How often have you found yourself recounting a vivid dream to a friend or family member? You wake in the morning full of excitement and curiosity, wondering what the dream could possibly mean. Sometimes we might feel a bit baffled about what our dreaming mind is trying to tell us. Quite frankly, where do you begin to unravel a night of wild dreaming? In this article we explore just five ways to work with dreams. These are some of the most established and comprehensive approaches and pathways for tackling the mysterious world of dream interpretation…

Dream Wedding

Dream Wedding

1)  Freud, Psychoanalysis and Free Association

First up, we have to start with psychoanalyst, Sigmund Freud. Along with Carl Jung, he was one of the biggest pioneers in dreamwork. In psychoanalytic theory, dreams represent wish fulfilment, unconscious desires and conflicts. During dream analysis, the person in therapy shares the content of the dream with the therapist. After specific symbols are pulled from the content, the therapist uses a technique called ‘free association’ to facilitate the exploration of repressed material.

Free association is where the dreamer says whatever comes to mind, with as much honesty as possible, and without over-thinking it – it’s like saying the first things that come to mind without using a filter or considering the content for too long before you speak. Through these associations to dream images, the origins of the dreamer’s intrapsychic conflicts are revealed. In his work with patients, Freud listened to the dream and then to the patient’s associations to specific images, and offered an interpretation using his knowledge of the dreamer and of dreams’ symbolic meanings.

2)   Group Work

Working in a group provides a richer experience rather than one-to-one. They say a problem shared is a problem halved and this too can apply to dreams. Sometimes through the sharing of a dream with a trusted group of fellow dreamers can gain an entirely different perspective from working with the group as a whole. It offers another enrichment of the dream, another view.

There are a number of variations to working with dreams in this way. The dreamer can use the group as a resource for animating their dream, while predominantly staying in contact with only their own intrapsychic world, an approach exemplified by Sylvia Crocker’s dramatic Gestalt dreamwork (Crocker, 2007).

A major model of group ‘dream work’ was developed by Montague Ullman (1987), whose approach emphasises safety and discovery in group dream work. Importantly, the dreamer must feel safe enough with the group to disclose what may be quite intimate material. To foster such safety, all members acknowledge that the dreamer has absolute control of the dream work process at every stage.

Discovery arises from the group members all adopting the dream as their own, a process that consists of four stages: (1) the dreamer describes a dream and the group asks questions to obtain a clear sense of the dream; (2) group members project their own material and their own associations onto the dream and its images; (3) the dreamer then responds to the group’s input; and (4) during a later meeting, the dreamer shares any further thoughts s/he had with the group.

3)   Jungian analysis

Jungian analysis is similar to Freud's psychoanalysis in that dreams are probed for unconscious material and symbols are explored for hidden meaning. However, in Jungian dream analysis, the dreamer is more crucial in unlocking the dream's message. Additionally, dreams are seen as attempts to express and create rather than efforts to repress and disguise, as in Freud's theory. Jungian dream analysis is based on Jung's belief that unless the interpretation resonates with the dreamer, the interpretation is not helpful.

Carl Jung (1964, 1974) believed dreams to be a normal and creative expression of one’s unconscious mind. Asserting that dreams serve a compensatory function, Jung stated that dreams reflect issues that are unexpressed during waking life. He believed that dreams can provide a vital means of uniting the conscious and unconscious by making dreamers aware of hidden feelings.

Dream interpretation remains one of the central components in Jungian therapy, although Jung did not define specific procedures for dream work. Rather, he supported therapists’ working with dreams in whatever way was most useful for the dreamer. Jung himself frequently used associations, portrayal of dreams through artistic expressions, and interpretation of dreams via archetypes and myths.

4)   Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

More recently, cognitive therapists have developed models for using dreams in therapy. As an example, Arthur Freeman and Beverly White (2004) described a method for using dreams as a standard homework task in cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT).  They believe, for example, that dreams should be understood thematically rather than symbolically and that the ideas or images present in clients’ dreams should be taken at face value and not as symbolic representations of something or someone else. They also think that clients’ affective responses to their dreams parallel affective responses to waking life events.

5)   Gestalt

Dreamwork in gestalt therapy is implemented in a different way than in psychoanalysis and Jungian analysis. Gestalt therapists believe that dreams are existential messages we send to ourselves. These messages are actively explored to bring dream content into a person's actual life. Gestalt therapy dream work also assumes that everything that occurs in the dream is an aspect of the dreamer. This means that dreams can have several meanings and ultimately only the dreamer can understand the dream and know what the dream is about

A major technique used in Gestalt dream analysis is the “Take the Part of” technique. In this process, the therapist asks the person to write down everything remembered about the dream. The person is then asked to act out each “part” of the dream, creating a dialogue between the parts. For example, if a woman dreams of a bird high on a rooftop looking out at a beautiful sunset, the therapist might tell the woman to ask the bird questions. The dream might ask, “What are you doing watching the sunset?” and then answer, playing the part of the bird, “I am here watching your life change.” This to-and-fro playing of parts helps people in therapy clarify feelings from all angles.

By Leah Larwood 

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