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The Existential Moment: On Dreamwork

“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” 

We all know the tale of The Wizard of Oz. A tornado sweeps a young girl named Dorothy away from her home in Kansas, along with her small dog Toto, to the mystical land of Oz. To get home, she must see “the great and powerful Wizard of Oz,” who lives far away in the Emerald City. There is Glinda the Good Witch, the yellow brick road, magic ruby slippers, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Dorothy endures a perilous, wonderous journey through the dreamlike landscape of Oz. She develops new friends, faces her fears, and overcomes the obstacles that stand in her way on her journey to the Emerald City. Ultimately, Dorothy learns she always had the power to return home herself. She just needed to learn that for herself. So, with three clicks of the heals of those ruby slippers and “there’s no place like home,” Dorothy transports back to Kansas.

What she did, however, was wake up. It was a dream all along, it seems. And she woke transformed, profoundly appreciative of friends and family, more confident in her sense of agency and courage, and so on.

Questions endure about the origin or meaning of dreams, from unconscious, repressed desires and archetypal symbols of the collective unconscious to modern theories about memory consolidation, emotional processing, and problem-solving. Regardless, dreams are one thing most surely: an opportunity. Take it!

Existential-Humanistic therapy draws its way of working with dreams from its humanistic heritage. Notably, it approaches dreamwork with the same emphasis on presence and experience as therapy. Furthermore, it avoids one-sized fits all dream interpretations. 

With that in mind, ask the client to retell the dream in the present tense, in a verbal play-acted description. The retelling offers rich material for deepening and re-experiencing. Then ask which parts are intriguing, fascinating, or disturbing; ask what matters. Aim to expand the client’s experience and, thus, awareness, exploring meaningful themes or patterns.

Freud said dreams were “the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious.” Maybe so, but certainly, they are “a yellow brick road” to healing and growth.

Links to Related Blog Posts:

Read more posts about presence in E-H therapy on EHI’s blog. 

Read more posts about how E-H therapy is experiential on EHI’s blog. 

Read all the Existential Moment series posts on EHI’s blog.

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