I’ve always been interested in dreams and the messages they have to tell us.  When I went to graduate school, we did a bit of dreamwork using active imagination where we looked at and embodied our dreams from different perspectives of the elements and characters in the dream.  It was quite interesting and energizing to look at this subconscious material.  The activity often led to increased creativity and self awareness.  Since that time, I’ve attended a few workshops on the topic, continue to keep my own dream journal,  and I make sure that I pay attention to dreams that people bring in and present in their therapy sessions.

Several years ago, I was a member of a local dreamwork group and it was one of the best things I’ve ever participated in. And in recent years, I’ve been inspired to begin giving my own workshops and facilitating my own dreamwork groups.  Below is more information about this type of work(fun) and a case example to give a better idea about the kind of stuff that is brought into consciousness and enacted in the group.

Well known psychiatrist, Carl Jung based much of his work on the principles of dreams and alchemy.  He believed that each dream was a treasure waiting to be explored.

“Dreams are illustrations from the book your soul is writing to you”, he wrote.

Jungian Psychoanalyst Robert Bosnak pioneered a therapeutic way of working with dreams called, Embodied Imagination  His work was based on principles of dream interpretation and active imagination developed by Jung and american archetypal psychologist, James Hillman.

Embodied imagination is a technique where the members of a group work with the images, symbols, archetypes, associations, etc. of the dream presented by one person from the group.  They do this by first imagining themselves in the dream in real time, paying attention to things like body sensations, emotions, thoughts, behaviors.

In order to explore and re-experience the dream, all group members may be directed to close their eyes and drop into a meditative state. Throughout the group, members will be moving in and out of this state in order to ask questions, provide feedback, and discuss associations with parts of the dream and/or the dream as a whole.

One member of the group (the dreamer) begins by telling the dream as if it were happening in the present moment.  Each group member experiences the dream as if they themselves were in the dream environment.

When working with the dream it can be viewed as being a whole, total representation of one’s psyche, and at the same time, according to James Hillman, “The psyche is not just a singular unified whole defined by the ego point of view, but rather a self-organizing multiplicity of autonomous selves.”  When working with dreams using embodied imagination, each of these “parts” or “selves” represents different ego perspectives that the dreamer may be asked to explore, feel, sense, and identify with.

Typically, the dreamer is asked who they are in the dream, if they are present at all, or if they function as sort of a narrative for the particular dream.  The dream is then explored from different perspectives or parts of the dream, not just the perspective from which you tell the dream.  Besides looking at it from different perspectives, things to consider about the dream include things like how might the dream change if a particular part was amplified or diminished?  The dreamer may give names and/or voices to the different parts.   Some other examples of dream exploration include beginning to look at and imagine what associations, symbols, metaphors, archetypes that appear in the dream.  The dreamer may title the dream.  When you title the dream, it helps you clarify what the dream as a whole means for you.  Group members will provide feedback about their experiences, feelings, thoughts, associations, from their experience having been in the dream environment.

There is a certain creative tension that the dreamer and the group hold when moving from the the different perspectives.  At the end of the dream work session, the dreamer often reports experiencing a feeling of expansiveness that comes from having brought conscious awareness to the dream material.

So why do this type of work?

What are some of the benefits of dreamwork?

  1.  Increase creativity. (In 1965, Paul McCartney woke from a dream and played the music for the song, Yesterday.)  In fact, many artists report getting music, lyrics, poetry, etc.. from dreams.
  2.  You can begin to notice patterns;  When you being to recognize patterns, themes, and characters in your dreams, you get a window into your subconscious.
  3. The more you work with your dreams, the more your dream recall improves. (Putting pen and paper by your bed at night to write or draw your dream will help with dream recall.  It is easy to dismiss or rationalize dreams away, instead of remembering this valuable material.  It takes focus at first to prioritize dream recall, but it does improve over time.)
  4. Increase self awareness.
  5. Some report that dreamwork helps them to cultivate their own psychic abilities.
  6. Your problem solving skills increase.  When you dream, your mind creates new neural pathways and connects ideas in different ways.  According to the latest neuroscience research, as a result of your mind being in a different state when dreaming.
  7. Keeping a dream journal and working creatively with your dreams, is a lot of fun.  It makes life interesting.


Some people report having difficulty remembering their dreams.  With intention and making a point to keep a dream journal by your bed to write or draw the components of your dreams, you’ll find that you will be able to recall your dreams more frequently.

Another objection some people have to do dreamwork may be that you’re dreams frighten you; you have nightmares.

Many people find their nightmares decrease in intensity when brought into the light of consciousness and they are explored with support and curiosity.  Nightmares typically include some negative or unpleasant dream images.  According to Jung, every figure in your dream is a part of yourself. The parts of ourselves that we don’t particularly like or are afraid of, he referred to as “The Shadow.” When The Shadow shows up in a nightmare, it’s often some part of ourselves that we don’t like or want to acknowledge.

Individuals working with a “bad dream” sometimes identify the negative or scary parts as some sort of warning, a behavior that no longer serves them, or a more primitive part of themselves.

*Please note that if you are currently working through trauma, dreamwork may be contraindicated.  However, please consult your therapist or psychologist because bringing a dream into your therapy session may be helpful in your process.  A dreamwork group is different than a therapy group, even though there are many therapeutic benefits to attending (see above for the specific benefits of  group dreamwork)

Here is an example of a dream that was told to me recently.  We used the dreamwork technique of Embodied Imagination to process it.

The dreamer told the dream in real time.  A friend and I are going for a walk around our neighborhood. She says that we have one stop to make because another person wants to join us.  I say, “no problem”.  We go up to the front door of the a house on the street, and…..who comes to the door? The Grim Reaper~ With the black cape, sickle, skeleton….the whole nine yards!   He just says “Hi”, like it’s no big deal and walks out with us.  So the three of us continue walking down the street.   and then I wake up.”

At first, if you dreamed this dream, you might identify it as a nightmare, right? Maybe?

After she told the dream we began to explore it more deeply.  I asked about how she was feeling throughout the dream, and how she felt in her body.

The dreamer stated feeling calm and comfortable with her friend in the beginning, and agreeable to including another person in their walk.  She said that she was startled at seeing who answered the door, and a little scared but then when they began walking together, she reverted to feeling calm again and enjoying the walk and the company. I asked the woman to take on the role of the Grim Reaper. She referred to herself as “death”.  By doing so, she talked from “death’s” point of view and was able to say why she wanted to join the two women for this walk.  I also asked questions about this character that included looking at symbolism and associations she had with “death”.   Ultimately, the woman (as “death”) said that People are often afraid of me, and take me literally.  This can be disappointing.  I’m really not that scary most of the time.  Sometimes I just represent something ending in a person’s life.  In this case, the dreamer identified that the ending in her life  was a job that she had outgrown and wanted to leave.  She explained that she was initially scared by the dream when she woke up, but after telling it and looking at it more closely, she recognized that her calm and contentment at the end of the dream was actually comforting. She told me that while endings can be difficult and mean saying Goodbye, they can also mean saying Hello to something even better. Optimistically, she said, “I’m thinking that ultimately this transition may just work out.”

Sometimes there is no clear resolution to a situation that presents itself in a dream, and that’s okay.  But that is where the active imagination and dream exploration can assist with getting more clear about the types of questions and information you may be holding currently.  Or something to think about from the past or future.

When I was in the dream group, we talked about people having a couple different types of dreams.  Some were less intense and meaningful and seemed to be more about “day residue” or working out something that was left over from their day to day life.  Other times, people have what are referred to as “Big Dreams”.

According to Jungian psychology, the contents of these dreams are representative of some type of universal archetype or myth.  Some types of archetypes include: the “orphan”, the “lover”, the “hero”, etc.. These dreams can be representative of what Jung calls the “collective unconscious”.  The collective unconscious, according to the dictionary definition is the part of the unconscious mind that is derived from ancestral memory and experience and is common to all humankind, as distinct from the individual’s unconscious.  The themes have universal associations; for example, the idea of “home”, “marriage”, a “quest”, “good vs. evil”, “birth and death”, etc.. According the Jung, “The unconscious mind uses symbols, metaphors, and archetypes to convey meaning.”

Robert Bosnak: “When you pay attention to your dreams, you inhabit a much larger part of your soul.”

What are your dreams communicating to you?