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Working With Dreams in Therapy

Dreams can help our clients to uncover blocked or unconscious feelings, access a form of guidance, and apprehend the relationship between their mind and their everyday life. But therapists have to know how to work with them, first. Ahead of World Sleep Day tomorrow, Nigel Hamilton, transpersonal psychotherapist and co-founder of the Dream Research Institute, shares his approach to exploring dreams via the Waking Dream Process

How often do dreams get dismissed or ignored in therapy? How often are dreams misread or misinterpreted?

I often work with dreams in therapy, particularly when the client is keen to bring their dreams. However, rather than interpreting the dream, I prefer to first ask them what it means to them, their associations with the images, what feeling they awoke with and if the dream has anything to do with their current life issues. If possible, we will look at this dream in the light of a series of recent dreams. If, at this point, it is not clear (to both of us) what the dream is saying, I will then explore the dream using the Waking Dream Process.

The Waking Dream Process requires re-living the dream in a waking state. The client closes their eyes and uses their imagination, whilst paying attention to where the dream images are being felt in the body – i.e. using Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing technique to experience the ‘felt sense’ as one moves through the dream. I find this technique to be most effective in uncovering hidden or blocked unconscious feelings and energies.

In particular, I find that there is usually one central image that seems to hold the basic feeling and energy of the dream. This image expresses the feelings underlying the whole dream, together with the held-in energetic charge. We then focus on this image, sitting with it, as the feelings are released, become conscious, and we allow the energy to move naturally around the client’s whole body. This usually results in a shift in their perspective, i.e. the way they look at their issues. Having explored and re-lived the dream, we then spend some time reflecting on their insights and their feelings to see what changes might be needed in their outlook, their assumptions or their lives.

Once such a strong connection has been made with the ‘dream psyche’, the client tends to recall and bring more dreams, which begin to serve as kind of guidance in their lives. The spirit of the dream begins to speak to them. Whilst I do not focus on dreams to the exclusion of the client’s material, I find it incredibly helpful being able to have this glimpse of their inner world. Similarly for the client, they begin to see the connection between what is going on in their mind and what is going on in their everyday life. This helps them to realise the relationship between the two.

In working with the dream, the images which held the blocked emotions change as the blocked energy is released around the body. Changes in these images are reflected in changes in the client’s outer life. They begin to feel more in touch with themselves, and can trust the mirroring and guidance provided by the dreams. Waking dreamwork can help facilitate the therapeutic process and enable the client to become more conscious of their inner life, feeling more in charge of their life direction.


Nigel Hamilton

Nigel Hamilton is the Director of the Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy Education (CCPE) and Dream Research Institute (DRI), a Transpersonal Psychotherapy Training Centre and Clinic in London, where he lectures and practices as a Psychotherapist. In 2012, he co-founded the Dream Research Institute to promote transpersonal research into the uses and application of dreams. Nigel teaches Dream Courses in transpersonal psychology at the centre. In 2014, Nigel’s book Awakening Through Dreams: The Journey Through the Inner Landscape was published.

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