Your latest book,” Dreamwork in Holistic Psychotherapy of Depression “ has recently been published. Tell me a bit about how you became interested in doing the work that you do.
During my high school years, when my own dreams began welling up with a lot of intensity, I started taking great interest in them and reading the work of Jung.
I later went into the study of comparative religions and got deeply involved in yoga and meditation practice. I began evolving my own spiritual way, which included music, hatha yoga, meditation, and then dreamwork. I discovered that dreamwork is like a yoga of the unconscious, a way of unifying and drawing together different facets of the Self into a whole.
Later, when I was in my late twenties, I got a graduate degree in counseling psychology. I began to practice dreamwork as a primary tool and framework in psychotherapy and that’s what I’ve been doing now for thirty years.
What was it about dreamwork and examining archetypes in clinical work that was so enticing to you?
The imagery of dreams evokes feelings and memories in a very spontaneous way. It may evoke some image of the past and takes us immediately to places of developmental trauma and fixation. The childhood home, for example, is a common theme in dreams. When it comes up, you can start asking questions about what happened in that place, what can be remembered from that time of life, what was going on during that time and so forth.
Dreamwork easily invites a conversation about experiences and ventilates the unconscious very swiftly and precisely. It takes you back to some pivotal experiences, and right into the heart of the therapy right away.
To me, dreamwork is one of the most precise diagnostic methodologies but it takes a bit of willingness to be curious. It takes curiosity about every detail and every facet of a dream, and wherever that might lead. Rather than reading symbols out of a book and telling a client what something means, I’ll ask, what does this dream symbol or image or character remind you of?
The Jungian approach provides a grammar for understanding archetypes and shows certain shapes in the psyche and the unconscious. Familiarity with the universal themes that form the basis of dream imagery and dream narratives helps us comprehend and wrap our minds around dream meanings.
It seems like Jungian psychology and dreamwork is sometimes viewed as outdated and quaint or it’s not always at the forefront of conversations about the most effective clinical methodologies. But to me it’s very alive, it’s very juicy, and it’s a lot of fun, too. I find that clients really enjoy the work and enjoy being given the chance to respond to dream messages and make changes in response to those messages. Ultimately, the point of dreamwork is to have insights that lead to behavioral change.
So is the experience of recalling a dream and making contact with the feelings that come up with it healing in and of itself?
Remembering the dream is the first part. Then, contemplation through journaling, meditation and dialogue is needed to bring consciousness and to expand the meaning of the dream symbols, which are very compressed.
But the act of touching the pain or trauma does seem to have a healing effect. It allows compassion to grow. It allows understanding of what happened, rather than masking pain, which people find many means of doing, so in dreamwork we allow our feelings to breathe.
I believe there is implicit value in touching on one’s particular agony, getting close to it, loving it and loving oneself more deeply through that experience.
Why did you choose to focus on depression with this book?
I work with people with varying degrees of depression and it seems to be a focal point of my clinical practice. Depression is so prevalent and commonplace nowadays and there is—in my opinion—so much overmedication.
So I’ve been motivated to find treatment approaches that offer relief, hope, and an alternative to solely relying on pharmacology for treatment of depression. I can’t tell you how many people have gone months or years, even, with only psychiatric drugs as their treatment. I’m not against the use of meds when they’re needed but I also believe there are alternatives.
I believe there’s value in working through any developmental issues that may be at the source of depression—the existential quandaries and problems that are at the root of sorrow and depressed moods.
Dreamwork, combined with other facets of psychotherapy and holistic lifestyle—such as eating a nourishing diet, exercising consistently, within one’s limitations, learning to calm the mind through movement, breath work and meditation—seems very effective and offers people real relief. People feel better and that’s what motivated me to write this book.
I guess you could also say that the root of it comes from the fact that dreams have been so helpful in my own life. And I learn so much from the work with clients. Their dreams move me, they touch me. And that’s the beauty of doing dreamwork in couples, in groups, in various settings where we learn about each others’ experiences. Talking about dream images allows you to be known, to be fully disclosed—within a therapeutic relationship, within a couple, within a group. It’s fantastic.
Is “Dreamwork in Holistic Psychotherapy of Depression” a book that a layperson could find useful?
Depression is a problem that affects everyone, whether it’s ourselves or people around us in our families, workplaces and so on. It’s something that concerns a lot of people.
In this book, I’ve tried to find the middle ground between professional literature and self-help. There’s a lot one can accomplish working on one’s own with dreams, and that’s what I’ve done in my own life. Years of journaling has provided me with so much opportunity for growth.
A layperson can benefit from this book as long as they’re willing to do the work—to capture the dream in a notebook, and then think about it in the way that I demonstrate in the book. The book is also written for clinicians interested in holistic approaches to treatment, so they can apply this method in their work with clients.
If a clinician is interested in starting to incorporate some dream work in their sessions with clients, what would be a good way to start?
One way therapists can gain experience is by doing dreamwork with their own guide–a therapist or analyst. My knowledge of dreamwork has been rooted in my own therapy, having gone for many years.
Beyond that, I’m a huge believer in journaling. There are tremendous benefits to the process of writing dreams down in a notebook, leaving room to write about every character, image, setting and action in the dream, and then asking things like, what does this evoke? What does this remind me of? Who in my life does this look like?
Through therapy or in clinical consultation, a therapist can begin to do this work themselves. For me, the inspiration to do the work I do with clients comes from the firsthand experience that I get from doing it myself.