Saturday, March 17, 2012

Is the Dreamer the Ultimate Authority on the Dream's Meaning?

A modern tenet of most dream work systems is that the dreamer is, or should be, the ultimate authority on what the dream means. While this sounds good, and conforms to the post-modern ideal that there is no external "expert" to which we can appeal, I think that putting the dreamer in control is not as simple as it sounds. For, if dreams are, to some extent by definition, designed to show us what we don't know and to some extent have not been willing to acknowledge, then the process of dream analysis is likely to raise unwelcome and even invasive-seeming contributions, even if done with the utmost respect for the dreamer. Rogerian theorists have faced the same dilemma. Rogers advocated a strict non-invasive, client-centered approach, but he also acknowledged the importance of therapist congruency or authenticity. What happens when the helper/therapist has a strong reaction to what the dreamer/client is espousing, or seems to be denying? Does the therapist hide her feelings out of respect for the client's authority, or does she express her feelings/observations at the risk of offending the client's authority and engaging in shadow-driven countertransference? I think the deeper solution is not so much to sign off with a politically correct bow to the dreamer's authority (which is probably all we can do in our espoused ethics), but by remaining aware of what one is doing and the consequences of taking stands that may run counter to the client/dreamer's own assessment. In my own experience in working with dreams (in therapy, admittedly, but then again some degree of therapy "happens" whenever dreams are shared), it's pretty rare that I feel I have to do that, but it's part of working with emergent awarenesses and longstanding unfinished business.

As dream workers, we can not only acknowledge the possibility that we may see something that the dreamer does not, or will not, see; we can provide informed consent by saying from the outset that dream sharing activates an interpersonal process that may involve unexpected and unwanted contributions that partake of the dream worker's accurate perceptions of underlying truth, distorted projections based on our own unfinished business, or a combination thereof. In any case, we would do well not to take refuge in a simplistic view which, while sounding politically correct, does not do justice to the rich and unwieldy process that dream sharing activates.

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