After the Wildfires

After the fires, tend the garden


The rippling effects of the recent wildfires in Northern California are being felt by most of us as we hear and see the stories, feel the suffering of people in so many communities, and remember the discomfort of smoky air and apprehension. Many of us made donations in the immediate aftermath. Many of us are helping clients, students or friends who have lost loved ones, homes, and/or jobs.  And the need for reconstruction and healing will go on for a longer time, well past the current news cycle.

As therapists, we are empathic and trained to help others. This can be harder when we are compromised with our own grief, fear, or are overloaded. When we feel “burned out”, who cares for us and how do we care for ourselves?  In the spirit of caring for those who have been closest to the disaster, a group of NCRSS members will be meeting on November 18th to learn Hakoniwa, a group sandplay model developed in Japan and used following the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. We are making contacts with schools in Sonoma County and will offer Hakoniwa to teachers and staff who are serving children and families in the fire regions.

Hakoniwa translates as “miniature garden”.  Here small groups are invited to create a collective, symbolic image in a barren landscape - a new world in box with sand. How important it is to remember that cycles of destruction and creation are intrinsically related. This summer I visited the lava flows on the Big Island of Hawaii - where villages and homes were buried, leaving no trace. The expanse of gray lava seemed endless, yet here and there were islands of trees that the lava river left green and untouched. It is from these lava gardens that seeds are blown and take root in the volcanic sand, starting with tiny ferns.  Seeing these spots of green not far from the smoking lava felt miraculous and uplifting.

With Hakoniwa, we hope to bring seeds of the imagination to fertile soil where new life and hope can emerge from devastation.

Ellen Searle LeBel

Thanks to our Board members and participating members of the Northern California Regional Sandplay Society. For further information, email or call 707-826-7900.


The State of California is seeking to contract licensed mental health professionals to immediately assist first responders and fire victims.

The contact information is below and can be shared with other qualified California therapists. 

The California Department of General Services sends this urgent request.  Due to the severity of the fires in northern California, there is an critical need for mental health providers, licensed by the state of California and particularly those in northern California, to provide immediate mental health services to first responders and those caring for disabled, veterans, and elderly that have been directly affected by these disasters.

Please contact  Ricardo Martinez, DGS Chief Procurement Officer for the State of California at 916-317-6451 or .

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A Thanksgiving message and announcements

The Generous Heart of Sandplay

Autumn is a usually a time to enjoy abundance as we shift from the warmth and light of summer to the contemplative depths of winter. This fall the storms of change and upheaval have struck, profoundly straining psyches and communities throughout our families, neighborhoods, country and the world. At such a time, sandplay therapy can be a quiet refuge for expression and centering, containing the opposites, and being witnessed.

However, it is very hard to be a therapist in these times, holding one’s own inner uncertainty while offering a safe place for others and receiving their emotions. We try to be practitioners of generosity- kind, openhanded and understanding. But how do we maintain an open heart in the face of collective dissension and rampant cultural complexes?

Remember that symbols support us and our clients in our efforts to represent and feel our way through the unknown and to heal.  At our NCRSS Annual Meeting in September, the wheel symbolized communities and our organization in its symbolic and functional aspects. At the end of the day, we joined hands and became the wheel, turning around the center, feeling the power of collaboration.

But the wheel does not turn without an axle penetrating that center hole. It must be a strong rod that can bear great weight with a fitting called a key that locks to the wheel.  This conjunction of center and axle is the heart of the wheel, an image to contemplate in therapy with our clients when we are the axle for another’s wheel.

I wonder what other symbols, images or figures are helpful to us now? Which figures appear in the trays of our clients that illuminate the spirit of endurance?  How are our bodies responding to the contact with a rough road and emotional acceleration? What is your experience and how can you express it?

We hope you will reach out to other sandplay colleagues to share and support one another with gratitude for our sandplay community. Please read on for upcoming events and news. You will also find all this on our NEWS section of our website,

- Ellen Searle LeBel, NCRSS President



Sandplay Therapists of America will hold a day-long meeting February 11, 2017 in Menlo Park. The meeting is open to NCRSS members, California sandplay therapists, and others studying sandplay. The day includes case presentations, lunch and an STA members meeting for a reasonable fee. Hours toward certification will be offered. 

NCRSS will be sending an announcement with details by email. Visit for details or contact us at to be added to our email list.



Plans are in process for Sandplay Salons!

Many members requested meetings to learn about writing a symbol paper, a sandplay case and the process of becoming certified as a Sandplay Practitioner or Certified Sandplay Therapist.  Dates and locations will be announced soon.

These will be informal, free groups for NCRSS members, hosted by a member in their home or office.  Guest teaching members will provide information and answer questions. 

Watch your email and the NEWS page on the website for more information soon.



The NCRSS Gathering and Annual Meeting brought members and newcomers together on a sunny, warm day in San Rafael for a program of thoughtful and inspiring presentations, a wonderful figure sale, delicious homemade lunch and interactive annual meeting.

This year NCRSS grew in members to 59, is now financially stable, sponsored a successful series of Fundamentals courses last spring and Intermediate courses in sandplay for 2016-17 and is dedicated to supporting training and certification for sandplay therapists. We launched our new website and improved our registration process in 2016.

At the meeting, NCRSS Board members encouraged people to become involved as volunteers, especially Board members, and asked for suggestions from the audience for other events and community activities. 

Thanks to all the hard-working volunteers, presenters and Board members who made this event a success: Lynne Ehlers, Tessamarie Capitolo, Mary Watson, Sandi Peters, Ann Strack, Takako Ainsworth, Hope Dean, Valerie Hinard, Marianne Von Michalofsky,  Sonia Lucana, Laura Bachman, Diana Wood, David Capitolo and Ellen Searle LeBel. 

Special thanks to the donors of the figures, the team who organized the figure sale and all who bought figures. We raised over $1,000 to benefit NCRSS!



THE JOURNAL OF SANDPLAY THERAPY recently published a special issue in celebration of the 25th anniversary year of the journal. Congratulations to Journal editor and NCRSS member Joyce Cunningham for a splendid issue. Other NCRSS members authored several articles. This issue features quotations from Dora Kalff's 1963 presentation, compiled and discussed by Judy Zappacosta. These words are sparkling gems of Kallf's ideas and wisdom that have come to light again. Lynne Ehlers' in depth study of mandalas opens our understanding of archetypal defenses and healing in sandplay.  Sonia Lucana described the Peruvian "mother of the universe", Pachamama in sandplay therapy. Another piece by Judy Zappacosta explored the archetypal black Madonna and her global importance.

If you are not a JST subscriber, you can order an issue or subscribe online at or better yet, join as an associate and receive a subscription. 


Remember that anyone can read the Journal Reflections on the STA website. There are book reviews, conference reports and commentary for all to enjoy.




9:30-2:30 pm

·          Engaging presentations about sandplay therapy with people in different communities.

·          Fantastic sale of objects and figures to support NCRSS and enhance your collection. 

·          Participate in the annual meeting and closing ritual. 

·          Enjoy lunch, contemplate or socialize in the garden, stroll paths, admire the views.

The Northern California Regional Sandplay Society invites you to enjoy personal and professional time with colleagues and friends in our sandplay community. Be inspired and support your work within circles of communities and cultures. All are welcome: NCRSS and STA members, students, teachers and professionals interested in learning and practicing sandplay therapy. Meet at the Unitarian Congregation of Marin in a beautiful location with views of Mt. Tamalpais and the Bay, easily reached from Hwy. 101 with ample, free parking. Lunch is included. Cost is $30.

Click here to register on Eventbrite!


        Tessamarie Capitolo, LMFT, CST-T; Lynne Ehlers, PhD, CST-T; Sandi Peters, MA, CPG; Mary Watson, MA, SP

The morning program begins with a welcoming ritual symbolizing our theme of the wheel. Presentations begin with Lynne Ehlers' visual reverie of wheel images from around the world. Mary Watson will share insights from her dedicated efforts over decades of integrating sandplay with children in multicultural schools locally and internationally. Sandi Peters will describe her innovative use of sandplay and research with elders with memory loss and dementia.

The theme of communities and current events in our society inspires us to look deeply at the psychological roots of cultural, racial and other bias, personal identity and impacts within a therapeutic relationship. Tessamarie Capitolo will discuss the psychology of racism and introduce her Racial Awareness Inventory as a tool for individuals and groups to share.  We will conclude with discussion about how to practice consciously as sandplay therapists, embrace other perspectives, and evaluate the diversity of figures in our figure collections.


NCRSS will be selling an abundant array of figures from two donated collections including many one of a kind treasures as well as basics for starting a collection. This is a fundraiser for our organization.  Payment accepted will be cash or check only.


The NCRSS annual meeting is open to all attenders and is a chance to mingle, hear about the progress of the past year in our organization, and meet the newly elected board members.

Cost is $30 person plus small registration fee. Please share this announcement with colleagues and click here to register now on Eventbrite.



                                              Contact  for further information.