03 January 2011

Dream works

My experience with using dreams for psychotherapy is lengthy and inefficient with a couple of bright spots. The idea is that we have a subconscious mind in the first place (a hypothetical and unproven premise); and that secondly the material presented to us in our dreaming state of consciousness, which we happen to retain upon waking, provides us with a glimpse into the dynamics of processes ongoing in our subconscious mind. This second idea is hypothetical, unproven, and even dubious. Nevertheless from Sigmund Freud to Carl Jung to many modern practitioners dream analysis has had a huge appeal.

I once participated in a two day workshop with this lady, which was unforgettable. She was in her eighties at the time and filled the entire room (about twenty of us) with a buzz of her energy. One thing which she told us, which I may never forget as long as I live: it is always some one thing.

By "it" she meant an originating trauma for an ongoing neurosis, and she meant that it was always one from a very short list:

Someone was killed.

Someone was a killer.

Someone was raped.

Someone was a rapist.

Someone was a drunk or a gambler and squandered all the family's money.


This is a truism to some but not all workers. She may be overly influenced by her own experience as a Frenchwoman who lived through the German occupation. There was a bizarre tone to her voice when she described the experience of some French women and some German soldiers.

After all of the anxious people with trauma had taken their turn on the hot seat, she invited lighter topics. She inquired about dreams. I was not doing any intense dream work at the time, but I did happen to recall what I was dreaming just before waking that morning. I volunteered my dream. It was a low-gravity, spiderman, jungle gym thing. Typical for me, and even mundane, but it survived into my waking consciousness, so I offered it up. We talked for about thirty minutes. She asked about my family. She speculated, and suggested hypothetical connections between my dream content and my real world psychological life. It was entertaining (ultimately my main motivation for attending T groups is that I find them endlessly entertaining), but as far as insightful psychology goes, it seemed useless.

Then the workshop was over with (or so I thought) a little bit later, and that was it. Very interesting, but merely a diversion to spice up my otherwise dull weekend. A couple of days later I once again had the nightmare. Many people have these. One particular scenario which haunts too many of our nights which involves a tortuous inescapable problem which seems to go on forever and can even wreck a night's sleep. Running after something you cannot ever catch; trapped by a hideous monster or frightful animal--snakes, spiders, whatnot; falling; being shot or stabbed. We could make a very long list.

Mine is packing. Trying to get everything into a suitcase or a backpack. I have had this nightmare my entire life, and it once had the power to ruin me for an entire following day. I would sometimes wake up not rested, aching, nauseous, or dizzy. This time was different, though. I woke up from the nightmare, and I suddenly had an insight to the moment when that nightmare image entered my life. That was an Aha! And Eureka! moment for me. The nightmare has not gone away, and it remains as disturbing in the moment as it ever was. It does not make me physically ill any longer; it has lost that power over me I had previously given to it. My attitude now is more like "oh yeah, there is that one again."

This may be entirely coincidental, but I attributed my resourcefulness in resolving my nightmare to my attendance in the workshop. I thought I had acquired some dream interpretation power by attention to the French lady, or perhaps through psychic osmosis from being in her presence for the two days. Our discussion of my low gravity spiderman jungle gym dream seemed nonsensical at the time, but I may have gotten just a little tiny something from that discussion to empower me to resolve the nightmare. Or, perhaps the timing was merely a coincidence. It is an oddly pleasant puzzle I expect to never solve.

I have another one. This is not as bad as the packing one, but it is a close second in both power and in frequency. Lost in a labyrinth. I know exactly where I want to go, but each of the innumerable paths I choose to take is just a tiny bit off. A few months after meeting the French lady, she was back off to France, but I took another workshop with one of her students. I told her about the work with the French lady, and the resolution of the packing nightmare. This pleased the student greatly. I asked her if she wanted to have a go at the labyrinth nightmare. Oh yes.

We worked on that sucker for about two hours. The group leader was engaged heavy, and everybody in the workshop was enthralled. It was the most energy I ever put into a hot seat spot in my life. The outcome was empty. I felt I learned nothing. I learned nothing about the labyrinth. And the nightmare continued to bug the hell out of me for several years after.

Then after several intervening years I read Carl Jung's dream Seminar. This is a formidable work. Jung's writing is very detailed and poorly organized and it is definitely not for everybody. Most of the book seems like utter crap, but there were a couple noteworthy details. The first is that Packing is one of the first dreams and Labyrinth comes right after it. The second is what seems to be an offhand comment by Jung: patients often experience their parents' nightmares. I read that comment, and immediately my labyrinth was unveiled: packing is actually my Mom's, and the labyrinth is actually my Dad's.

One of these days I suppose I will discover my own.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.