Our dreams provide us with images, symbols and messages from our unconscious selves. Unfolding the meaning of a dream into conscious understanding provides a rich source of inner guidance, self-understanding and healing. Dreams are about the dreamer primarily. Every aspect of the dream – the characters, the action, the symbols and the relationship among the elements of the dream are aspects of the dreamer. It is too easy to treat the images in a dream literally, relating specifically to some outer event or person in a concrete way.
In psychotherapy, unconscious material gradually manifests itself symbolically in dreams, in active imagination, and in the transference / counter-transference relationship between therapist and client. The therapeutic modality that is most commonly used to bring these and other archetypes to conscious awareness is dreamwork. Dreams bring to our attention vital information that we are not yet aware of. This information can play a key role in clients’ therapeutic process in addition to being an invaluable resource that catalyses transformation. Each dream offers a unique expression of clients’ psychological situation, giving the therapist, a precise and objective statement about the psychological reality that is confronting our client. Working with clients on their dreams enables the person to reconnect to their own deep inner nature, to their inherent source of wisdom and guidance and to their untapped and often unknown creative potential.
Dreamwork speaks strongly to both therapists and clients, because it addresses such issues as search for meaning, the spiritual quest, and an understanding of human nature. My interest in this subject arises from my own dreams and synchronicities that have helped to broaden and more importantly deepen my understanding of the Self.
Working with dreams is a vital aspect of Jungian psychotherapy. A primary function of dreams is to help find balance in life. Dreams are meaningful, objective and therapeutic. Dreamwork is essentially subjective. Jung compares it to “a theatre in which the dreamer is not only the playwright but also the producer, the promoter, the audience, as well as the setting and the various characters, including the critics”.
When working with dreams, I ask clients to describe in the greatest level of detail possible, the opening scene. I ask them to note the atmosphere and any actions or feelings. Then I ask them to continue to record every detail of the content, noting especially how the dream ended and what the final emotion is. We also note the course of the proceeding day for the dreamer and, in particular, the nature of their mental and emotional atmosphere as they went to sleep.
Striving for integration and wholeness is at the heart of psychotherapy, that practice amounts to an ‘invitation to wholeness’. Dreams not only show us areas of brokenness, but when we follow our dream wisdom, they also return us via “the royal road of our unconscious” to our original potential for wholeness. Therapists are instrumental in ‘opening up,’ to use the surgical phrase, the Psyche of another. To be properly prepared, we must have first entered our own process.