Some rambling thoughts about dreams and their importance and usefulness to the field of psychotherapy.
Psychoanalysts and Gestalt therapy operate knowing that awareness is curative; however, since their theoretical premises differ, so do their theories of dream analysis. A psychoanalysis approach considers dreams as part of the unconscious mind, while Gestalt sees the object and the person in the dream as parts of the dreamer (Grace, 2012).
At one time I had only considered the psychoanalytic approach; however, based on my personal dream experiences in the past few years, I am leaning towards Gestalt. It considers the person's life in the present moment, not in the past, and without attempts to predict the future. Gestalt allows the dreamer to lead the interpretation, encouraged by the process and discovery. (We know that in psychoanalysis, the therapist plays a big role in interpretation and insight.)
Gestalt therapy is rooted in an existential premise (vs biological) and operates with the "here and now" as its centre point. Gestalt replaces the unconscious with awareness and unawareness (Yontef & Jacobs, 2014, Grace, 2012). For instance, when people alienate their fears and the things that most bother them in the present moment, these "stressors" might show up in dream patterns as more of a spontaneous reaction to the present issues going on with the individual person. In a sense, dreaming becomes the brain's alternate problem solving mode - another way for the brain to explore the complexities of our "unawareness."
According to Fritz Perls (as cited in Cain, 2013) dreams are considered to be “exemplary examples of our natural creativity” (p. 51). All aspects in a dream are considered in Gestalt therapy, whether it be pictures and images remembered, or the “feeling” associated with the dream itself. The dreamer is encouraged to experience the entirety of the dream, as this is believed to be where the healing occurs (Cain, 2013).
France and Allen (1993) assert that the creative process of dreaming is powerful because no limits exist between the real and the imaginary. In this dreamlike or imaginary state, awareness is enhanced. This could allow the dreamer to focus more intently on the feelings and perceptions of the experience that they have not been able to process while awake. This "awareness" could help better process experiences.
How does the Gestalt Therapy work when helping the client with their own dream analysis?
If a dreamer consciously relives a dream, the therapist can encourage them to stay with certain thoughts, feelings, sensations, and images in the dream. Through this connection, it is possible to unravel the meaning behind a dream.
Here is a six-step intra-personal Gestalt strategy of dream exploration proposed by France and Allen (1993):
Step 1 Make a list of all the details in the dream
Step 2 Get every person, thing, and feeling and attempt to become each one of them.
Step 3 Attempt to overplay the becoming of each person, thing, and feeling, refusing to think about how you may look.
Step 4 Take each of the items, characters, and parts, and allow them to have encounters with each other.
Step 5: Write a script for the dialogue between the two opposite parts.
Step 6 After working through the dream, ask yourself questions such as, “Was I avoiding something in the dream? Was I running away? Is there a pattern or a message?
In closing, Gestalt's philosophy - the whole is other than the sum of its parts - is worthy noting. Dreams can help fill the gaps or holes that make people feel more connected and complete, and perhaps less alienated from themselves.
Just sharing some dreamy thoughts....