Sunday, December 23, 2018

Dream groups break for holidays

I have been leading two online dream groups for the past three months, each of which meets bi-weekly on Zoom for two hours. Until recently, most of my application of the FiveStar Method was individually, in therapy sessions. When I started leading online dream groups, it was a bit of a struggle to translate the steps of the FSM, which I had totally internalized, into a set of working principles and rules that would govern the group process. I think we all know how dream sharing uniquely activates a desire to contribute feelings and insights into the dreamer's experience, and how that can become problematic. Indeed, the principal focus of several schools of dreamwork is to protect the dreamer from invasive projections. While I think that is very important, I think the FSM largely prevents the greater excesses of member-to-member projections by focusing on process over content.

My colleague Leslie Ellis with the Professional School of Psychology has delineated two different approaches to dream work in an upcoming book that she's writing. In it, she differentiates between dream-centric and self-centric approaches. The former focus on the dream process without trying to translate its meaning into something the dreamer can immediately understand, and it preserves the mystery of the dream by not trying to arrive at interpretive conclusions. Hillman was particularly aghast over the way that self-centric dream interpretation effectively "kills" the dream image, and renders it something easily understood rather than something that beckons the self beyond it current understanding. He once said, if you interpret a snake, you kill it. 

In contrast, the dream-centric approach explores the dream process, including feelings, themes, and relational dynamics. This is the province of co-creative dream work, because it is constantly examining "what's happening" rather than "what it means." This may seem to frustrate some people, who want to know what the dream "is saying," which leads us to arrive at "equivalency statements" that identify a dream image with a waking person or counterpart. This approach reduces the dimensionality of the dream image and equates it with something already know--one thing to which the dream is allegedly referring. 

I think you can see that a self-centric approach is only interested in getting something that the self already can understand, thereby stripping the dream's richness in order to get to a simplistic "therefore..."

Back to the dream groups...I feel that both groups have done remarkable work in appreciating the dream-centric flavor of the FSM.  As the dream group leader, I am always listening for the abrupt shift from dream-centric to self centric focus. Recently, for instance, a dream group leader said something like, "This is clearly a dream about death." Something within me reacted--it's my "reductionism alarm" that goes off when something makes a "nothing-but" comment, reducing the richness of the dream to something categorical.

What seems to work to preserve the dream's sacredness is for us to reflect on the metaphors and relational dynamics that arise in dreams without drawing a direct parallel between them and the waking state. I often say, in respect for the Tibetan Buddhists who voiced this opinion a thousand years ago, the dream and the waking state are both "dreams" in which the same need for awareness and development exists. So I try to keep my dream group members from saying "x image means y waking person," and instead say, "x image and y waking person point to the same underlying qualities." This keeps the dream work from abruptly ending when the dreamer makes a bridge between the dream and the waking state. Instead of stopping and declaring victory, we pose this question, instead: Given the similarities, what do you want to do differently in relation to both? This keeps the focus on dreamer instead of a narrow agenda of acquiring something partial that one can erroneously declare as one's own.

As for practical measures, I have recently come up with some language that you can use to start each of the steps of the FSM. I have posted them on my website at, but here's the summary:

Sample Language for Using the FiveStar Method
The following statements and questions are designed to guide you through an effective application of the FSM when working with an individual. If you are working with a group, you would do well to give this handout to each of the members, along with the one-page summary (available on this website). That will prepare your group to use the FSM accurately and effectively

I’d like to explore a couple of dimensions of your dream before we discuss the meaning of the imagery or symbols, ok? (Get consent.)

Specifically, I want us to arrive at what’s called a process narrative, which is the story line from beginning to end of the dream without regard to any of the specific names, places, objects, etc. It’s a generic statement of what’s happening. Then I’d like for us to examine your responses over the course of the dream—where you felt, thought, chose, or reacted in some way to what was happening.
(If the dreamer is familiar with the process narrative, as him/her to formulate it. If not, you can formulate it, and then get the dreamer to ratify it, or suggest changes. If you’re working with a group, then ask someone to offer one, then get the group and dreamer to modify it until it feels accurate.)
So, what I see happening in this dream is that you (or someone) …Formulate process narrative with dreamer group and dreamer’s participation.
(example from “Julie’s dream”) You go on a journey with others, and your journey is interrupted against your will to which you assert yourself, and continue. Then it is threatened, but you are careful not to allow the threat to defeat you. Then you are temporarily delayed due to relationships with others. And finally, you reach a destination, where embark on a continuation of your journey with someone you care for, and under someone else’s direction.
Now, as for your responses in the dream, it occurs to me that when x happens, you feel/react/choose to(all responses summarized sequentially)
Let’s look at what was familiar or habitual about your responses and how they impacted the dream characters or situations… Go through them. Let’s look at what’s new or creative about your responses and how they impacted the dream characters or situations… Go through them. 
What would you like to have done differently in the dream, and what you like to do differently or continue to do in future dreams? 
Now, if necessary, conduct an analysis of the dream imagery, using dreamer-centered, non-invasive methods, such as amplification (What are your associations to…What do you like or dislike about him/her/it? What is he/she/it good for?, etc.), or Gestalt role-play. Ullman-Taylor “If this were my dream…” interactive process. Then shift back to a co-creative model by encouraging a process bridge, as opposed to a content bridge. A process bridge explores relationship parallels (e.g. The way I reacted to the black cat in my dream is similar to the way that I react to my husband), whereas imagery analysis encourages a content parallel (e.g. The black cat represents the qualities I see in my husband.)
Are you aware of any relationships or situations in your waking life exhibit similar relationship challenges? What new, creative, and appropriate responses do you want to commit to in order to apply the dream work in your waking life?

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