Frequently Asked Questions
What sets dream work apart from other methods of self exploration?
There is something tangible that is usually learned immediately and relevant to one's life right away, also it gets to be about the dreamer. As one of my clients once texted me "let me get this straight... this gets to be about me. Me me me me..." Somehow that's difficult for many to believe. I have tried doing self exploration through reading about others in books and in therapist offices. Although some resonance or wisdom certainly could be gained there, it lacked the specificity of the moment that was relevant to me. Dreams seem to bring you whatever you need to know today, not what you think you might need to know. It has been said that if a client goes to therapy they may "never move beyond their therapist" and, at best, "end up like their therapist" and the slant of the questions will be that of the therapist. While I believe to some extent this is true for asking questions about dreams as well, the dream is much richer and can open for more questions than any therapist I could imagine. That's my experience. Also, dreams specifically constantly challenge us to question our relationships. How we behave in relationship to others. How we are in relationship to the world. How we behave in relationship to ourselves, our partners, our children... Dreams bring in people, animals, items or “Archetypes” of different ages and sexes and personalities to challenge us. It is my belief that they challenge us to be who we truly are at the soul level in any situation. Sometimes by vividly showing us how we avoid or are distant from our true selves or true natures.
Why would you, as a practicing medical doctor do this?
I have seen many people with chronic illness, chronic pain, chronic addiction and other health problems that can lead to a sense of hopelessness. As just one part of the treatment plan, I have found inner work, such as dreamwork, make a big difference for many people. Also part of the work I do is in a pain clinic. I have seen many short term successes in treating pain using injections or medications. But for pain that is chronic, (especially longer than 6 months duration) I have often had more success in treating pain with doing dreamwork rather than injections or medications. I wish I had started a study long ago. The results are not always this way, but it's compelling enough to me that I can't ignore these results. Also seeing people in the emergency department with depression. I have had some of these people follow up and I have seen very positive results with depressive symptoms. Again, I wish I had started a study long ago. So I keep doing it. (And am indeed following up on doing research on this aspect of my practice.) Also, doing dreamwork personally has changed me. So I personally feel the results.
How is this applicable to pain or pain clinic work?
In my experience, especially with chronic pain, there is often very slow resolution or progress until someone starts doing inner work or approaching the pain from another angle. Here is a quote from the Like Mind, Like Body podcast (affiliated with Curable), which I sometimes recommend as a resource for those with chronic pain affecting health:
“What we offer for people in Curable, and people have a similar experience (Of relatively spontaneous relief of pain in a body region after going through a program of self-discovery or “integration” of sorts)... One of the reasons I think that contributes to this, is particularly in the instance of chronic pain, it can be very difficult to separate the pain itself from who you are and your own identity. And so it becomes intertwined. And not just how you feel in your body, but in all of these other areas of your life. And in some instances, losing the pain is painful in itself, because it’s losing a part of your identity. And so once you have the ability to separate this knowing and known, you almost regain your own sense of separation. Your own sense of identity. A little bit of distance from the pain itself. And it is able to kind of move through you in a very different way.” - from the interviewer (name?) “like mind like body” podcast from part of an of an interview with Dr. Dan Siegel on the wheel of awareness.
Is there any research on this work?
Yes, but not much. A small study was done on this type of Dreamwork by Birgit Laskowski in 2016. It has many great links and much information. I plan to add more links to this section on this website. I am hoping to personally contribute to more research in this area and have applied, and been accepted, for funding for more research in this field. Specifically I wish to study chronic pain and depression. (Link pending.) There is indeed other dream related research out there. There is research that shows how dreams are invaluable for processing trauma among many other benefits. I am developing a study to start soon as I write this. Link pending.
Is this therapy?
No. So I tend to call myself a facilitator rather than a therapist. I like to help the person see what it is for them. Not for me. I would call it self exploration.
It certainly can be very therapeutic, in fact, it's been far more effective personally for me than any other therapy I have done for myself. (See next question.) Many people who do this work say the same. See testimonials.
Does this go against spiritual traditions?
No. In fact, in my experience, quite the opposite. It's inspiring to see how diverse the community of dreamers that I am a part of is, and how well we get along. From Buddhist to Jewish to Christian to Druid to Wiccan to name a few, dreams have challenged both me and my clients and colleagues to "judge not".
I personally have disproportionately clients that follow the Christian tradition. I have yet to find one that hasn't said it has strengthened their relationship with God, or, at least hasn't affected it negatively. I personally used to be very hard on what can be called "religion" (and I still can be at times). I personally have no set spiritual community. I have tried many places of worship and spiritual practices and still have yet to find a clear home. I keep searching. I personally have had Christ come three times in my dreams. I was taken aback. I was angry when this happened. How could this be? But it sure challenged my assumptions, and made me feel how arrogant and judgemental I had been towards Christianity. I personally seem to find many Christian themes and many Buddhist themes to my dreams and others' dreams. But I am more familiar with these languages. I am not a theologically trained. There are often mythological themes that others more versed in mythology see clearly. It is profound to see people descibe scenes that they claim to know nothing about but sound as if they are straight out of the Greek Myths or straight out of the Bible. The vast majority of the time I have found that dreams speak in a language that resonates with the dreamer. And they don't seem to discriminate while challenging us to open our horizons and challenge us not to judge. I like a story by Rodger Kamenetz who has extensive training as a Jewish scholar. He had Christ come in one of his dreams. He says it challenged, changed and softened the way he viewed his tradition. (Paraphrasing).
Why do you personally do this?
It's fun, it fills my cup, it makes me feel alive, it has made me a better person, it has shown me that even though things can be dark, there's still light. I had heard those words before, but I never could relate. Now I can relate. Now I can relate to what many spiritual traditions say. I have always known I wanted more out of life somehow. And after multiple different church visits, it didn't change. I still visit outer places of worship because I'm curious what "fills other people's cup". But so far my dreams have given me more "fulfillment" and adventure at the same time than any external church has. Dreams are intensely personal. I have prior been judgemental about what other people are up to and why. My dreams showed me my own judging nature. It's not for me to know what's right for another person. But I have found their dreams do know. I love following my dreams personally and working with clients and their dreams. As a practitioner that has had a part time pain clinic, I have often had more success in treating "external" chronic pain with doing dreamwork with clients rather than using injections or medications. This is not always true, but it's compelling enough to me that I can't ignore these results. So I keep doing it. (And am following up on doing research on this aspect of my practice.)
I found dreamwork in 2012 while personally looking for something that would make my life more fulfilling and help my marriage. I did it personally for 6 months and felt so much possibility for change open up for me that decided I needed to learn how to do this for others. So I did. I have been doing dreamwork as a facilitator since early 2013. I love seeing the effects this exploration has on others and hearing their stories of how their outer lives change as a result of following their dreams. I personally find the Buddhist tradition has the most accessible language for what often happens to people: they often find bits of inner peace and joy scattered throughout the war that's often going on within them. And that gives them hope. They often seek more, and then find more. Their lives become more rich. That's my story too. The more you seek, the more you find. For those that aren't at war, (many, like me, have been, or continue to be, at inner war) it often opens up possibilities for them they hadn't considered. It's rewarding.
Is this type of thing dangerous?
No. Unless you consider changing your perspective on life dangerous. People may tell you it's dangerous, and those people are the ones that I would suggest are afraid of change, or have a vested interest in you not changing. People are often afraid of change, sometimes any change. I find opening up dreams changes people in ways that are hard to describe. It often helps show them the truth about themselves and their situations and their behaviors, and that can be incredibly freeing. It can also be scary or inconvenient. For example, people often go back to abusive relationships for a reason. It's because it's scary to change. It's inconvenient to do something new, especially if you don't feel supported. If you aren't open to possible change, you may indeed consider this work dangerous. I would then recommend not doing it. I have worked with many people with horrific trauma in their past. I have worked with people with incredible depression with complex medical problems. I have worked with people having regular hallucinations in their daily life. I have worked with someone having labor contractions about to have a baby (they wanted to keep their appointment!). In all these circumstances I was the one scared that this would somehow "not be okay". But I find as long as I'm respectful and ask permission, things turn out okay. Maybe sometimes scary, sometimes painful, but okay.
Can this open up difficult feelings?
Yes. It tends to open up all feelings, and just doing that is usually difficult. It's not necessarily logical. It has been said that to feel deeply is equivalent to being alive. A great many people have lived their lives shut down from feeling. People live this way for good reason. They do it as a means of survival from past trauma. This is how they learned to surive. But in doing this they can be shut down to what it feels like to be truly alive and present in their lives. It's usually at least a bit scary to change this. Every time someone opens up their trust and explores, like what happens when sharing dreams, they give up some control. It's a risk. It's a risk to trust somebody. Many people have gotten traumatized when they have trusted in the past. They have gotten hurt when they've been vulnerable and opened up. So many people choose to never take a risk again. “Some people stay far away from the door, if there's a chance of it opening up..." - Billy Joel, (from An Innocent Man). But difficult feelings like grief and sorrow are a part of life. "Bringing grief and death out of the shadow is our spiritual resonsibility, our sacred duty. By doing so we may be able to feel our desire for life once again and remember who we are, where we belong, and what is sacred... it doesn't have to be depressing" - Francis Weller
In my experience with dreamwork you get both sides of the equation. If you acknowledge feeling fear in one place, there will usually be adventure and excitement that opens in another place. If you find sorrow in one place, there will be joy that you will find in another. If you find pain, you will find love too. It's just not necessarily logical. It's not linear. But it's incredibly rewarding to discover. I have found people that come with "nightmares" or traumatic dreams are already feeling that energy in their daily life as they go through their waking life. They have put the feeling "in their shadow" as Carl Jung might say. And there is stays. They haven't brought it to light. Often the person feels there's been no safe place to release it. So it lives there. They often aren't "at peace with themselves" in daily life they will admit. There's something traumatic already "living" within them on some level, they already know it, they already know they aren't at peace on some level. I have found that even if I do nothing other than be a supportive ear, the courage the person has to come to me and "release" the dream to me may be enough to change the way they feel. Maybe even change the way they relate to the world. Sometimes I will point out that there was an option or hope in the dream that they hadn't seen before. But just the very act of sharing can be rewarding. When someone experiences trauma, they often feel 1) alone 2) that they have no choice 3) that they have no voice. By sharing a traumatic dream with another, even if nothing is "done" other than sharing, that person is no longer alone with it. And, on some level, they have used their voice.
Can this open up great feelings?
Yes. Absolutely. See above. Why would anyone embark on a journey or begin exploring without anticipating something greater because of it?
Can this type of self exploration traumatize or re-traumatize a person?
Yes. Every practitioners I know of this work is very aware of this. There's a long and unfortunate pattern of re-traumatizing people with inner exploration work. That's why everything I do I try to ensure I have permission to do. And that's why I do this work personally myself. There is a code of ethics we as practitioners adhere to as best possible. There is often indeed traumatic content to dreams. Sometimes it can be extreme. I may or may not explore these dreams. I will often simply acknowledge the courage of the person to share this type of dream. On some level they are often "reliving" it by telling it.
What is the significance of nightmares?
A nightmare is a dream. Often one with fear as a component. My friend and colleaugue Sue Scavo has an interesting writing on this that I recommend.
"But my dreams aren't relevant"
Familiar comments I hear: ”But my dream was just about a video I just watched.” or “This dream was just about my work day” or “But I know this dream was just because I had an argument” ... “But that was a nothing dream." These are common comments and I often wake up from my dream and think the same sort of comments. I now know the truth is that there's more to it, if you want to open that door (often showing up as a door in dreams). Dreams will often speak in a language you recognize. For someone that watches a lot of movies or telvision series, the characters and scenarios presented in dreams that link to the movies are often significant to the dreamer. But it's often hidden in the dream until one inquires further. Most people that come to me say "this is a nothing dream". Then, with permission, we open it up. And the vast majority of the time... it's not a "nothing dream". It often seems to have a hundred meanings, and sometimes, neither of us has a clue what's going on with a dream. And that's okay. Often the very act of asking questions opens up a potential in that person that I won't understand, and often, they have another dream that clarifies things, or they find meanings weeks or months later.
Why do some dreams seem so real, yet unrelated to my current life?
I often don't know. But the stories, even if unfamiliar, in dreams can be very powerful. The feelings can be powerful. Sometimes I will advise people to try forgetting the dream images for a moment, and capture the feeling. And ask the question, "Is there a reason you may need to feel this feeling in your life right now?" The answer is usually yes. Some people claim that you tap into either 1) a collective unconscious memory or 2) lineage connected to genetics memory or 3) a past life lineage. Of course, I have no idea which, if any, of these is true. Maybe none. But for some people it's very real and they need to grasp to one of these explanations as truth. And I don't take that away. Because the truth is... I don't know. But the primal nature of the reactions that occur seems far beyond the experiences of this lifetime so often. I personally have said so many times "I know I had a difficult childhood, but this dream is intense beyond anything I've experienced..." And in my experience, when someone opens their own door and considers the possibilities for themself, they often gain what seems more insight about their own waking life and they tend to be able to take more control over their own life situations.