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Dreams & Therapy

Montangero (2009) pointed out that in using the cognitive approach to dream analysis, the therapist follows the basic tenets of cognitive-behavioral therapy and that they help the individual to enhance their cognitive skills in order to be able to alleviate their psychological distress.

For example, in the treatment of nightmares, one of the methods that are used with the cognitive approach is imagery rehearsal therapy. The basic premise of the approach is that those who have recurring nightmares and are experiencing insomnia, later come to understand that insomnia is brought on by anxiety. Unlike cognitive experiential dream theory, the approach does not integrate other theoretical orientations. The approach to nightmares and the treatment of them is aligned with cognitive experiential dream approaches as the individual has the opportunity to revise their dream if they have an unpleasant dream. Although the scary dreams may not disappear altogether, they may lessen in frequency. The researcher discussed cognitive distortions with regard to dreams. The researcher described cognitive distortions as a form of what he termed as "dichotomous thinking." In other words, the dreamer is thinking in terms that appear to be extremely similar to what is termed "all or nothing" thinking. And in exploring an interpretation of a dream that contains a cognitive distortion, it is important to identify them in the dream. The researcher noted that during the exploration of dreams, it can be possible to use cognitive restructuring. For example, the author noted the dreamer had dreamt that he had been intimately involved with another woman but that it caused him distress. The situation in the dream as the dreamer later learned in therapy, had more of a connection to understanding that his marriage lacked intimacy, and rather than wait for years to divorce, he would wait one year. The researcher also gave an example of a dream in which a woman is assaulted and about to be raped, but suddenly decides that she wants to engage in a pleasurable said sexual situation with the rapist. The dreamer felt empowered. Although the woman had been suffering from insomnia, she realized through the dream that the reason she was distressed and had difficulty sleeping, was because she was anxious and felt that she did not have control of her life. The researcher pointed out that dreams can also reveal what is known which in cognitive behavioral therapy is known as core beliefs. The dreamer in the scenario felt incredible guilt if she did not please the people in her life including her boss. She feared the people in her life would withdraw love from her and exact revenge. The therapist in the scenario, helped the dreamer to understand that it was her maladaptive thinking that was causing many of the stressors in her life.

The cognitive experiential dream model differs from cognitive behavioral dream work in that it integrates several other theoretical orientations drawn from the work of Carl  Rogers, Freud, Jung, Gestalt, phenomenological, and cognitive-behavioral approaches. The model incorporates three different stages that include exploration, insight, and action. The researchers pointed out that each stage of the process brings about the opportunity to explore dream imagery as well as find meaning within the dream content which then can lead the dreamer to determine a course of action drawn from the exploration and insight gained during those stages. The researchers noted that the therapist or the dream workers do not represent dream content experts and generally do not provide interpretations, but act as guides in collaboration with a dreamer and the meaning related to the dream. The therapist uses the dreamer as an active participant and collaborator in the exploration of dreams. The stage of exploration is conducted in-depth and allows the therapist through curiosity and questioning to get to know the client. The clients are encouraged to discuss the dream as though it were happening in the present moment. The collaboration includes encouraging the dreamer to select up to five images that they would like to discuss in more detail drawn from either a scene, or object in the dream,  an individual in the dream, or a moment in the dream. Dreamers are encouraged to identify associations to the images as well as to identify any triggers. The process is thorough and then the dreamer and therapist work slowly through it. During the insight stage, the dreamers are encouraged to attach meaning to the dreams using emotions, thoughts, and memories that in some way may relate to the images that were looked at in-depth in the earlier stage. The action stage is also collaborative and involves encouraging the dreamer to explore the messages of the dream which can be applied to their waking life. For example, the dreamers are encouraged to consider whether they believe they need to make changes and if so, they are encouraged to take action and make choices. Another aspect of the approach is that the dreamer is encouraged to revise the dream in terms of what they would keep, and what they would change. This approach can be valuable as it helps the dreamers to empower themselves and view themselves as the creators of the dreams. Therapists also encourage their clients to evaluate the whole process in the dream and explore areas that worked well, and those that did not work as well and how the dreamer felt about the dream.

 What is the value and benefit of using dreams and therapy?

Hill and Spangler  (2009) noted the value of using dream work in therapy relates to the fact that the individual working with a therapist has the opportunity to become empowered. For example, in the cognitive experiential dream model, dreamers are encouraged to revise their dreams and change the events of the dream around as well as the ending. Therefore, they may benefit by taking more control of their lives rather than feeling helpless and as victims of circumstances.

Montangero (2009) noted cognitive dreamwork can help individuals gain an awareness of the way thoughts influence behavior. In addition, individuals can also increase their awareness of their self-judgment as well as the judgment of others. Dream imagery may also reveal the individuals' cognitive distortions which may be at the root of many of their problematic behavior as the author noted. Becoming aware of cognitive distortions can lead to cognitive restructuring when the client is led by the therapist. Using cognitive restructuring and reframing situations can be helpful in making positive changes. Dreams can also reveal maladaptive thoughts and core beliefs. Once the client develops their awareness around those dysfunctional thoughts, positive changes can begin to happen. For example, as the dreamer's awareness of dysfunction is increased, the work of reframing can provide a more positive perspective on the individual's view of their lives. Sparrow (2013) noted that research supports that using dreamwork enhances the therapeutic process and helps to engender progress more quickly. The researcher noted that dream work in therapy is also instrumental in being able to increase exploration as well as self-disclosure. As the researcher noted, the sharing of dream content can also be instrumental in increasing the level of trust between the dreamer and the therapist which can lead to positive outcomes in therapy.  With the use of cognitive experiential therapy, the client and the therapist collaborate. Hence, the client becomes an active participant in the interpretation of the dreams which leads to greater engagement between the therapist and the client. Kline and Hill (2014) pointed out that the cognitive experiential dream model has received empirical validation but also has been instrumental for clients to delve more deeply into understanding their thoughts, feelings, and actions. As collaborators, the clients have the opportunity to consider the narrative of the dream and what action they would take to affect changes in their lives based upon what was learned from the dream. The benefit of the Hill model of dreamwork focuses upon the three stages they provide us an opportunity to construct meaning from the dream. One of the benefits is that the exploration stage is it is thorough takes more time. For example, the clients describe the images in great detail in many cases using the five senses. While they are experiencing the dream, the clients are able to focus on the feelings that were brought out in the dream.  Engaging in this process is beneficial and relates to how the client makes associations.  They can later provide a greater interpretation of the meaning that is drawn from the dream. 

                                                Dream Analysis

A person I recently worked with recently had a frightening dream in which he was confronted and pursued by two men who were covered in tattoos and were wielding knives. One of them made close contact with him physically so that he was able to see his face which was covered with tattoos that included images of arrows. In the dream, he managed to elude them, but they eventually caught up with him. I  used the cognitive experiential approach in working with a dream in order to change the events in the dream. I encouraged the client to mentally rewrite and revise the dream so that rather than being pursued and then found by these knife-wielding assailants, he would tap into his inner and physical strength in order to disable these men. Hence, empowering himself. Perhaps in his waking life, he may have felt vulnerable to the extent that he could become the victim of circumstances beyond his control. By tapping into his physical strength as well as his inner strength, the capacity to confront his attackers would be enhanced. Rather than become helpless, he would become empowered, and he would be able to face his fears as well as disable them. Perhaps these assailants might be a representation of his fears. If so the message in the dream by the act of rewriting it , has a more positive tone in that it leads him to overcome his fears, or as is often said to feel his fears but to strengthen the ability to pursue overcoming them. 

Bulkeley  (2018) pointed out the importance of being able to study dreams in order to search for meaning as well as patterns that consist of key messages. The researcher explained that keeping a dream journal and analyzing the symbols of the dream can lend insight. For example, the researcher noted that Carl Jung in his work found that the dreams of the individuals that were in treatment with him helped guide him to understand some of the reasons for his patient's distress, and also helped to lead the way towards resolving some of the distress. In my client's dream, he was overcome by fear and struggled to be able to confront the nature of those fears which in the dream appeared as a  marauding group of men. The researcher also explained that the nature of dream content is continuous but also contains behaviors that also contain meaning. For example, the researcher noted that an individual who may find that they dream about sexual aggression may harbor sexual fantasies or aggression in their waking life. . As such, the researcher pointed out, there is a connection between what the individual dreams and the actions he or she takes or the thoughts that he or she has in waking life. In the client's waking life, he may experience anxiety or fears about the pandemic in terms of his health, and therefore in his dreams, he is also preoccupied with fears that are symbolized by violent men who wish to harm me as his dream indicated. 

Number one how did you feel about the process, and what was the outcome of your analysis?

The process of dream analysis helps to strengthen my understanding of the depth of insight that can be attained through the process of keeping a dream journal. Sparrow (2013) noted that the process of analyzing dreams can result in positive outcomes in terms of the work that can be done in the therapeutic encounter. One of the aspects which is key to the success concerning dream analysis is the motivation that the individual brings to the work of analyzing dreams and keeping a dream journal as the researcher explained. In my experience, I felt like an active participant and enthusiastic about recording my dreams and then later using the cognitive experiential approach to take a closer look at the meaning of my dreams. The process helps me to understand the complexity of my dream life and how old is connected to my waking life. For example, I realized that I had many anxious preoccupations during the day and therefore my dream life reflected those anxieties. However, by using an approach in which I could alter the narrative in my dream, I felt a sense of empowerment that carried over to my waking life in that I was able to use techniques to alleviate my daily anxieties and consciously worked on this. Once I recognized the extent of my preoccupations, I began to more intensely practice deep breathing and guided visualizations. As a result, my dreams have been vivid but have not contained the violent imagery that appeared in the original dream.


Bulkeley, K. (2018). The meaningful continuities between dreaming and waking: Results of a blind analysis of a woman's 30-year dream journal. Dreaming, 28(4), 337-350.

Kline, K. V., & Hill, C. E. (2014). Client involvement in the exploration stage of the hill cognitive-experiential dream model. Dreaming, 24(2), 104-111.

Lewis and Krippner (2016) 

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