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Explaining Dreamwork Counselling: Characters

To perhaps exemplify an area of Dreamwork, I will share this correspondence between a friend and me in which I write about dream characters. This friend, Kristin, wrote to me after I briefly shared a dream with her, which went as follows:

"...We are talking to some asshole who was discussing where to raise/leave his kid, and he was opting to leave them in an overcrowded house where far too many people live, people who are gay but not out of the closet. I say to him, “it would be better leaving your child with Kristin, who is authentic, instead of in a house with all these inauthentic people.” You then say you want to live in this guy's cabin, which is in the middle of nowhere in the forest and I’m fearful that you will get murdered out there or something, but you’re not phased as you can handle yourself." End of Dream. (This is not intended to be an expression of belief or opinion related to people who are not yer ready to disclose their identity, but is instead a sharing of dream commentary to help articulate some of this work.)

In reply, she said, "It’s nice to know you think I’m authentic. I’d be curious to know what you think about that dream with your training. Or is your dream training more around how to shape your dreams as a way to work through problems??? To be honest, I was a little confused by the dream therapy concept...to be honest, I am a little confused by the dream therapy concept...". Fair. Here is my response:

"Hey you... I am happy to hear that you are a bit confused by dreamwork. If you are, others are. I know that it is hard to understand in general, and it is hard to combat the widespread belief that dreams are random nonsense. In short, I believe it is about associations. What does the dreamer associate with certain dream places, images, times, characters, etc., and what do those associations mean to you in waking life, what emotions are evoked, what memories? Often, the dreamer will identify associations that are meaningful to themselves individually, which gives some opportunity for discussion and counsel. Whether dreams actually are meaningful or random is beside the point. When you simply draw on them as a source of personal information, to facilitate reflection and conversation, they become meaningful. In counselling, people want to talk about themselves, their relationships, their problems, their fears, and so on, but often find it difficult to initiate things or to be honest about what is troubling them. Dreamwork can cut to the chase or provide an outlet to dive into some things. People are very skilled at avoiding the meat-and-potatoes of their issues, and doing this work can highlight it in a surprising way. I do think you are authentic, however there were also some attributes to this "dream Kristin" that I do not ascribe to you in waking life. For example, this dream Kristin also became very vocal and demanding to this asshole guy we were talking to, and I felt she was over-stepping a bit into my personal family life. I would not say you are like that! I rarely look at a dream of someone I know to actually be about them. Sure, it makes me think about them, and reflect on my relationship with them, which is healthy, but I believe it is pointing more about myself or humanity, more widely speaking. I would say that this particular dream snippet is pointing to "authenticity" in some way more than it is pointing to "my friend Kristin". That isn't to say that I don't think that it sometimes could be about you, how I feel around you, the emotional responses I have around you, our shared memories together, etc., but not always. The other night I dreamed of another friend Nancy, and in the dream I am telling someone that Nancy and I used to live together in Kelowna and we could do it again without problem. This was nothing odd or unusual, just a little snippet not far off from my memory. I will use the Nancy example above to illustrate something. It feels like a simple memory-based dream that has no meaning, but if I were to apply a simple character exercise, I would say this Nancy character was "maternal, calm, and gentle." It just so happens that she is also like that in waking life, and not just acting that way in this particular dream! This isn't always the case. But in reality, in my waking life, I have been worried about being a bad father, given we are a couple months from our baby. I have been getting caught in these "bad dad" thoughts of dropping the baby, or hurting her somehow. I have certainly been feeling distant from any paternal qualities that I have within. This makes sense to me why in my dream I am discussing the idea of living with Nancy again, or "wanting to get closer to the parts of myself that are maternal, calm and gentle".

Here is another example for how a dreamwork exercise could unravel. If someone dreams about killing someone else, I would ask that dreamer to think about the characteristics of the dream character they want dead, whether they know them in life or not. Let's say the dreamer reports the character as "insecure, worried, and fearful". It could then be written into a statement such as the dreamer is "trying to kill off the parts of themself that is insecure, worried and fearful." This can, of course, get muddy when the characters are people we know well in waking life, since attachment, fear, emotion, trauma, history, etc can all be involved. This is where the counselling portion can come in. Another piece of my work with dreams is more practical, and just helping the person strengthen their own dreaming practice, memory, recording, etc."

This may be helpful for you, Reader, in understanding some of the practical applications of Dreamwork in a counselling setting. I am always open to more inquiries, or even a video chat to answer questions you may have. I would love to help build a deeper understanding of this work.

Many thanks, Kristin, for your question.

Until next time,

Chad Walters-McNaughton

Sleep sweet. x

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