A method of dream interpretation, that I use in the context of a therapy session, is to listen to the client recount their dream and to then do the following:
To begin, inform the client that literally everything in the dream is a representation of a part of his/herself. This means literally everything they see and experience.
Inform the client that the subconscious is busy processing thoughts, feelings, emotions and experiences while we sleep. Explain that dreams are something we experience as part of that processing and that, while science is not fully clear about how dreams work or why they happen, it is widely regarded that dreams are part of the brain’s restorative processes.
- Starting with the things from the dream that the client is most focused upon, ask the client to pick one focal part of the dream. This might be the setting they are in, within the dream; such as a room or building or place. This might be the things directly around them; another person or people, an animal or creature, inanimate objects or something of nature.
- Once that focal point has been chosen, ask the client this question: If that (focal point) represents a part of you, what would it represent?
- Here, the client is likely to query the meaning of the question. I explain by saying this: If I were to dream of an old room with a chair and table in it, I would ask myself, what aspect of myself does the chair represent, the table represent and even the room represent? I might have to look closely. If the chair is broken, I might say it represents a broken part of myself. If the table is brand new, I might say that it represents the new things that I am doing in life and if the old room were a place of safety, I might say that the room represents my sense of confidence or comfort. Do you see? It is important not to allow the client to overthink or analyse this; for we seek the first impression that comes to their mind when answering this question.
- Then, I take the client through the dream, looking at each thing in the dream; every component part, and ask the above question and write down the client’s answers.
- Then, I look at the story that the dream is communicating. What is happening within the dream? I then ask the same question: If that (thing that is happening) represents a part of you, what would it represent?
- Here, the client may again feel a sense of uncertainty in what this means. I explain that if, for example, I was being chased by a tiger in my dream, I might say that the tiger chasing me represents a sense of threat or foreboding that I feel in life. Or, I may say that it represents the excitement of the unknown or an adventure that I am feeling in life.
- Next, the therapist can take this to a deeper level and, instead ask: If the tiger represents a part of you, what would it represent? If you running from a creature that is chasing you, represents a part of you, what would it represent. This allows us to explore, with the client, the two different perspectives that they are experiencing in the dream; the chaser and the person fleeing. If the client finds that difficult to understand, I say: If an aspect of you were to chase another aspect of yourself, what would the purpose of that be? A client has responded to this, before, by saying “I procrastinate a lot. I get annoyed with myself and so I give myself a hard time. That is what this represents.”
- I keep writing down the first word answers that come to the client in response to the questions and I do not enter into discussion with the client about the dream. We fall into this question and answer mode.
- By the end of the process, we would have asked the question detailed above about the client in the dream, about other people, animals or creatures in the dream, about the events playing out, about inanimate objects and about the setting. This take up over half an hour of a session.
- Then, I read back to the client, the list of words or statements that the client responded with and we discuss in some depth.
- Our task is to use this information to see whether the client can make sense not only of the dream, but of something that the subconscious is processing and why that may be of importance. I use a broad range of Socratic questions to encourage the client to explore and to consider what the meaning of their responses has been.
- By the end of the session, we are likely to have discovered a message, a truth, an insight, an understanding or something else that will be helpful for the client.
This method has never yet failed to offer something very helpful to the client and to the therapeutic process.
Do be cautious. I would not advise any therapist to explore a dream in which traumatic events are being replayed out. This could potentially trigger the client into flashbacks or even open up trauma or post traumatic stress disorder. This method is more for the dreams that are not directly related to an historic trauma.
Before the client leaves the session, ensure they have had 5-7 minutes of being ‘back in the present’. Ask them to look around the room, to know that they are no longer exploring the dream and stimulate their senses by perhaps asking them to take a sip of water. This helps the client return from the deeper place of dream exploration and it helps the client to reconnect with their current emotions and thoughts.
It can often be useful to set a piece of reflective homework to follow this exercise.
(C) Dean Parsons. 2019.