Applying the FiveStar Method to Group Dream Work

Students of the FiveStar Method often ask me how to apply the FSM in a therapeutic or personal growth group. Interestingly, I originally conceived the FSM as a group dream work method, probably because I received some training years ago with Montague Ullman, whose approach to group dream work is well known and highly effective. But after using the FSM in group and individual work, I’ve discovered that it doesn’t depend on a group for its effectiveness. That being said, it can offer a group that is lead by a seasoned leader a very dynamic interactive process, which can enhance personal insight, faciliate interpersonal learning, and deepen intimacy.

The problem, as most therapists realize, is that a group of inexperienced group members will often make precipitous and invasive interpretations that effectively short-circuit the process of slower and surer discovery, and override the dreamer’s role as the ultimate authority. This is partly due to the age-old belief that dream analysis involves figuring out what the dream is saying, or what it means. Within this tradition, dream workers focus on dream images or “symbols” as the carrier of meaning, and may set about to “solve the puzzle,” rather than viewing the dream through the lens of cocreative or relational dream theory, which treats the dream as an interactive process between the dreamer and the dream content that unfolds in real time–like any real relationship. As the first systematic approach to relational dream work, the FSM focuses prinicipally on the dreamer’s responses to the dream imagery–his or her feelings, thoughts, and reactions in response to what manifests “out there” in the dream. The FSM also views theses responses as “cocreative” of the dream’s outcome, because the dreamer’s reactions clearly affects how the imagery behaves, and so on, in a synchronous feedback look. Until a group becomes familiar with this relational reorientation, they will operate according to the old model, and they will focus on interpreting the images rather than helping the dreamer see how he or she is interacting with, or relating to the dream content.

So it’s important to put the group on notice from the outset that they will first have to learn how to contribute the dream work process, and that means the leader must be willing to control the process in a disciplined way until everyone gets the hang of it. You don’t have to be a stormtrooper in providing corrective feedback, but you do have to intervene immediately to redirect wayward projections.

It helps to break down the five steps of the FSM into clearly delineated stages, and announce beforehand the focused tasks assigned to each stage. Much of your work will be to keep the group members from getting ahead of the process, so you can intervene with messages such as, “That’s about the imagery. We’re not there yet, so hold onto those ideas until we get there.” Also, you can encourage savvy group members to help you “police” the process until everyone has adjusted to the requirements of the FSM. Some client/members will catch on quickly, but some will find the shift in worldview to be quite difficult to negotiate. But remember, controlling the process is very important, and if you’re inclined to be overly polite, you will lose control of the process, and the dream work will quickly deteriorate into a trivial guessing game. So before you introduce the FSM to a group, you need to take stock of your readiness, as well as your group’s capacity to adopt a very advanced and powerful therapeutic intervention.