Delia Anton and Heinz J. Kersting (Mai 2006)
A dream not interpreted is like a letter that's not read
(from the Talmud)
Our dreamodrama technique is based on the research carried out by Arm Faraday, North America. Since we studied her book 'The Dream Game' (1975) some years ago, our own dreams have become both important sources of power and useful key to self-awareness. (Dream Power Ann Faraday entitles her book published in 1972; the German title is 'Deine Träume - Schlüssel zur Selbsterkenntnis'). For us, working with our dreams has become an everyday jigsaw game, which lends wings to our creativity. It makes our lives more complex, which again affects our dreams. New dreams are created in which we know we are dreaming and in which we time and again are able to `consciously' choose between different possibilities while still dreaming. We ourselves seem to decide how the dream continues.
Ann Faraday's theory is quite simple: Everybody is able to learn the language of his dreams. She refers to Calvin Hall (1966) who critically deals with Freud's ideas of dream Interpretation. Faraday says, the surest guide to the meaning of a dream is the feeling and judgment of the dreamer himself, who 'deep down inside knows its meaning' (Faraday 1975: 14). Who ever puts forward suggestions and comments about another person's dream, she warns should 'never push an Interpretation if the dreamer insists that it doesn't resonate with his bones'. She points out that a Professional adviser can never offer an interpretation truer than that of the dreamer himself. Therefore it is useless to Claim that a dreamer resists the correct Interpretation of an expert in Order to avoid unpleasant truths. In her opinion it is not seldom that Professionals simply turn their pet theory into self-fulfilling prophecies, forcing their own trip on the dreamer. 1
It is an advantage of working with dreams that wrong and useless interpretations again and again reveal themselves in further dreams. 'The only correct Interpretation of a dream - that is, an effective Interpretation - is one that gives the dreamer a joyful 'aha' experience and moves him to change his life in some constructive fashion.' She refers to Caye (1962), who, as early as in the 1920's, points out that there might be a variety of dreams (including sexual ones) with several levels of meaning. For him, indifference or fear are possible reasons if a dreamer is unable to remember a dream. An Interpretation is correct if
From Perls Gestalt therapy (1969, compare 1988) Faraday takes the hypothesis that many dream images (not all, as Perls says) are parts of the dreamer's own personality. For her professional work with dreams, she uses the empty chair technique: The different images are invited to sit down so that the dreamer can talk to them, giving them his own voice. For Faraday, it is also important to notice that dreams often deal with events of the previous day, a fact many psychotherapists ignore. She developed a three-stage method of looking at dreams, which helps the dreamer find his own most effective interpretation. Each dream has to be seen, in succession, in different contexts:
From a constructivist point of view, different contexts result in more complex interpretations and a larger variety of differentiations. Obviously, defining three contexts with just these three contents means again reducing this variety. The contents are attributions and not meant to copy reality. From our experience in working with dreams these three contexts, as well as their succession and the attributions, proved to be useful. It is a very autonomous method: The person who interprets the dream decides for himself which interpretation is useful for him and his life. It's no longer a question of true or false interpretation in its original sense; what is essential is the distinction between useful and useless dream interpretation. Only the dreamer himself, however, can make this distinction. An outside interpreter, e.g. an adviser, supervisor, friend or group member can only offer an interpretation. It will have no effect unless it corresponds with the dreamer's own interpretation. There is no sense in struggling for what is the 'true' Interpretation.
A game - this is what Ann Faraday calls dream interpretation. Understanding dreams, she says, is more like learning to play a game than deciphering a code or fathoming the workings of a machine, and many different sets of rules can be followed according to what you want to achieve by playing the dream game. 'You can play the Freudian game if you want to discover the sexual conflicts of your early years, and it is sometimes useful to know about these; you can play the Jungian game of finding 'archetypal' symbols in your dreams that resonate with the world's great myths, and it is sometimes inspiring to do so; you can play the Gestalt game of focusing an topdog/underdog conflicts in the personality - but none of these, nor any other way of working with dreams, is universally true; and we do violence to our dreams if we try to force them into restricting theories.' (1975: 17)
The playfulness of this dream interpretation brings humour in again. The graveness of many theories of dream interpretation makes them get stale and artificial. Many of our dreams were like a remedy against melancholy, making fun of our own self-importance. A sense of the ridiculous and the joy to laugh at oneself - this is what dreams can give us. We understand dreaming as the activity of a self-referential personal system. This is linked to the constructions of the biological constructivists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela (1985, 198, speaking of autopoiesis. We compare their interpretations with our dream experiences, our dream attributions, up to actions of intentionally intervening in the story of the dream in lucid dreams 2. There is, we claim, a field of correspondence between their findings and our self-interpretations. Whatever they want to say about autopoiesis and ontogenetic drifting, as dreamers we experience our self-referentiality in the circular process of
In short: We each experience ourselves as autopoiets of ourselves.
"Dreams are important messages from ourselves to ourselves. If we don't understand their language, we loose a largo part of what we know and say to ourselves during the hours in which we are not occupied with trying to control the world outside."
(Erich Fromm 1981: 16)
The way we deal with our supervisees' dreams is determined by the way we deal with our own dreams. For us, dreaming and interpreting the dreams means a great enrichment of our own lives. So if a supervisee tells us one of his dreams and wants to work with it, this is a precious gift for us, too. In many cases, supervisees bring further dreams into the following meeting, so that we deal with the dreams over a long period.
Having found Ann Faraday's theories very useful for us, we feel it to be our task to help the supervisees to learn their own dream language. They have learned this language when they suggest themselves they can interpret their dreams and these interpretations become useful constructions for their lives. They can see that they understand their dreams when the positive connotations make them feel happier and react less problematically than before.
In group or team supervision we additionally offer to enact a dreamodrama. At an Alfred Adler individual psychology workshop we learned about this creative form of dream work in a dreamodrama seminar by Leo Gold, professor of psychotherapy in New York, and transferred it to supervision. First, the dream a supervisee remembers is enacted in a psychodrama. According to the supervisee's instructions, all figures and symbols occurring in the dream are represented and played by members of the group. It is very exciting to see what new interpretations come to the dreamer's mind when the players express their associations, pictures, moods, strange feelings and emotions they experienced during the play.
Just as Leo Gold we often go a step further, offering a final technique of re-constructing. After the dream has been enacted, the dreamer is asked to construct the dream in the way he wished it had happened. The group again enacts this new construction. After the play, the group members again tell their emotions and feelings.
By enacting these plays the complexity of perception and interpretation increases. This complex 'confusing game' interferes with stereotype patterns and well-established, precipitate interpretations. It offers the dreamer the possibility to choose the most effective of a variety of interpretations, which may lead to more useful life strategies. Complexity has opened the way for a new, possibly more viable reduction. In particular enacting the new construction has the effect of a 'positive connotation', which normally means a great relief to the dreamers. Often their dreaming mind takes up this new, future-oriented interpretation and they dream further dreams that correspond to this positive interpretation.
We use Ann Faraday's rich experience from her dream courses with students to show our supervisees, if they want to, and only then, how to dream, that means, how to recall dreams and how to play the dream game.
First, our supervisees need to know how to recall their dreams. Some people say that they never dream - but this is, however, rather unlikely; they simply don't remember their dreams. It is important for someone who really wants to recall his dreams and to make them a powerful source of his life, to:
The rules recommended by Arm Faraday, which we have found useful for many years, also help our supervisees to make use of the creative potential hidden in their dream stories. Applying these rules makes a person consider his dreams important, and this positive connotation makes him remember much more of his dreams than ever before. Following the above-mentioned rules is especially important for those feeling frightened and pursued by nightmares. Their number will noticeably decrease as we assume that they are manifest instructions to listen to the messages of the dreams.
One of our supervisees facing a change in her professional life wanted to work on the following dream at the end of a professional training: 'I dream of a very young boy and a woman. They are in the water. It is beastly cold, the water is beastly cold. The boy is paddling in the water, swimming, his lips are blue with cold, but he enjoys being in the water. For me, it is hard to understand. I feel cold. Later 1 am at home, the little boy passes me, groping his way to the toilet. He feels at ease with himself and his life. I follow him with my eyes and find him quite sweet.'
As she had only little experience in working with dreams so far and did not know the language of her dreams, the supervisor (HJ.K.), went through Ann Faraday's principles with her: First he asked for events of the day, then asked her to choose a title for the dream, as if it was a story or a poem, to give it a theme. The title often hints at how the dreamer is going to later reduce the complexity of the dream. The title compresses and reveals what is currently important for the dreamer. After this, he let her interpret the dream images for herself, and transfer the symbols and hidden puns 'to reality'. He went through the way of the three contexts from literal information, the functions of her inner life to the sources of power shown by the dream with her.
The events of the day: The previous day, it had been very cold (November); she had wanted to go for a swim, but thinking of the cold way home from the swimming pool had discouraged her. In the training course she had talked to other women about her wishes and her fears concerning her career change. She had also talked about her age and the fact she never in her life would give birth to a child, something that made her sad and she had to reconcile herself to. She had woken up when she herself had to go to the toilet. Remembering the dream had made her feel good.
As a title she chose: The happy little boy.
At first, she associated the little boy with her grief over the unfulfillable wish of having a child; herself being the woman in the dream. When she had woken up, she reports, she had been very astonished that, on the one hand, she had really felt the coldness the little boy must have felt in the water, but on the other hand there had been a deep sense of happiness, which she had physically felt as cosy warmth. 'Quite paradoxical', she says, 'it was like shivering, but without the unpleasantness of a chill.' So she felt what she had seen in her dream. Water she says was her element, but her doctor had asked her to be more careful because of frequent colds. Lips blue of cold are also unpleasant, she says, but on the other hand, blue was her favourite colour: 'The blue flower of the Romanticists', she says dreamily.
Her first Interpretation is: 'I'm in an ambivalent situation'. Up to this point in time, the supervisor had only tried to find out what the different dream images meant to her in her language. Now he added the information that he had experienced with many dreamers and for himself that his dreams belonged to him the way that often all pictures emerging in the dream fit himself. Therefore he tried, after having interpreted the dream story from outside, like a person watching a theatre play, to slip, on trial, into the role of each single figure in order to see what this will do to him and his interpretations. The supervisor had hardly finished his sentence when she said laughing: 'That's it, I am both the old woman (although she hadn't been talking of an old woman before) and the little boy. Like being thrown in at the deep end - that's how I actually feel as regards my career change'.
This is already one possible interpretation of the dream message: 'I am an adult woman, on the brink of something new (the little boy). This is like being thrown in at the deep end. The new situation makes me feel afraid, is unpleasant like a beast (`beastly cold') but, at the same time, it feels good to start something new, it makes me happy. It can make me feel very satisfied and relieved (like going to the toilet, where I can relieve myself). Apart from that, I should not forget that I'm not alone, I'm in company: My life experience, which is the experience of a mature, grown-up woman, accompanies me, as well as my colleagues from my training, and my supervisor. Taking leave of the old needs not to be bitter, as the new, when I find it, is 'quite sweet'.
As a strategy for the future she decides to actively seek for new chances in her job. The supervisor draws her attention to the fact that saying this she also refers to a picture of her dream: 'I follow him with my eyes...'
For us it has proved helpful if the dreamers make plans of what precisely they are going to do in the future. They reconstruct their realities by suggesting themselves new strategies of acting. In case they have problems in interpreting a dream, we sometimes advise them to persuade themselves to go on dreaming about this topic until they've come to an effective solution.
Sometimes we encourage our supervisees to link the chosen strategy with a goal, as known from NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming): The strategy is embedded in a sentence expressed in the present tense, very precise and with no negation - or double negation - in it. In the above-mentioned case, the strategy could have been formulated like this: 'I say goodbye to my present job, to look out for a new Chance. I find something that fits me and this makes me feel happy and contented.'
Dreams have a poetic integrity and truth. This limbo and dust-hole of thought is presided over by a certain reason, too. Their extravagance from nature is yet within a higher nature. They seem to us to suggest abundance and fluency of thought not familiar to the waking experience. They pique us by independence of us, yet we know ourselves in this mad crowd, and owe to dreams a kind of divination and wisdom. My dreams are not me; they are not Nature, or the Not-me: they are both. They have a double consciousness, at once sub- and objective. We call the phantoms that rise, the creation of our fancy, but they act like mutineers, and fire an their commander; showing that every act, every thought, every cause, is bipolar, and in the act is contained the counteraction. If I strike, I am struck; if I chase, I am pursued.
(Ralph Waldo Emerson 1904: 7)
To play the dream game, our supervisees are given the following basic rules for their dream journey, as recommended by Ann Faraday (1980: 67f.):
It's the dreamers who move and change the world.
Appreciating dreams as important clues of the 'unconscious wisdom' to reflect professional life can of course take the format of an intervision.
A member of a group supervision in which dreams formed an important part of the work, reports in the final stage of the supervision the following dream she had during a course for group leaders: 'I'm sitting in our supervision group. Quite angrily I tell the others about a young participant of the course who's a real nuisance to me. He knows everything, keeps on lecturing us and is very domineering. I finish my report remarking 'but this is small wonder, for he's going to be a priest.' I look around, waiting for my colleagues' understanding and their moral condemnation of the young man. But instead, S. looks at me, knitting his brows, and sceptically asks me: 'Why do you make him that big and important? He's not a priest but just a juvenile, even a boy.' All of a sudden I realize that for me, the young man stood in place of all messed up priests and the powerful position they hold in church (my field of practice); and that I had totally failed to see him as a person. I wake up feeling both ashamed and relieved.
Interpreting the dream was easy for the supervisee, for her 'real' negative feelings concerning the young man are precisely mirrored in the dream. She took it as a warning not to allow transference to impair her professionalism in leading groups to which she attaches great importance. As a strategy, she instructs herself immediately after recalling the dream, to see and respect the young man as a person. In the (real) supervision she reports that both her view of the boy and, consequently, his behaviour have changed for the better.
In the (real) supervision, we worked with the ambivalent feelings (shame and relief) that made her wake up using the empty chair technique. The supervisee learned she is very much a perfectionist in her work which often unnecessarily complicates her life, and she feels caught and ashamed not reaching her goals. In order to intensify the feeling of relief, the supervisor (D.A.) offered an alternative interpretation: Instead of feeling ashamed, she could feel happy and grateful that her unconscious awareness had shown her, by means of a dream, her own very effective solutions. This way of self-regulation was a gift - even if, in the long run, not good for her supervisor's business. Laughing, the supervisee promised herself to pay even more attention to the messages of her dreams in future.
Rabbi Huna, son of Ammi, in the name of Rabbi Pafdat
and he in the name of Rabbi Johannes, says:
Someone who bas a dream that grieves his soul
shall go have it interpreted by three people.
He shall have it well interpreted by three people.
He shall have three people come and speak to them:
'I had a good dream.'
And they are to answer seven times:
'It is good and it will remain good'.
God shall change it for the better.
It is to be decided in heaven that
it is good, and it will be good.
(from the Talmud)
Even the Talmud is an expert regarding the complexity of interpretations. To be aware that an image may have more than one possible meaning was important, but it was even more important to give a positive interpretation to a dream 'which grieves your soul'. Leo Gold uses the 'gentle way of re-constructing' ('die sanfte Kunst der Umdeutung': Watzlawick 1974: 116) mentioned as early as in the Talmud, as well as 'positive connotating' ('Positives Konnotieren': Selvini-Palazzoli 1980) in the dreamodrama, inviting the dreamer to construct a positive ending for a sad dream and play it through again. Talking to each other he lets dreamers invent new, more suitable, more satisfying dream stories that change a negative dream into a positive one. Using this dreamodrama technique in our groups, we often experience that the supervisees change a drama into a comedy, which also changes the feelings of the group from deep, paralysing depression into cheerful relief. In individual supervision, we encourage the supervisees to invent a new story out of their dream material.
An example: An individual supervisee, who already had some experience in working with dreams, reported the following dream: 'I'm walking through open fields when I reach a large garden with many trees in it; it looks quite wild, rather like a forest. There I meet a group of women, leading children by the hands. All children are suffering from Neurodermatitus. One of the children, a boy or a girl, runs into the forest, followed by a terrifying, snarling Alsatian dog. I can't see it clearly, bat I feel the child is in danger. I pick up a piece of bread, it is poisoned. The dog's teeth are visible in the bread. I realize the child's life is in danger for it has eaten the bread poisoned by the dog. I wake up.
The events of her day: She had wanted to see a dermatologist within the next few days because of her skin. Her boss, who had swamped her with work for weeks, had told her the day before that he would prefer to be a chained up watchdog to working as hard as it was required at that time in their institution. She had woken up fall of fear. She fears the dog had poisoned the child. While she talks, her fear can be felt, and it comes upon her again during the supervision.
The title she chooses is: The Alsatian Dog.
In the beginning she has no difficulties in understanding the symbols of her dream. The open fields symbolize the area she comes from, where she had studied and felt at home. Now she's living in new surroundings. She actually lives on the edge of a park that is more like a wood than like a garden. With 'garden', however, she associates the tree of knowledge with its forbidden fruits in the Garden of Eden. It comes to her that she had recently occupied herself with constructivism, and she had often felt confused and bewildered reading the book 'The Tree of Knowledge' by Maturana and Varela. She was no longer as thick-skinned as before, she says. There is, she says, no similarity between the dog and her boss. He's not that bad, she tells, although she's worried by the fact that collecting events of the day, she had spontaneously remembered his story which, thinking about it, she finds quite strange. She's unable to interpret the dog. She hasn't dreamed of a dog or a wolf ever before. She knows, however, that the Alsatian dog is important, because she had made this symbol the title of her dream. Working with the empty chair an which she puts the dog, trying to talk to him, doesn't satisfy her. The dog is a threat to her, a murderer she has to beat off. Being an experienced dreamer, she identifies with both the child, who, not protected by the mothers, is exposed to the terrifying dog, having swallowed his poison, and with the mothers as well, for she has studied pedagogy - she is someone who 'leads children by the hand'. The poisoned bread, she feels, stands for new knowledge that destroys the old one.
Interpreting the message of the dream, however, is much more difficult for her. She relates it to her work, saying she finds it hard to start a new job in new surroundings, and with too much work. The constructivist ideas are somehow 'forbidden fruits', bat she can't see why this frightens her to death. She's not satisfied with her interpretation. 'It has to do with my whole life, not only with my job and studying scientific literature. The fear is decreasing, bat it is still there.'
She's therefore unable to implement a precise strategy.
When she's asked in the supervision to give her dream a positive turn, she constructs the following story: 'I pick up the bread crust, approaching the wolf. I try to kill him with his own poison, but in vain. I pick up a stick and kill the wolf.' When the supervisor (HJ.K.) asks how she feels, she answers: 'I feel a bit better, for the wolf is dead. But only a little bit better.' He draws her attention to the fact that she has changed the Alsatian dog into a wolf and that she's no longer talking about a child who is possibly poisoned. Then he tells her the story from the Talmud, which advises a dreamer who had a sad dream to have it interpreted by three people. Since we know today that the dreamer himself is the most competent interpreter of his dreams, it is important in the case of a sad dream to interpret it for oneself for at least three times, or to re-construct it, perhaps 'seven times', until a good dream comes out in the end: a dream that is good and that remains good. A dream is 'good' when our heart 'has mercy on us', confirming it is good. 'It is up to you 'in heaven', you decide it is good and it will be good.'
She tries another re-construction: 'I rescue the child, driving away the dog with a stick, and make the child vomit the poison.' This ending of the dream, however, doesn't really satisfy her, either. The wolf was not only a wolf, she says, but also a dog and actually she liked dogs. As a child, she had not been allowed to have a dog, but she had always invented stories about 'her dog'. The imaginary dog of her childhood had been very strong, rather wild and at the same time tame and devoted to her. She tries it again, re-constructing at an earlier point in her dream: 'The child is full of fear. It hears the Alsatian dog snarl. The dog approaches the child. The child yells. But the dog brings him a piece of bread. The child feels hungry; it takes the bread from the dog's mouth and bites into it. The bread tastes strange, but is eatable and, chewed for a while, even tasty. The dog wants to play with the child. The child hugs the dog.'
Satisfied with this ending, she muses on the title of a book by Louise Rinser: 'Den Wolf umarmen' ('Embracing the wolf'). Knowing that figures of her dreams often symbolise herself, she says: 'I actually wanted to kill an important part of myself, the Alsatian dog.'
As a strategy she instructs herself to keep on dreaming and to take care of those parts of her personality for which the dog in her dream stands for.
In one of the following meetings (we did not work only with her dreams in the supervision) smiling contentedly she tells that she had dreamed again on the same subject: 'I'm walking my dog. It is a big dog; it looks very much like the Alsatian dog but is really tame. I unleash the dog: it runs away. Following the dog, I have very exciting and fascinating adventures with many people.' Her roguish smile releases a lot of fantasies in her supervisor concerning the nature of her adventures.
If you want to make dreams come true you must be more alert and dream more deeply than others.
(Karl Foerster, breeder of herbaceous plants and garden architect at Potsdam, 1874-1970)
We thank all our supervisees who made us the great gift of the poetry of their dreams.
1It might be a possible suggestion that analysands sometimes learn the language of their analysts during analysis. They need help. But they can get it only if their analysts can understand them, which means, can communicate with the 'Unconscious' of the client. The dream language of the analysands sometimes adapts to their analysts' theory, thus indirectly confirming this theory as 'the truth'. (See also: Fischer 1988, and, in contrast, Watzlawick 1999, who wants the therapist to learn the language of the client.)
2'Lucid dreams' are dreams in which the dreamer knows that he or she is dreaming (For lucid dreams see Garfield 1983).
3Some partners, however, get annoyed if an experienced dreamer wakes up up to seven times a night and notes down dreams.
4See Bardmann 1991
5In training courses in which we explain how to work with dreams in supervision, we prescribe dreaming for the members the night before. We often experience that more than half of the people who believe they never dream or never remember their dreams, remember their dreams after that night.
6For more details concerning these rules sec Faraday 1980, 44ff.
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Dipl.-Sozialarbeiterin, Groupworkerin AASWG, Supervisorin (SG ,DGSv), Lehrende Supervisorin (SG), Coach SG, Lehrender Coach SG. Fachbereichsleiterin Supervision am IBS. Lehrbeauftragte an der KFH-NW Abt. Aachen, dem Fachbereich Sozialwesen der Hochschule Niederrhein und der Evangelischen Fachhochschule Freiburg.
(Übersetzung: Jutta Schiffers)
Veröffentlichungsdatum: Mai 2006
© IBS - Institut für Beratung und Supervision - Aachen