The Deep Play Project


I set out wanting to compile and edit a book called, Deep Sand – Exploring a Body Centered Approach to Psychotherapy with Children”, with chapters by various therapists who used a deep sandbox as part of their work with children and that embraced some version of a somatic oriented approach, not necessarily mine. This immediately became a problem as there were very few therapists I could find who used a deep box. (Why this is so could be the subject of another book.) So I modified the book’s theme to that of considering the idea of depth in general, i.e. the idea of embracing body, mind, psyche, instincts, all in the context of play. I wanted psychotherapists to contribute who valued descent, eschewing the linear for the vertical and the labyrinthine in their thinking. I wanted those contributing to have their own views on this process and hoped these would be compatible with my own. A few of the therapists were fairly new to working with children, while others had done so for decades. I also didn’t want my contribution via the introduction to be too focused on negating the shallow box and shallow theoretical approach to play (but here I am again tempted to do so!)

The chapters were a challenge to edit for two reasons. The editing rules regarding citing and/or quoting other authors are very complex and confusing today. For example, I wanted to begin with a poem by Pablo Neruda and received permission to do so from the Neruda Society in Spain but not from the American translator of this poem. Each author had to negotiate these rules. Secondly, I had to weigh using the author’s ideas and language even when I didn’t fully agree with them.

There is an ongoing urge toward the formulaic and simplistic in most contemporary psychotherapy. Many of the more recent techniques are exciting but they often disregard the complexity of the human organism in what feels like a reductionist view of life. I have been witness to many, many thousands of sand worlds, monster drawings and play configurations made by young children with a vast variety of problems. And I am struck continually by both the complexity and paradox of children’s play. “Whatever you think it’s more than that, more than that…” are the words to an old folk rock song I do not have permission to quote more fully. And this feels like a constant guide for me.

I have a profound faith in the possibility that a child sitting by a deep sandbox and digging into its depths might encounter a wellspring of healing there. The awkward but genuine encounter of two souls playing, dancing, sculpting with clay, drawing improvisationally, exploring a dream, or exploring the creative expression of emotion may allow for a freeing up of new energies that affect the child, a new way of being in their bodies, a new and more functional way of experiencing and expressing themselves.

Hopefully the book communicates the enthusiasm all the contributors feel about this version of the psychotherapeutic process.

Dennis McCarthy, LMHC, trained initially as a dancer and dance therapist and went on to train in Bioenergetic Analysis and Jungian Analysis, and was in treatment in all three modalities. With 40 years of experience, he created his own approach to play therapy that is body-centered and imagination-drive. He has authored many articles and several books on his work. He trains and supervises many therapists and maintains a large private practice in Kingston, NY. He also leads a biannual workshop for personal growth in the Greek islands called “The Heart Leaps Up . . .” that explores the overlap of personal process and mythic story.

Categories: Reflections

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