Saturday, November 5, 2011

More on Analyzing Dream Imagery

In cocreative dream theory, nothing is fixed from the outset. The dreamer and the dream content interact in real time to cocreate the dream experience. A fundamental assumption of this approach is that the dreamer’s beliefs, feelings, thoughts, and reactions influence the way the dream unfolds, and that any change in the dreamer’s overall attitude or response set is mirrored by changes in the imagery. So the dreamer and the imagery are, to some extent, autonomous systems. But they are bound together in reciprocal interplay. It’s kind of like marriage, in which a wife’s needs may be perceived as demanding, leading the husband to believe that he needs to distance himself in order to be comfortable. The wife, in turn, sees him “doing what he always does,” approaches and become more emphatic. You know what happens then. The interaction between the dreamer and the imagery is very similar if you are able to take off the traditional view of the dream as a fixed message, and see it as relationship process. A therapist working with the couple would endeavor to show them that they both play a part in the conflict, and that they each can bring about change by working on their side of the equation.
So let’s look at the image for a moment. At first it may be a black dog, which can then into a threatening man, who then might have a heart attack and die when the dreamer hits him over the head with a frying pan. Pretty dramatic, right? In the traditional approach to symbols, the dream work might revolve around what a dog means, who or what the man represents, what a fying pan means, and what a heart attack means. The dreamer’s responses might be seen as justified, and thus completely overlooked. This approach bears fruit, but from a cocreative standpoint, we’re really missing the boat to take the separate images and analyze them apart from the interactive process. From a relational standpoint, we would be interested in what the dreamer did just before the dog turned into a man. That is, what she was thinking, feeling, and doing? She may have petted the dog, or she may have run from the dog. Mostly like the latter, right? Because in dreams, if you pet a dog or kiss a frog, it’s likely to become more approachable and positive, just as in mythology and in fairy tales.
From the standpoint of cocreative dream work– of which the Five Star Method may be the only systematic method developed thus far–we wish to analyze the dream much the way that a marriage therapist analyzes a complex relationship: We want to track the dreamer’s responses over the course of the dream, and assist the dreamer in reviewing and considering alternatives to those responses. Perhaps the dreamer’s reactions were based on fear. If so, we discuss how a less fearful response may have impacted the imagery and the eventual outcome. This is the essence of effective relational therapy, regardless of whether it takes place between a husband and wife, or between a dreamer and the dream images: In both cases, we are trying to analyze what is going on between the two parties, and get both of them to assume responsibility for their own actions and assumptions. Of course, dream work is a little different, because we don’t have access to the dream imagery. But even family therapy, a therapist knows that systemic change will occur even when a single member of a system changes the way that he or she relates to it. Looking at the dream as an interactive process empowers the dreamer in determing a course of action that may change fundamentally the way that he relates to the dream and to the world.

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