“Teaching a Method of Dream Analysis Congruent with Contemporary Counseling Approaches”
Gregory Scott Sparrow, Ed.D., Associate Professor
University of Texas-Pan American
Faculty, Atlantic University


Presented at the 2012 International Assn. for the Study of Dreams Conference in Berkeley, California in a symposium comprised of Mark Thurston and myself
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Introduction

In my role as a counselor educator at the University of Texas-Pan American, I regularly include dream analysis training as part of my group counseling classes. For a topic that is optional, dream analysis is by far the most popular subject that I cover during the semester. I introduce dream work in the context of our full-class sessions, comprised of 16-18 students meeting for the first two hours of a three-hour class. Following the introduction and practice of group dream work during our full-class sessions, students are encouraged to incorporate dream work into their own small groups, which convene for the final hour of each class.

Given the enthusiasm expressed by these graduate students, one might think that training future counselors in dream analysis is a straightforward process of introducing the best traditional methods. But it’s not that easy. Indeed, there is a fundamental mismatch between the philosophy and goals of contemporary counselor education, and the assumptions and methods of traditional content-oriented dream analysis.

The Problems Inherent in Teaching Traditional Dream Work to Counselors in Training

Studies have shown that dream analysis increases self-disclosure and exploration (Provost, 1999), results in deeper work in the early sessions of therapy (Diemer et. al., 1998), produces superior client outcome measures when compared with self-esteem and insight work (Falk and Hill, 1995), and fosters intimacy among couples (Duffey, Wooten, Lumadue, and Comstock, 2004). And yet only a small percentage of practicing psychotherapists actively solicit dream reports from their clients. In one study, 83 percent of the respondents reported discussing dreams at least occasionally, but only 13 percent of the therapists employed dream analysis on a regular basis (Keller, et. al, 1995). Another survey (Schredl et. al., 2000) of German psychotherapists indicated that while respondents used dreams in 28 percent of their sessions, their clients initiated the dream work two-thirds of the time. And in a more recent study (Crook and Hill, 2004), 92 percent of therapists surveyed reported that they worked with dreams at least occasionally, but only 15 percent had worked with client dreams during the previous year.

The lack of utilization may be attributable to the perception that dreams are synonymous with their visual content, and that dream analysis is a hermeneutic endeavor, thus necessitating the interpretation of the imagery. Contemporary counselors who practice within an existential or client-centered framework––and who accept this traditional definition of dreams––might find dream analysis to distract from the qualities of self-awareness, choice, and personal responsibility that they hope to foster in their clients. Similarly, cognitive-behavioral therapists would find dreams, if defined as content alone, deficient in the qualities of thinking and acting which are central to their paradigm. Meanwhile, therapists who practice systemic or relational therapies, and who favor an analysis of relational process over intrapersonal content, might be deterred from exploring dreams because of the presumed absence of any interactive process in a content-oriented approach. Regardless of the particular theoretical rationale embraced by the practitioner, Egan’s description of the goal of the modern counseling process being to "help clients manage their problems in living more effectively and develop unused or underused opportunities more fully" (Egan, 2007) shifts the focus in counseling away from interpretation––the goal of traditional dream analysis––toward a client-centered, competency based orientation, in which the dreamer is supported and held accountable for his or her contribution to a dynamic relational process.

A fresh consideration of the dream experience reveals that self-awareness, intentionality, and behavior regulation––once deemed lacking in dreams––can be found in ordinary dreams (Kahan, 2001; Kahan and LaBerge, 2010). In this chapter, I review theoretical factors that can account for the perceived absence of reflective awareness, volition, and responsiveness in dream reports. In addition, I review some empirical findings that support the idea that dream and waking mentation is remarkably similar. On the basis of this theoretical and empirical foundation, I will present the dream as an interactive, reciprocal exchange between a reflective and active dreamer, and the dream content. When viewed in this way, dreams can be considered as indeterminate from the outset, and co-determined through the interplay between the dreamer and the emergent dream content. This orientation allows for the autonomous character of dream content, but permits an analysis and troubleshooting of the dreamer’s responses to the dream––and by implication, to waking life, as well. This dreamer-focused methodology maps onto a therapeutic process that intends to promote greater self-awareness, responsiveness, and accountability. After reviewing the basis for a co-creative dream theory (CDT), I will outline a systematic approach to dream analysis based on this model.

The Dream as an Interactive, Constructed Process

Approaching the dream as an interactive or constructed experience requires that we treat the dreamer and the dream content as independent contributors to the experience. Instead of asking content-oriented questions such as, “What does this image mean,” or “What is this dream saying to you?” a dream facilitator who adopts a co-creative model would track the dreamer’s interaction with the imagery through the course of the dream. Further, the dream facilitator would ideally ask “process questions” (Bowen, 1978) such as,

What feelings or thoughts prompted your reactions?

How did you respond to what was presented?

How could you have responded differently?

What do think would have happened if you had responded differently?

This shift in perspective does not come easily to novice dream facilitators. Thus, before I introduce dream work methods to my graduate students, I ask them to list the questions that a counselor might ask of a client who has just reported a dream. Predictably, they list, “What does this dream mean to you?” “What do you think this dream is telling you?” and “What does this symbol mean to you?”

I go on to ask my students to list the questions that a counselor would ask of a client who has just reported a significant waking experience. They predictably list such questions as, “What did you feel when…?” “What did you think about…?” “What did you want to do?” and “What happened when you…?”

After they make this list, I point out the differences between the two approaches, and ask them if they would customarily encourage a client to interpret a recent experience, or try to figure out another person’s thoughts or motives. They agree that such an approach would distract the client away from his or her own capabilities and resources. I then ask them, “What is the most common error of a novice counselor?” Because most of my students have previously studied Young’s introductory text on counseling methods (2008), many of them can remember that it is focusing on someone other than the client I point out that by encouraging clients to “interpret” everything and everyone that is external to the dreamer, we unwittingly foster a passive relationship to the dream experience in which the dreamer’s choices and actions are easily overlooked. Such an orientation contradicts the therapeutic ideal of encouraging greater self-awareness, responsibility, and agency toward life experiences. I close my introduction by suggesting to them that we would do well to undertake a similar dreamer-centered approach to dreams if we want clients to benefit therapeutically from the results of our dream work, but that we need a method that will help us in this endeavor.

The Immediate Advantages of a Dreamer-Focused Approach

While a dreamer-focused inquiry represents a significant departure from the traditional content-oriented approach, it generates a dynamic approach to dream analysis that is congruent with contemporary counseling objectives. Specifically, it fosters an exploration of the dreamer's subjectivity, including awarenesses, choices, and responses; analyzes the dreamer's responses for evidence of chronic patterns and/or emerging competencies; examines dreamer responses and content changes in light of “circular causality” or reciprocity (Bertalanffy, 1968; Weiner, 1948), which honors the relational emphasis in systemic therapies; and maps the interactive process onto general waking scenarios in order to formulate a plan of action that respects the emphasis in action-oriented therapies for actual behavior change as the principal fruit of the therapeutic process.

A systematic approach to dream analysis that treats the dreamer and the dream as separate interacting systems, and addresses each of the above objectives, has recently been introduced (Sparrow, 2006, 2007), even though the theoretical foundation for such an approach has been in development for some time. In particular, Rossi (1972) was the first to observe that dreamers demonstrates capacity to reflect upon and interact somewhat freely with the dream imagery. Drawn from a single case study of a client’s dreams in therapy, Rossi posits a “co-creative” view of dreaming in which the synthesis of new identity takes place through the interaction and dialogue between the dreamer and dream imagery.

According to Rossi, dreamer self-awareness manifests to some extent in virtually every dream, such that there is "a continuum of all possible balances of control between the autonomous process and the dreamer’s self-awareness and consciously directed effort" (1972, p. 163).

Lucid Dream Research

In his initial work, Rossi (1972) never mentioned the term lucid dreaming, which is not surprising given the fact that it was not until the late 1960s that Van Eeden’s early work with lucid dreaming (1913) was brought into public awareness (Green, 1968; Tart, 1968). Subsequent writers (Gackenbach and LaBerge, 1988; Kelzer, 1987; LaBerge,1980, 1985; Sparrow, 1976) demonstrated that some dreamers, at least, were capable of becoming fully conscious in the dream and influencing its outcome. LaBerge's Lucid Dreaming (1985) has been hailed as "one of the most influential books on modern dream research since Freud's (1965) The Interpretation of Dreams " and "a major turning point in twentieth-century dream study" (Bulkeley, 1994, p. 59). And yet, lucid dreaming has not influenced the practice of dream analysis to any significant extent. Delaney’s (1993a) review of contemporary approaches to dream interpretation includes only a single passing reference to lucid dreaming as synonymous with dream control, which is a common misconception (Flowers, 1993, p. 251). Hill's more recent work (1996) on the use of dreams in psychotherapy mentions lucid dreaming briefly in the larger context of various strategies for changing unpleasant dream endings (p. 110-120), but stops short of incorporating a co-created view of the dream's formation.

The Crucial Question

The validity of employing co-creative dream theory as a framework for understanding non-lucid dreams ultimately depends on the answer to the question, Can the ordinary dream be regarded as an interactive process between a sufficiently reflective, freely choosing agent and the dream content? If the answer is "yes," then researchers and dream work facilitators can legitimately turn their attention to the analysis of the dreamer-dream interactive process in every lucid or nonlucid dream.

Some researchers assert that reflective awareness is temporarily withheld in dreaming (Cicogna and Bosinelli, 2001) to allow for the consolidation of new information into long-term memory. Weinstein, et al. (1988) found support for this hypothesis in the discussion of their research. However, other studies have found evidence of significant measurable reflective awareness in ordinary dreams (Snyder, 1970; Kozmova and Wolman, 2006; Kahan and LaBerge, 2010). In addressing why it has taken us so long to realize this, the authors point to the fact that most of the scales used previously to measure dreams, most notably the Hall-Van de Castle scale (Hall and Van de Castle, 1966), focus on primarily on objective or content dimensions, while including a few subjective states, such as anger, sadness, happiness, apprehension and confusion. The development of the MACE (Metacognitive, Affective, Cognitive Experiences) scale (Kahan and LaBerge, 1996; Kahan and LaBerge, 2010), as well as earlier efforts to measure dreamer reflectiveness (Purcell, 1987; Rossi, 2000; Sparrow, 1983) have shifted the analysis of dream reports to previously unreported dimensions of dreamer mentation, including emotion, reflective awareness, interaction, choice, sudden attention, and focused attention.

A Dream Work Methodology Based on Co-Created Dream Theory

The Five Star Method (FSM) is a dream analysis methodology based on the tenets of co-creative dream dream theory (CDT), which I have developed over in the course of over 30 years of outpatient practice. It includes or accommodates aspects of well-known dream work approaches (Jung, 1974; 1984; Perls; 1969; 1973; Taylor, 1992; Ullman and Zimmerman,1985; Ullman, 1996). However, the FSM features interventions and perspectives based on CDT, and can be used flexibly in individual, conjoint, family, and group therapy. The dream work sample that is described in the following sections illustrates the application of the FSM to small group work. Except for having to monitor the group’s contributions for precipitous or invasive statements, the application of the FSM to group follows the same steps as its use in individual counseling.

The Five Star Method commences by sharing the dream in the first person, present tense, which is a practice pioneered by Perls (1969, 1973). This enables the dreamer to relive the original experience and its attendant emotions and thoughts, and for the facilitator(s) to vicariously appropriate the dream––that is, to experience the dream as if it were one’s own––as advocated by Taylor (1992) and Ullman (1996). This shared exchange converts a private experience into a here-and-now, shared experience to which the dreamer and facilitator(s) alike can relate directly.

Dreamers will characteristically leave out their feelings and thoughts as they tell their dreams. The dream facilitator may stop the dreamer at crucial junctures during this initial sharing and ask the dreamer to share any feelings and thoughts that are emerging.

Jerry's dream. A 51-year-old man, whom I will refer to as Jerry, volunteered to work with a dream in front of his classmates in a graduate class in group counseling that I teach at the University of Texas-Pan American. Jerry had previously shared with the class the most significant wounding experience of his life. Having married overseas while in the military, he had brought his pregnant Asian wife home to meet his family. When his father saw his wife for the first time, he yelled, “Why the hell did you bring that ... into my house?!" The shocked son did what he needed to do to protect his wife and future family: He left abruptly and broke off contact with his father. Years passed without any further contact, and his father eventually died. The student reported experiencing a complete absence of grief at the time of his father’s death. Further, he had never questioned his original decision to terminate his relationship with his father.

Before the man shared the dream in the present tense, I encouraged the group members to join me in listening to the dream as if it was our own, as recommended by Taylor (1992) and Ullman (1996). The student then related the following brief dream.

I am sitting at my desk with my back to the sliding glass doors on the patio. I am working on the group paper that we have to do for this class, and I am feeling anxious about completing it. I hear a knock on the door, and turn around to see my father dressed in a suit standing outside the sliding glass door, obviously wanting to be let in. I think to myself, “I’ve got work to do,” and turn back around. He keeps knocking for a while, and then leaves.

Step One of the Five Star Method: Sharing Feelings Aroused by the Dream Sharing

The idea of initially examining the feelings is consistent with Hartmann’s theory that dreams function principally to “contextualize” emotion for the purpose of its integration through associative neural processes (Hartmann, 1998). By having the dreamer and the dream helpers share the feelings that arise when experiencing the dream narrative—a step that was pioneered by Ullman (Ullman, 1996; Ullman and Zimmerman, 1985)-- this initial step may provide an affective context congruent with the contextualized affect of the dream itself. However, the dreamer may not be able or willing to experience the full range of emotion contextualized or implied in a given dream–either in the original experience, or in a recollected version. Thus, as the dreamer and the dream helpers compare their emotional reactions to the dream narrative, they may discover differences in their feelings. This sharing often sets up a subtle tension in which the dreamer may be exposed to a variety of emotional responses that differ from his or her own feelings. If, as Taylor (1992) and Delaney (1993a) assert, a dream rarely comes to tell us what we already know, then it is also makes sense that the dreamer is not always in touch with the full range of feelings contextualized, or pictured, in the dream imagery.

Various dream work methods include an assessment of the dreamer's feelings (Gendlin, 1986; Hill, 1996; Mahrer, 1990; Ullman, 1996; Ullman and Zimmerman, 1985). However, CDT posits that the dreamer’s feelings, thoughts, assumptions, and behaviors work together to codetermine the dream’s outcome. With this in mind, the dreamer’s and facilitator's feelings provide an initial entry into the dreamer’s co-creative response set.

Jerry's dream: I asked the dreamer about his feelings in the dream, and he said that he had felt anxious about his assignment, and mildly irritated about his father’s interruption throughout the dream. That was the extent of his feelings. I then asked each member of the group to share whatever feelings had arisen in the course of experiencing the dream. Without exception, the other students reported having intense feelings such as sadness, fear, regret, and even affection. The dreamer was surprised at the range of the group members' reactions.

Of course, dreamers often report having little or no emotion, especially when merely witnessing the dream as it unfolds. When hearing such emotionless dreams, a dream group, or an individual facilitator may or may not experience any feelings. If they do, then those feelings could be useful to the dreamer, who may for various reasons be cut off from significant feelings. If not, then the dream work can simply proceed to the next step.

Step Two: Formulating the Process Narrative, Theme, or Story Line

Some dream analysts have formulated lists of “themes” that typically occur in dreams (Garfield, 2001; Gongloff, 2006). However, such an approach runs the risk of fitting the dream into pre-established categories. Thurston and I have taken a purely phenomenological or constructionisitic approach to summarizing the dream’s underlying structure (Sparrow, 1978; Thurston; 1978; 1988) and prefer the phrase "process narrative" to describe the objective of this second step, even though “simple story line” (Thurston, 1988) represents a less abstract way to describe this step to client/dreamers.

To formulate the process narrative, all one has to do is to restate, as succinctly as possible, the dream’s essential action while removing the specific names of characters, colors, places, and objects. All interpretive and evaluative statements are strictly discouraged during this step. The following statements (which are unrelated to Jerry’s dream) are examples of correctly formulated process narratives, because they are stripped of specific content allusions: "Someone is relieved to find that something that he thought was lost is still possible to locate," and "Someone is trying to decide between two courses of action, one apparently easy and the other more difficult and challenging that involves receiving help from someone else." This content-free description highlights the relational dynamics that perpetuate or alleviate distress, and pave the way for interventions that can restructure problematic interactional patterns without trying to resolve the problem on the level of content alone.

Some dream work facilitators believe that it is important to obtain the dreamer’s explanation of the characters and situations early in the dream work process (Delaney, 1993b), so that the helper(s) may make contributions that are congruent with the dreamer’s own understanding of who’s who and what’s what in the dream In contrast, the FSM postpones any consideration of the imagery, including the dreamer’s explanatory associations, until after the third step. While this may seem to encourage irrelevant associations, it frees the leader and the group to associate to the dream without having to factor in the dreamer’s own views. The dreamer, in turn, is encouraged to examine the dream without regard to the imagery, so that any subsequent “allusion” (Craig and Walsh, 1993) or “bridge” (Delaney, 1993b) to waking experiences will be thoroughly informed by an exploration of the non-visual dimensions of the dream.

Jerry's dream: One of the students suggested that the theme of Jerry’s dream was, “Someone is aware of someone who wants his attention, but refuses to give it because he considers something else more important.” Jerry and the other group members concurred with this assessment, and we moved to the next step.

Step Three: Analyzing the Dreamer's Responses to the Dream

This step is the heart of FSM, and is a pure outgrowth of CDT. Helping the dreamer see the places where his or her responses may have made a difference represents a significant departure from traditional dream analysis. Because of its novelty, it may pose somewhat of a challenge with clients who are new to this way of thinking. But once the dreamer becomes aware of his or her responses in the dream, dream analysis takes on a new dimension of troubleshooting the dreamer's responses and imagining new outcomes in future dreams and parallel life situations.

To accomplish this step, the facilitator and the dreamer look for points in the dream where the dreamer responded—emotionally, cognitively, and/or behaviorally—in such ways that could have affected the course of the dream from thereon. As we have stated, some of these responses may be entirely unstated in the dreamer’s initial recollection, so it may take some practice to elicit the more subtle dimensions of the dreamer’s responses. Subtle or otherwise, these response points are like forks in the path where the dreamer effectively determines which way to go by his or her reactions to the visual imagery.

Then, the facilitator and dreamer work together to critique the dreamer's responses to the dream encounters. In the spirit of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (de Schazer, 1988; de Shazer, et. al, 2007), the goal is to highlight creative and adaptive responses, as well as to imagine what else the dreamer might have done to improve the relationship with dream content at obvious choice points in the dream. Following this freewheeling consideration of expressed competencies and creative alternatives, the facilitator engages the dreamer in determining what he or she would like to do more of, or differently in future dreams with similar situations. This consideration of diverse responses to the dream has a way of challenging old patterns of relating to the world, discerning emerging competencies, and introducing alternatives for future consideration.

Of course, the dreamer ideally sets the standard for the direction of desirable change. What is considered "better" has more to do with what deviates constructively from a person's chronic patterns of relating, and what is congruent with the dreamer’s own beliefs and values, than some external standard of relational health. This client-generated criterion helps the facilitator and dreamer evaluate the dreamer's responses against a customary or habitual style of relating, which may become clearer over time as the person shares further dreams and/or waking experiences in which the customary style becomes evident. This orientation to desirable change, developed as the client and therapist explore the client’s own values, is a negotiated standard of evaluation, not an imposed one. In the words of Wolfe (1989),
Morality thus understood is neither a fixed set of rules handed down unchanging by powerful structures nor something that is made up on the spot. It is a negotiated process through which individuals, by reflecting what they have done in the past, try to ascertain what they ought to do next . . . Morality viewed as social construction differs from the traditional view of morality as ‘adherence to rules of conduct shaped by tradition and respect for authority’ (pp. 216).

It is not unusual for a highly significant response in the dream to seem entirely natural to the dreamer, especially if it reflects the dreamer's habitual style in responding to similar situation. Such responses can be gently challenged once the chronic pattern has been clearly established in the therapeutic process, and the dreamer’s own stated values and goals have been made apparent.

Jerry's dream: When we considered the dreamer’s responses alongside the group’s vicarious responses, the dreamer was again struck by the contrast between what he did, and what the dream group members had imagined doing. One member imagined opening the door to let his father in. Another member was a little afraid–after all, the man was dead–and wanted to ask the father what he wanted before opening the door. Another imagined hugging his dad and hearing his father’s sincere and tearful apologies as well as expressing his own remorse. Unlike the dreamer’s cool, business-like attitude, the group members’ responses were generally intense and engaging. Since the group members had come to know each other over a period of several weeks of small group work, and during classroom interactions, they were cognizant of many of Jerry’s relational strengths and limitations. Through such exposure to a dreamer’s waking personality, what is customarily regarded as mere “projection” in group dream work gradually becomes, to some extent, an “informed” projection more closely tied to the dreamer’s somewhat unique ways of relating.


Step Three helps dreamers become more aware of chronic dysfunctional responses and emergent competencies, both of which are easily overlooked in the context of the often-distressing circumstances depicted by the dream content. To put it simply, the interpersonal exchange between the facilitator(s) and client in Step Three helps to offset the tendency of some dreamers to disavow responsibility for the outcome of the dream While this step can provoke defensiveness by raising questions about the dreamer's unexamined assumptions and reactions, especially when the dreamer's responses seem counterproductive, it represents the kind of cognitive-behavioral inquiry that characterizes contemporary action-oriented therapies––such as Cognitive Therapy, Rational-Emotive Behavioral Therapy, and Reality Therapy. Further, by highlighting emergent competencies, Step Three comes into alignment with the philosophy and objectives of competency-based therapies such as Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (de Schazer, 1988; de Shazer, et. al, 2007). In this regard, Jerry's ability to remain committed to his task at hand was clearly a quality that had helped him excel as a student and as a military officer. Pointing out how the avoidance of his father took strength and focus helped the dreamer to see how he had used his formidable personality strength in both positive and negative ways.

Jerry benefitted from the diverse feedback that only a group can provide. In individual counseling, the therapist and the client collaborate in trouble-shooting the dreamer’s responses. Group members will often communicate their own values by suggesting alternative responses, and such diversity is both a benefit and drawback of group work. With effective leadership, however, the benefits of a free-wheeling exchange between a group and the dreamer far outweigh the costs.

Step Four: Analysis of the Imagery

In this step of FSM, the facilitator assists the dreamer in exploring the imagery itself. While standard nonintrusive approaches to imagery analysis––such as Jung's (1974, 1984) amplification method, and the Gestalt practice of dialoguing with the images––can be introduced in Step Four, a nontraditional approach to the imagery proceeds from the principles of CDT. Just as the dreamer's responses are no longer considered a given in CDT, the dreamer's responses and the dream imagery are viewed as reciprocally related, such that a change in one will usually evoke or mirror a change in the other.

Just as systems-oriented therapists will teach family members to see their problem as a function of circular causality or reciprocity (Nichols and Schwartz, 2004, p. 8) – a dream work facilitator using FSM will encourage the dreamer to learn to see the impact of his or her reactions on the dream imagery itself, and to extrapolate on possible changes that may have occurred if the responses would have been different. Even if the dreamer and the dream imagery are "locked" into a relationship of escalating tension––as Jerry and his father had been––the facilitator can assist the dreamer in imagining what could have happened if the dreamer's stance had been different. At this stage in the dream work, the facilitator also asks the dreamer to imagine what the culmination of such an encounter would look like––in future dreams or parallel waking scenarios. Such a consideration, which is familiar to Narrative therapists, leads naturally to the idea of identifying contexts in which to apply the fruits of the dream work process.

How To Do It. In practice, a dream work facililtator using the FSM will encourage the dreamer to learn to see the impact of his or her reactions on the dream imagery itself, and to extrapolate on possible changes that may have occurred if the responses would have been different.. Process questions (Bowen, 1978), such as "What do you think would have happened if . . . ?" or “What do you wish you could have done differently?” are very useful in this step. Such inquiry encourages clients to become aware of the circular or reciprocal nature of a relationship dynamic, and to accept one’s capacity to take personal responsibility and make a difference in the dreamer-dream relationship.

Inferring a contingent relationship between a dreamer's response and a subsequent change in dream content, is what I call "dream logic." This contingent relationship is usually not evident to the dreamer, who typically experiences the changes as unrelated to his or her responses at the time. Consequently, instances of dream logic must be pointed out by the facilitator. By emphasizing the impact of the dreamer's responses, the facilitator draws a contingent relationship between inner response and outer change, thus supporting an emergent sense of agency in the dreamer's life.

Obviously, when imagery is considered a fluctuating reality that maintains a circular relationship with the dreamer's responses, questions such as "What does this symbol mean?" have limited value by rendering the dreamer’s involvement irrelevant. Instead, the dreamer learns to ask alternative questions such as, "How is my response affecting my relationship with the dream image?" Such questions respect the complexity of a dynamic reciprocal process which, if honored and kept alive, may foster a rich interchange between conscious perspectives and unrealized potentials.

Jerry's dream: In considering the dream imagery, the dream helpers were all impressed with his father’s suit. Everyone felt that his father had “dressed for the occasion,” or was “hoping to make a good impression.” One member suggested that it reminded him of burial clothes. The sliding glass doors provided an opening through which things could be clearly seen, and people were allowed to come and go, but this openness was behind the dreamer and ignored, not something he was facing directly. The paper that the student was working on was one of many tasks in his life–always undertaken with serious and undistracted resolve. The student contributed to and supported these various associations.

We also engaged the dreamer in considering what would have happened if he had gone to the door and engaged his father. Since it was clear that the dreamer had considerable resistance to this idea, we focused on what he could have said to his father that would have finally given voice to his anger and hurt. By focusing on how he could have expressed his deep anger, the group effectively accepted the dreamer where he was at, without precluding the possibility of forgiveness and healing.

Step Five: Applying the Dream Work

Since the FSM is founded on the dreamer's capacity to enact a variety of responses to the dream––and correspondingly, to parallel waking scenarios––the final step of the dream work process involves identifying contexts in one's waking life where the dreamer’s responses may serve as a model for enacting newresponses, or represent problematic responses that call for new approaches. If the dreamer can identify parallels between the dream scenario and some waking situation, then the facilitator may encourage the dreamer to practice new, contextually appropriate responses that can be made in that waking life scenario. Underlying co-creative theory is the assumption of “equifinality” that characterizes systems theory (Bertanffly, 1968), which is the principle that in living systems, a particular end state can be achieved through a variety of ways. So, from this standpoint, it doesn’t matter which context in which the dreamer enacts new responses. Applying the dream work, therefore, can also take the form of preparing for future dreams, in which the new responses might move the dreamer beyond an arrested dream exchange, and achieve a desired end. A simple pre-sleep reverie exercise called Dream Reliving (Sparrow, 1983) can be used as a way to increase the likelihood that one will be able to implement the changes in future dreams. Dream Reliving, which is similar to Imagery Rehearsal Technique––a method used to reduce the frequency of distressing dreams related to PTSD (Germain, et al., 2004; Pierce, 2006))––consists of asking the dreamer 1) to relive the original dream in fantasy while enacting new responses, and then 2) to observe and record how the new responses altered the dream's outcome. This imaginative process, which has been effective (Sparrow, 1983) in increasing dream lucidity and enhancing other measures of dreamer development as described by Rossi (1972, 2000), can serve as a fitting addendum to the dream work process, and lay the groundwork for future sessions.

Jerry's dream: While the dreamer was sobered by the group process, the group did nothing that could have been construed as invasive. Remaining true to their own feelings, imaginary responses, and associations to the imagery, the group members nonetheless left the dreamer wondering out loud if his decision to walk away from his father had left some significant unresolved feelings that now could be explored, even though his father was no longer alive.

While our overall stance should always remain respectful of the dreamer’s boundaries, our responsibilty also impels us to examine and reflect upon the dreamer’s responses from the context of his or her own goals and values. As stated previously, such a values-centered orientation arises within the knowledge of the peson’s stated ideals, not from the standpoint of some independent moral authority (Doherty, 1995; Wolfe, 1989). Not only does this approach put constructive pressure on where a dreamer might be failing to acknowledge a counterproductive approach to relationships, but it also identifies emerging and oten-overlooked competencies and values-congruent attitudes that may assist the dreamer in resolving significant unresolved conflicts.

Conclusions

From my experience as a counseling educator, dream analysis is a popular topic among counselors-in-training, and its proven benefits justify its inclusion in counseling curricula. However, the traditional content-focused approach departs from the objectives of most non-psychodynamic therapy by treating the dream as a fixed narrative and the dreamer as a passive witness, and proceeding to analyze the visual content for its presumed meaning. Add to that the object-oriented language that characterizes the traditional consideration of dream "symbols" and "content" apart from the dreamer, and dream interpretation arguably violates the social constructionistic (Gergen, 1985, 1999), client-centered flavor of contemporary psychotherapy.

Unlike traditional content-oriented approaches, a co-created approach to dream analysis comes into alignment with a variety of themes in contemporary psychotherapy, including the centrality of choice, freedom, and personal responsibility in existential therapies; the constructed nature of personal reality in social constructionism and postmodern therapies; and the reciprocal nature of human relationships in family systems. As such, cocreative dream analysis can be seen as a supportive, supplementary practice in a diverse array of modern therapies, and thus be incorporated seamlessly into contemporary counselor training.


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