me to also select parents from the box and place them into the picture. I did, with a sigh, and had to explore my feelings about my parents. That´s when I realized that I had come to the crux of all of my major problems in life – the illness, addictions, financial troubles, relationship issues…WOW! I saw that somewhere deep inside I still felt like an abandoned and hurt child who is not being loved enough. In fact, it was no longer „somewhere deep inside,“ but all of it surfaced as if I was a child again. I don´t mean to say that I was abandoned or not loved by my parents. It was just a perception, a ghost I had conjured up in my mind and started to believe in and later repress. It had its reasons for sure, but these were perceived by me as a child and not questioned or truly refuted later in life. Until last week, that is.
A flood of old repressed painful feelings came out along with tears. At the same time I started to feel peaceful, which indicated that I was OK with the picture at that point. The therapist asked me to notice where I was feeling the peace. It was in the solar plexus area (the area of personal power!). We had covered enough ground to finish the session. We analyzed the session and I came to understand that I had to deal with that primordial pain. The therapist suggested I talk to my parents and I said I was going to even though it´s hard. Then she advised me to go for a walk. During the walk in the forest I felt a lot of pain in my heart area and in my head. It was intense pain, but not the kind of pain that needs a painkiller. I somehow knew I just needed to feel the pain fully and accept it (I kept having this intense pain for the whole week and on the following week). Two days later I confronted my parents with what I had discovered, and another two days later did TAT on the whole thing. Now, at the end of the second week I feel much more grounded, more peaceful and secure. I have been waking up early, feeling peaceful and enthusiastic – something I haven´t really been feeling for quite long. This tells me that something has shifted. In fact it seems to be something big because I´m still having this intense pain in my head and heart area. I believe it will subside by itself.
During the days following the session I started to think that sandplay therapy could be used by people who are willing to try the mind-body approach to healing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. According to Reverse Therapy, CFS or M.E. is an illness caused by our emotional imbalances, and therefore can be healed by correcting these imbalances. But it is challenging to get to the root of one´s emotional problems. There are some quite effective ways to do that, but none of the ones I´ve tried so far are as effective as sandplay therapy, which enables you to go all the way to the core in a simple and fun, but potentially disturbing way. That´s where TAT comes in. If a sandplay session brings up stuff you need to deal with, TAT is a great method to make it easier and softer. It can release all pain and fear related to anything that has happened in your life. I suggest you learn to do TAT before you decide to do sandplay therapy, bacause if sandplay brings out unconscious material that you feel profoundly uncomfortable with, you will have an easy way to painlessly integrate that into your mind and life – „It happened, it´s over, I´m OK and I can relax now.“ For example, if something painful comes up and you feel overwhelmed by it, TAT can help release this stress.
The main benefit of sandplay therapy is its capacity to bypass the rational mind and gain direct contact with the unconscious mind. Make sure the therapist can guide you in body-awaress during the session – ask them whether they use bodily sensations as the anchor – deep and persistent contact with your feelings and bodily sensations is what you need during the session.
„When combined with body-awareness, most of the senses are involved in this sandplay expression, which is consistent with what we know of the nature of traumatic memory storage and processing.“
Gaining contact with the Bodymind and true feelings can be the most challenging part in the process of recovery. There are some excellent methods to use at home (body scan, focusing), but they may not be enough. Sandplay therapy can fill this gap. It can help you to communicate directly with your true self, bodymind or unconscious mind (whatever label you use) and receive relevant guidance as to what needs to be done in order to restore balance and health.
Once you know where the problem is buried, you will know what to do about it. I guess the unawareness of one´s deep feelings is also one of the main reasons why people are skeptical about the mind-body approach. “How can emotions be causing my physical symptoms???” is a common question. The truth is, they can. But if one is unaware of one´s deeper emotions, the link may be left unnoticed, sadly enough. It is scary to look at your hidden stuff (that´s why it´s hidden!), but if it is causing symptoms, it is necessary to acknowledge what is really going on. Surely it is natural to want to have a pill that relieves the symptoms, but from the perspective of mind-body approach, this means burying your head under the sand. You have to “go to that scary place” inside and have a look what´s there. What has been trying to get your attention for so long? Once acknowledged and dealt with, the cause for the signals to occur is no longer there. It may be necessary to change something in your lifestyle, talk to the person(s) involved in your traumas and/or forgive some people, but is anything too much to do for health?
Let´s suppose that CFS, M.E. and Fibromyalgia are caused by a virus, toxicity, immune system deficiency or any cause other than what can be labeled “psychosomatic.” Even if Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E. and Fibromyalgia are not caused by your bodymind sending you signals about what you need to look/change in your mind and life, what can possibly be the harm in exploring this possibility? In the worst case scenario – if mind-body approach doesn´t work for you, you will have tried and excluded another method from the list of possible cures and can keep searching for other possibilities. In the best case scenario you will be fully recovered. Are you ready to find out which one it is?
I have to say that sandplay therapy is a process not to be taken lightly. Make sure the therapist is properly qualified and discuss your issues with them before you attend the session. You want to make sure it is a person you feel comfortable working with. Sandplay therapy is a demanding process for the therapist and the client alike. The therapist has to be highly competent in the method and be able to act as a clear mirror to the client´s experiences, and the client has to be brave enough to face the sources of problems in his/her (un)conscous mind.
I look forward to hear from anyone who has combined these methods to deal with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E. Fibromyalgia or other conditions. If you need more information on the mind-body approach, and want to learn more about my story, you can purchase my book.