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Introduction to Dreamwork

"The royal road to the unconscious"

Dreamwork means anything related to paying attention to our dreams and learning something new about ourselves.

As opposed to dream-analysis (which is concerned with finding a meaning for the dream), dreamwork is process-focussed. It is the mindful practice of looking at dreams as an opportunity for self-development.

I have done quite a bit of dreamwork on myself, as well as with my clients and I developed 3 main guidelines.

Unfortunately we tend to forget our dreams, this happens to all of us. So doing dreamwork requires us to make a conscious effort to gather your dreams.

If we write them down soon after we wake up, we'll have a very detailed description. The longer we wait the more we'll forget the details. It is good practice for dreamwork to have a notepad on the bedside table.

A dream can give us two types of messages:

Self-regulation. It can tell us that we're right. The dream is there to reinforce our self-confidence and foster our memory. It can create new connections and solidify our personality.

Self-development. The alternative is that the dream can be there to tell us we need to work on something. In this second case, we can learn from your unconscious and develop a new growth-direction. in this case we need to be humble and ready enough to learn from the dream.

Dreams are personal and they only belong to the dreamer. No third party can interpret our dream for us. Jung wrote:

“I have noticed that dreams are as simple or as complicated as the dreamer is himself, only they are always a little bit ahead of the dreamer’s consciousness. I do not understand my own dreams any better than any of you, for they are always somewhat beyond my grasp and I have the same trouble with them as anyone who knows nothing about dream interpretation. Knowledge is no advantage when it is a matter of one’s own dreams.”

(Jung, CW 18, 244)

In other words, the dream is a message from the dreamer to the dreamer.

Self-knowledge is the ultimate developmental goal of dreamwork.

Learning who we are and how we tell ourselves our own story is what we aim for.

This means that there isn't a definite answer in dreamwork. We can revisit old dreams and see something different, or we can discuss our dreams with a therapist or a friend and find a new perspective. Dreamwork is always a work in progress, in the same way that self-awareness is a work in progress.

Some literature to start

There is a lot of literature on dreams in psychotherapy. I think these are the main books one needs to read to start with.

  • Freud, S. (1900). Interpretation of dreams. Freud is outrageously obsolete, with that in mind, his book on dreams is a great place to start. All the techniques are outdated, but I really liked the initial literature review. Freud gives a great summary on all the literature available on dreams. 
  • Perls, F. S., Hefferline, R. F., and Goodman, P. (1951). Gestalt Therapy. The most significant thoughts on dreamwork is obviously in the Gestalt side of therapy. Perls created the best and most effective methodologies to work on dreams. 
  • Jung on Active Imagination. Jung worked a lot on dreams. This is definitely my favourite approach to dreamwork. He also wrote a personal memoire, which I highly recommend: Jung (1961). Memories, Dreams, Reflections.