“Dream Work in Therapy”
Many people bring their dreams to therapy, yet clinicians may feel unprepared to address the rich nature of their client’s dreams. As part of her doctoral dissertation, Dr. Perper studied the effect of a dream interpretation intervention on grief for bereaved individuals.
Dr. Perper found that participants, who focused on their dreams during therapy, enjoyed therapy more, felt that that the relationship with their therapist was more collaborative, and had greater insight into aspects of their loss. Such findings further support an agreement in the literature that dreams have therapeutic value for many people.
Dreams have the potential to:
1) inform the dreamer of concerns he or she may have in waking life that they may not otherwise have been aware of,
2) assist in problem-solving,
3) provide a safe place to process traumatic events, and
4) bypass defenses that may interfere with talking about sensitive topics.
To effectively work with dreams in therapy, follow these three easy steps*:
1. Explore Choose 3-5 significant images in the dream. An image can be any thought, feeling, behavior, person, or object. Follow the DRAW acronym for each image sequentially, as it appears in the dream: Describe the image in as much detail as possible using the five senses, Re-experience the emotion that was felt at that moment in the dream, draw Associations with that image; ask yourself: “What is the first thing that I think of when I think of [the image]”, and identify Waking-life triggers that could have caused the image to appear in the dream.
2. Insight Following the Exploration stage, an initial impression of the dream may develop. A possible level of understanding is to look at the dream as an experience that the dreamer had. Thus, the dream has the potential to inform the dreamer of something meaningful. Another level of understanding includes viewing each image in the dream as an aspect of the self or an aspect of a waking-life conflict. The dream may also be examined from the perspective of a concern that originated in the dreamer’s childhood or is reflective of past traumatic events. Lastly, the dream may mimic events in waking life that can offer perspective and clarity on a present-day issue.
3. Action ‘Action’ is a process in which the “lesson” of the dream is translated into a change that the dreamer can make in his or her day-to-day life. To facilitate this progression, the dreamer is encouraged to change the dream, or give the dream an alternative ending. The challenge is to translate the change that is made in the dream to a change that can be made in daily life. For example, if the dreamer is being attacked in the dream, the dreamer may choose to confront the attacker with confidence. This change may be translated into discussing ways to be more assertive on a daily basis and address concerns around self-confidence.
To learn more about using dreams in therapy, visit www.therapychanges.com, or contact Dr. Perper directly at (619) 275-2286 or rochelle (at)
therapychanges (dot) com.
*References: Hill, C. E. (2004). Dream work in therapy: Facilitating exploration, insight, and action. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.