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Just For Fun: Dreamwork!

May 22

G’day all!! I hope you had a pleasant weekend? I’ll be gone on a foreign consult for a few days and I wanted to leave you with something fresh to “kick start” that cognitive stimulation. Maybe something a little different, yet related? In my clinical practice I am fond of doing dream work, when the opportunity presents itself. There are two major approaches to dream work; one is reflective of the common perception of dream work that involves the interpretation of dream elements by the therapist e.g. the therapist might interpret a dream that is washed in the colour red as being reflective of the patient’s all consuming anger. The other approach is more integrative viewing the dream as an “existential message” and not “wish fulfillment” as in the interpretive approach. In integrative dream work the dream is regarded as a message revealing how the patient views his\her life at the time. It will be used (i.e. the product of the dream work) to increase the patient’s awareness of self and how to regain agency. In lieu of interpretation, the therapist uses the method to act as the patient’s guide and assists the patient in acting out (safely) the various parts of the dream. Each part of the dream (e.g. people, animals, inanimate objects, locations, etc.) is considered a projection of the patient; so each person, prop, animal, etc., is regarded as a part of the patient; as an alienated part of the whole individual.

So whereas a more psycho-dynamically oriented therapist (e.g. a Freudian), in response to a patient describing a dream about sharks might “interpret” that as the patient’s vicious, bloodthirsty, “take no prisoners” nature; a more integrative therapist might have the patient play the role of the shark, and enter into a dialogue in an attempt to have the patient integrate (and eventually accept) that competitive and aggressive aspect of his nature. Perhaps even coming to realize the part played by aggression can contribute to balance.

OK so there it is; an introduction to dream work, an outline of the two major approaches, and a couple of sample responses, based upon the same fictitious “shark dream”. Would you like to have some fun? I will dub you as the psychologist; it isn’t important whether you are more comfortable with an interpretive style (more Freudian) or with a more integrative style (more Perlsian). Whatever you are most comfortable with will be fine. Your patient is the Commissioner of a large (to be left unnamed) National Police Service. The Commissioner’s complaint is that he suffers from a chronic depressive mood and a recurring nightmare. You decide to begin your work by having a session of dream work with your patient. Now, in this session you will hear a lot of reference to “walls”, “guns”, “honour”, “codes”, “loyalty”, “the blanket of freedom”, etc. It is not important whether you interpret this dream (a la Freud) or you work to integrate these dream fragments (a la Perls) into his personality. And remember the “depression” is bound to be related to some kind of “loss”.

The Commissioner begins to relate his dream as if he is an observer in a court room like this (you may recognize this dialogue from another context, involving a military court proceeding):

Colonel J: “You want answers?”
Kaffee: ” I think I’m entitled”.
Colonel J: “You want answers?” (He asks again with incredulity)
Kaffee: “I want the truth”.
Colonel J: “You can’t handle the truth…….Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna’ do it? You? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for Santiago (a Marine who was beaten to death by his own) and you curse the Marines. You have that luxury of not knowing what I know; that Santiago’s death, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives. You don’t want the truth because deep down in places you don’t talk about at parties, you want me on that wall, you need me on that wall. We use words like honour, code, loyalty. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a punch line. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the very blanket of freedom I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just say thank you and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to………..”

Well, what do think? All the provisos are in place. Yes, you’d like more information (watch the movie). Putting all that aside, what is going on with your patient? What is your diagnosis? Don’t worry about fancy psychological words…..in layman’s terms what is your patient struggling with? Why does the dream recur? Remember the mood disorder (the depression)? What has your patient lost?

If you want to interpret the dream (a la Freud)……do it! If you feel more comfortable integrating all these projected parts back into a complete personality……do it! The latter would entail you allowing the rest of us to watch you in session as you got your patient to “role play” e.g. “the wall”, or “Santiago”. OK, that’s enough, you’re getting too much out of me!

Remember, you should be pretty good at this, as you are exploring, in the Colonel, a personality type not entirely unfamiliar to you. In your case possibly a minor league mixture of dogmatism, conservatism, authoritarianism, a wee bit of rigidity, a tendency toward unforgiving, high expectations of others and…..OK, now don’t go getting all “pissy” on me! How is it you think I know you so well?

So remember your posts may not appear until I return; unless I can get to the blog from where I’m going? This should be not only fun but illuminating as well. See you soon! And don’t forget this……..

“What is, is!”……..and………”One thing follows another”.

Dr. Mike Webster
Reg’d Psych.
#0655

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