Can dreams heal?
Can dreams heal the psyche? Can they heal the spirit? Of course I think they can, in a deeply meaningful way that sometimes defies articulation. I have experienced the healing power of dreams in my own life. The best moments in my dream workshops are those when a participant offers a dream, just for illustration, and ends up having a profound insight about herself, her life, her relationships.
Happily, there is some good empirical research being done to measure the benefits of dream work in therapy. Clara Hill, PhD is a psychology professor at the University of Maryland and has edited and published Dream Work in Therapy: Facilitating Exploration. Insight, and Action. She has also developed a method for working with clients’ dreams in therapy that is safe and effective. She has found that dream work need not take years and years of analysis. Instead, the examination of a particular dream using her method of association, insight and action can yield positive results rather quickly, often getting to the heart of a client’s problem through a dream more rapidly “through the back door.” In addition, Dr. Hill’s research suggests that clients are more deeply satisfied with the results of therapy that includes dream work, perhaps because the illumination of the problem comes from the client’s own unconscious and is not imposed by the therapist.
Dr. Hill’s model is based on the following assumptions taken from Dream Work in Therapy: “that dreams are a continuation of waking thinking without input from the external world,” “that the meaning of the dream is personal to the client,” “working with dreams in therapy should be a collaborative process between the therapist and client,” “dreams are a useful tool for helping people understand more about themselves,” and “dreams involve cognitive, emotional, and behavioral components.”
Dr. Hill’s approach involves three stages: exploration, insight and action. During the exploration stage, each image in the dream is examined and the dreamer is asked for any and all associations with that image, whether they be personal, cultural or universal. In the insight stage, these associations are searched for an emotional charge, negative or positive. Also, the overall structure of the dream is examined. Often this leads, in a flash of realization, to what the dream may be commenting on. The action stage is important because actual responses are developed in response to the insights gained. Changes are made, actions taken, behavior is modified. Action of some kind must be taken to keep dream work from being just an intellectual exercise.