Five Levels of Benefit We Get From Dreams

When working as a dream facilitator it is helpful to keep in mind the different kinds of benefit that people can get from a dream.

There are many levels of benefit, each of which is nested into the one below it and grows from it from the bottom up:

5. responding to the dream

4. connecting the dream to your life

3. sharing the dream with another person

2. remembering the dream

1. having the dream

On the first and most fundamental level there is the benefit of simply having the dream. It is well-known that a person deprived of dreaming sleep soon begins to manifest signs of stress and imbalance. We all  need to dream. On this level the role of the practitioner is that of the lifestyle coach, simply helping the patient get enough good  sleep with normal sleep cycles so conditions for dreaming are optimal.

Nested into this level is the second level of benefit the benefit we get from remembering the dream.  At this level we are engaged in a communication the unconscious mind has created a story which contains some information, and the conscious mind has witnessed the story. This communication need not be interpreted to be valuable; it has value in itself. The dreamer knows: I have a part of myself, bigger than my waking me, that is communicating with my waking me. People have a huge spectrum of different reactions to being communicated with in this way some find it fascinating, others find it chaotic and absurd, others couldn’t care less. But some benefit occurs nevertheless, whether we treat the remembered dream with reverence or disdain.

On this second level the role of the practitioner is to help the patient cultivate the practice of dream recall and dream recording. For most people a dream must be written down, or spoken aloud, or formally re-visited in the mind to prevent it from fading away into oblivion. For some people remembering dreams is a difficult task, even if they have the desire and intention. I suspect that the ability to remember dreams is like any other ability if it is exercised and practiced it gets stronger.

Nested into these second and first levels is a third level of benefit that comes from telling the dream to another person. If a dream is shared with another person it is far more likely to reverberate in the imagination and lead eventually to some insight. This insight may be delayed; it may come days or even weeks later, but it is more likely to come, even when no effort is made at any kind of analysis by either party. Why this should be so is a mystery, but I suspect it has something to do the willingness to relax one’s defenses and open up to the other, an act which constitutes a partial surrender of one’s ego position I don’t know what this dream is revealing about me, but I’m still willing to share it with you.

What is the practitioner’s role on this level? It is mainly that of an active listener. The practitioner  invites the patient to tell the dream, listens, and afterwards, acknowledges that he or she has received something valuable. Asking for clarification and further description is fine during the listening part, but as soon as the practitioner says anything like: That part of the dream could be then they are crossing a threshold into interpretation. This is not a wrong thing to do by any means, as long as the practitioner is aware that it could open up a whole cascade of events and reactions which they must be prepared to contain and handle.

To bring closure to this level of benefit the practitioner could say something like: Thanks for sharing that dream. Let’s not do anything to analyze it for now. Let’s just see if any more insights or connections come over the next while. In a later session it is often very fruitful to follow up on the dream: Did you have any more thoughts about that XYZ dream? In many cases a patient will indeed have come to understand something very helpful about the dream, which would not have happened if the practitioner had not actively facilitated the third level of benefit.

The next level of benefit, the fourth level, has to do with connecting the dream to one’s life. (This level need not necessarily be nested into the 3rd level; in other words it is possible to connect a dream to one’s life without sharing it with another person. However, this is difficult for most people, and they are more likely to be able to make an important connection if they do tell the dream to someone else.) Again, on this level the practitioner’s role is primarily facilitative, not interpretive.

The art of practice here is to be able to pick out a likely connecting point and set it up for the dreamer.

In my experience there are three reliable ways to do this:

1. connecting through feeling tones, in the dream you felt horrified and disgusted when you saw the XYZ. Where in your life do you have that horrified disgusted feeling?

2. connecting through highlighting a pattern So, in the dream you have no trouble climbing most of the way up the ladder, but just when you get to the last few steps at the top, you freeze and can’t go the last little bit. Where in your life have you noticed that pattern you have no trouble most of the way but you freeze right near the end of something?

3. connecting through identifying with a part So in the dream there’s a large bear outside, and he’s coming towards you, so you run inside the house and quickly try to close all the doors. So now, can you be the bear? Just imagine that you’e the bear, you’re outside, approaching the house, and someone has just locked the door what’s it like?

All three of these methods can work very well to facilitate the dreamer making a connection. Some dream motifs seem to call for one method over another, so the practitioner should be prepared to use all three If levels one through four have all been accomplished, then a fifth level becomes possible the level of responding to the message of the dream. On this level the dream can really become a dynamic catalyst for personal growth he had a dream I’ve remembered the dream I’ve shared the dream with someon and I’ve understood how the dream connects to my life now I can respond to the message of the dream and make a change in my life.

Here the role of the practitioner is primarily to be supportive and encouraging That is a really good insight I think. Maybe you could do something with that. How could you make use of that? What would need to be done? Possibilities can be suggested, but not assigned or prescribed the point of action should be generated by the patient and feel right for him or her.

All this can be done without entering the realm of dream analysis per se. To venture into this realm requires a kind of confidence that comes from recognition of the familiar I know that motif I’ve seen that pattern before. Like any complex modality dreamwork requires practice and experience to be done well; and most practitioners who find themselves getting serious about it would eventually want to acquire some training within a certain school or system of dream analysis. In the meantime practitioners can begin building up their repositories of familiar dream landmarks through working with this facilitative method. If dreams interest you, start with facilitation, then, over time, you may just find yourself going in deeper and deeper.

© Christopher Sowton

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