What Dreams May Come

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“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions. ” — Edgar Cayce

I just led a workshop on dreams that went very well. Yet when I sit down to write a blog post about dreamwork, I get stuck.

This site is primarily devoted to group psychotherapy. The style of group therapy that I’m inspired by is Modern Analytic, based on the work of Louis Ormont, who learned from Hyman Spotnitz, who learned from Sigmund Freud.

The style of dreamwork that I’m inspired by is Jungian, based on the work of Carl Jung.

Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud disagreed profoundly on the nature of dreams and the Unconscious.

From what I’ve gathered, Freud believed that dreams were more or less personal events. They came to the individual and were comprised of elements of the individual’s experience and psychology, originating in whatever had been repressed in the person’s lifetime. He focused on sexual urges and believed that the manifest content of the dream was an elaborate cover for the truer, latent or hidden meaning of the dream.

Jung believed dreams came from a transpersonal source. Instead of being strictly limited to the individual’s experience, dreams were messages from the Collective Unconscious, a sort of unified psychic field that encompasses all of humanity and ultimately all of life. Jung believed that the images of the dream were in and of themselves the essential message, expressed symbolically.

Where this difference leads is to the degree reverence attached to a dream. It seems to me that many people more influenced by Freud consider a dream not significantly different from other communication. Especially in the group world where the emphasis is on the transferences evoked by other group members, sharing a dream is generally considered an indirect interpersonal expression–the group member shares the dream as a way of communicating something about their state of mind and emotional life towards other members and the group as a whole. The other members are invited to share their associations and interpersonal reactions and in this way the dream becomes grist for the primarily relational project of group.

In contrast, the attitude that has grown in me from my Jungian studies is to treat a dream almost like prophecy. It is a gift from the gods, a message specifically designed to assist me in my growth and development. It is something to be meditated on, leisurely mulled over and slowly digested. Sharing the dream and receiving others’ reactions can interfere with this contemplative practice. Making the dream interpersonal distracts from and dilutes the inherently intrapsychic import of the dream.

The workshop I led focuses on the intrapsychic. It’s an introduction to a simple, powerful method for drawing profound personal meaning, inspiration and insight from our dreams and the dreams of our clients. If you’re interested, I invite you to join me for an online course in which each member will apply the method in its entirety to a single dream:

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What Group Gives Us

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Our craft can be lonely. We’re often drawn to helping others because of our own longing for connection, intimacy, empathy, authenticity and security in the face of the irrational. We fill our days and our weeks serving others and it is easy to lose sight of the needs of the person in the therapist chair.

As we become skillful in helping others open up and courageously face their demons, it can be tempting to imagine that our own dark sides are managed, that our anxieties will obediently resolve in the face of our insight, that our infantile, animal parts are perfectly satisfied sitting for long stretches of the day.

Group is one way I honor these parts. Being part of a process-group, where the task is to be as honest as possible with thoughts and feelings in the moment, creates the psychic equivalent of a nature preserve. A little bit of my wildness can come out. I can touch the edge of my own vulnerability. I discover my aggression alongside an organic, mammalian affection so different from a more cerebral, cultivated compassion.

A group specifically for therapists also helps us process the psychic toxins of our patients. We can be held by the collective experience, wisdom and awareness of our peers. Someone else will intuit or be induced to feel something that we were not paying attention to in our difficult cases.

We may be very clever at hiding uncomfortable truths from ourselves, and possibly our therapists and supervisors. But in group, it is much harder to hide. As one member of a recent workshop said, “Coming here would keep me honest.”

Honesty helps us stay humble and humility is a constant challenge in a career based on clarity and cool-headedness. We’re supposed to know something. Surely we do know something, how to think differently about a problem, what a healthier attitude toward a situation would be, what to do next…and yet when we know what we’re doing, when we know what’s supposed to happen or how it’s supposed to go, the work starts feeling stale. More than our knowledge and technique, our clients need the alchemy of making contact with another vibrant human being who is willing to pay attention to them and be affected by who they are.

Group summons us to be more courageous and embodied. It reminds us of who we are and who we can become. It helps us come alive.

 

The Brave You

Tracee Ellis Ros spoke at Glamour’s 2017 Women of the Year Summit. She spoke about being a successful woman, owning her power and sexuality. She spoke about living for herself rather than trying to fulfill society and culture’s expectations for her. It is an excellent, inspiring speech well worth the time to watch or read it.

One point in particular inspired this post.

She spoke about bravery.

Bravery allows one to face danger, pain and difficulty without being overcome by fear.

I participated in a group for therapists on Racial Literacy. The leaders would frequently remind us to strive to create a “Brave Space,” not a “Safe Space.” We need this reminder because most of us have a fear of conflict and would tend to hide and suppress our honest thoughts and feelings, rather than risk saying something hurtful or inflammatory.

We were privileged and lucky to be risking so little.

Historically women, people of color, people with more fluid gender/sexual identities, and other marginalized populations risked their lives and the lives of those they cared about when they dared to be themselves and to speak their truth. We’ve inherited a more free society because of their sacrifice. Of course, there’s always more work to do.

So how do you become brave?

In Group, you have the opportunity to take risks. You can allow yourself to feel and to put into words what might have been dangerous to express in the past or in other environments. In on-going groups, members agree to keep coming until their issues are resolved. This means that you have the security that no matter how your words affect the other person, they will keep showing up. Week after week, you will have the opportunity to better understand yourself and each other. The more suppressed, marginalized parts of yourself will have a chance to be seen and heard. You’ll be less afraid of these hidden parts of yourself and less afraid of these parts in others.

And sometimes, the fear will still be overwhelming, no matter how much work you’ve done. You’ll regress, make a cowardly choice, retreat from life’s challenges. When that happens, the other group members will be there to listen, to gently or not so gently remind you of what you’re capable of and to share their own struggles with being brave.

Do you have a story about being brave?

I would love to hear it.