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Gestalt Experiential Dreamwork


Dreamwork in Gestalt Therapy can be lively and exciting. We discover meanings and connect with our deeper feelings and energies by "living" portions of our dreams. This experiential dreamwork facilitates personal growth and healing.

I illustrate this below by presenting a sample dream of "Sue" (a fictitious character). Sue -- who rarely takes risks -- dreams of skydiving with her cousin Jake, an adventurous man whom Sue admires.

Step 1. Tell the Dream. In Gestalt Therapy, we typically start by telling a dream in the present tense. For example, Sue might say:

I'm in a small airplane with my cousin Jake. I notice we're both wearing parachutes. The door of the plane is open and I feel the wind rushing by. I look outside and all I see are clouds and open sky. I can barely see the ground below. I'm scared, yet at the same time I'm eager to get out there, to fly with the wind. Jake says, "Don't worry. It's easy." He crouches in the doorway and leaps out. The next instant, I'm falling through the sky. What a rush!! I see the red and blue of my parachute opening up around me. Then I wake up.

Step 2. Notice What Stands Out. Next, we ask ourselves, What part of the dream stands out to us? A particular scene, event, character, object or abstraction might be especially striking. For example, the sky, the jump, Jake, the plane or the experience of flying or falling might stand out for the dreamer or the therapist/listener. On some important level, all of these images and experiences are part of the dreamer. They could represent the dreamer's traits, feelings, attitudes or hidden potentials.

Step 3. "Become" Part of the Dream. Next, the dreamer "becomes" a character or object in the dream. One obvious choice for Sue is to "become" Jake. She can then describe herself as Jake and get a sense of what it is like for her to "be" Jake. In this way, she can begin to experience and embody the adventuress in herself. (She could also be the plane, the ground, the open sky, the clouds, the parachute, or the unmentioned pilot.)

Step 4. Dialogue. Sue can then engage in a dialogue between characters or objects in the dream. She can alternately "be," and give a voice to, one or more dream characters or objects. For example, "Jake" can converse with Sue, or the parachute can speak with the earth below. These dialogues help bring together the diverse aspects of Sue which are scattered among the different images in the dream. In this way, Sue may achieve a greater balance and harmony within herself.

Another option in Gestalt dreamwork is:

Formulate an Existential Statement. An "existential statement" summarizes a basic theme in the dream which is also an important theme in the dreamer's waking life. For example: "I'm falling through the air, and I feel great!"

This sentence captures the pleasure of descending from the "height" of Sue's overly cautious mind into "freefall" -- the flow of her life force -- rushing perhaps towards a "grounded" sense of self, protected by a parachute which might represent Sue's inner wisdom. (Of course, "Sue" is a fictitious character. If this were a real dream by a real person named "Sue," I wouldn't be 100% sure what her symbols -- such as the plane and the parachute -- mean. The exact -- and more complete -- meaning of Sue's symbols are best derived from direct experience, by having Sue "become" these symbols.)

People can do this dreamwork on their own, although it's often helpful to have at least one other experienced person involved in the process. This can be done in workshops, ongoing groups and individual sessions.

More information:
If you are interestedIin workshops and groups involving various forms of dreamwork, you can contact the Association for Research and Enlightment (ARE -- www.edgarcayce.org) or Association for the Study of Dreams (ASD -- www.asdreams.org) to help you locate a group or workshop near you. On-line dream sharing and cooperative dreamwork is available through several websites. See the Links page.

For deeper, individualized dreamwork, I recommend private psychotherapy, especially if you are dealing with extremely personal -- or very challenging -- problems. Not all therapists work with dreams, so you might want to ask about this before you make an appointment.

If you are drawn to the Gestalt approach, you can find a therapist through www.gestaltcomprehensive.com/directory/institute.html, or your local Yellow Pages.

In New York City, you can try www.gestaltassociates.com, or contact me at (212) 501-4647 or DrLGreenberg@aol.com.

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© Laurie Greenberg, Ph.D, Clinical Psychologist (New York Licensed), October 2000