Imaginary fields: the cultural construction of dream interpretation in three
contemporary British dreamwork groups.
Iain Ross Edgar
PhD in Social Anthropology.
University of Keele.
Dreams have, since time immemorial, both reflected the culture of those who dream them and have been used by them, with or without the help of soothsayers, to shape their personal lives and that of the culture of which they form part. Anthropologists have also, since the beginning of their discipline, commented on and analysed dreams in diverse cultures and in turn derived from these and other analyses, theoretical principles and approaches.
In the modern world, and particularly in the twentieth century, first individual and then group therapies have incorporated the narration and analysis of dreams into their methods. More recently still, this process has been, at least partially, democratised and the therapist acting on the individual patient has transformed her/himself into the dreamwork facilitator and resource person for a, more or less, autonomous group.
In this research I established and jointly facilitated three dreamwork groups in order to use experiential groupwork methods to demonstrate the articulation of embodied, but implicit, knowledge. In my analysis of the group process I use anthropological concepts derived from the survey of literature at the beginning of my thesis.
The analysis proper proceeds in four stages.
The first is concerned with “dreamwork”, the way that the narration to and within the group can be shown to be collectively converted into a verbally expressed narrative of an experience seen as having hitherto been concealed and confined to the imagination.
Second, I turn to the analysis of structure and process in the group itself and the communicative context in which this dreamwork took place.
Third, I use an hermeneutic analysis to unpick the emic and etic interpretive, and to some degree feminist-inspired, perspectives used by the group to make sense of the narratives they have collectively created.
Finally, I move outwards to the processual, meaning-creating and outcome, analysis of such groupwork methods as gestalt, psychodrama and imagework which are used to elicit meaning from narrated dream imagery.
I conclude that dreams are transformations of cultural symbols and that their interpretation is an example of what Obeyesekere, significantly calling on both psychoanalysis and cultural analysis, has called “the work of culture”.
I should like to thank the following for their help with the development of this thesis: Professor Ronnie Frankenberg for his initial encouragement and for his valuable tutorial guidance throughout the project; David Brooks for his enthusiastic and inspiring advice and criticism; Kirsten Hastrup for her invitation to give a paper on the initial findings of my study in a workshop, ‘Social Experience and Anthropological Knowledge’, organised by herself and Peter Hervik at the 1992 European Association of Social Anthropology annual conference; the Department of Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Northumbria for its support, and particularly to my colleagues in that department for enabling me to have a sabbatical term to write up my findings; to the following anthropological colleagues for their interest and advice along the way: Suzette Heald, Jenny Hockey, Alison James, Marie Johnson, Tammy Kohn, Peter Philimore, Andrew Russell, Bob Simpson and Malcolm Young; and finally, to the members of the dreamwork groups studied for their continued support and interest.
Chapter One: The Social Anthropological Approach
Chapter Two: Methodology
Chapter Three: The Cultural Dynamics of Narration
Chapter Four: The Group
Chapter Five: Emic and Etic Classifications of Dreams
Chapter Six: Method and Meaning
Conclusion: Dreamwork and ‘The Work of Culture’
Appendix One: “Dreaming as Ethnography”
Appendix Two: Semi-Structured Interview Schedule
Appendix Three: Table of members’ backgrounds
page 35 Figure 1
page 179 Figure 2
Dreaming is a universal aspect of being human. It appears to be the most private and hidden activity which is usually perceived as being both unpredictable and often incomprehensible. Yet most human societies have sought to understand dream imagery and many have accorded such imagery and its interpretations high, even prophetic, significance. The paradoxical and ambivalent position of the dream is well illustrated in Western industrialised societies where on the one hand ‘interpreting dreams’ is seen as a highly specialised task reserved for psychoanalysts and needing a long and challenging training. On the other hand, dreaming is denigrated as being wholly illusory, as being just a ‘dream’ and of no consequence.
Mediating this dichotomy is, of course, a substantial popular interest in dream material and there are numerous tabloid newspaper features on ‘the meaning of dreams’. Dream images are seen as directly translatable into typical meanings and there are many ‘dream dictionaries’ (e.g. Gonzalez-Wippler 1989). Indeed a popular culture of dream interpretation is evident throughout historical times in many societies as Parsifal-Charles (1986) shows in her encyclopaedic and historical review of writing about dream interpretation through the ages.
Moreover the concept of the dream and its metaphorical use are widespread in English speaking contemporary society. We refer to the ‘dream’ as being a normative feature of each of the stages of life. The ‘dreams’ of youth are contrasted with the disillusion, cynicism and ‘lost dreams’ of old age. The ‘dream’ of the ‘good life’ is seen as a fundamental dynamic in both the construction of human ambition and in the development of a shared social contract. Social dreams are embedded in human institutions. We dream of ‘getting on’; of being carefree and fulfilled in our relationships; of ‘falling in love’ and so sharing ‘love’s dream’. Popular music pours out a continuous repertoire of dream references usually about romantic love of the ilk “I’m dreaming of you!” and its endless, perhaps repetitive, cycle of hope and loss. Societies can be founded on dreams as is the case with the ‘American dream’ and provide a form of charter myth (Malinowski 1954:116). The well known ‘dreamtime’ of Australian aboriginal groups fundamentally constructs their cosmological world-view and social structure. Religious thought, in general, is imbued with anticipatory, visionary hope of the life to come, and the imagery of the consequences of moral choice.
Indeed the current situation regarding the evaluation of dream in Westernised societies is even more perplexing when we try to differentiate between vision and dream. Whereas a ‘dream’ can be discounted as ‘just a dream’, a ‘vision’, whether that of the leader or manager, is highly regarded as a core ability. Sometimes there is even a conflation of these two terms as when Martin Luther King started his famous final speech by saying, ‘I have a dream….’ Such examples well illustrate our social ambivalence about mental imagery, ‘the pictures in our mind’. In short we are both individually and socially replete with socially constructed imagery in which the notion of the dream is a fundamental feature in our collective formation of anticipated futures, and remembered or imagined pasts.
However this thesis is not primarily concerned with the analysis of the concept of ‘dream’ per se. Whilst there is evidently ambiguity and even laxity, in the referential meaning of the word dream, in this thesis I am using the term, unless specified otherwise, to describe the particular mental imagery experienced in sleep.
The focus of the thesis is a study of a sequence of dreamwork groups run by myself and a groupwork partner from September 1989 to June 1990. The origin of the idea for the thesis began earlier and developed in part from a series of dreams I experienced whilst undertaking fieldwork for my M.Phil thesis into the use of myth, ritual and symbol in a British therapeutic community for adolescents. I subsequently made an analysis of the possible formative impact of these images on the development of the themes in my Master’s thesis in a paper ‘Dreaming as Ethnography’ given at the 1989 Association of Social Anthropology Annual Conference: Anthropology and Autobiography and I reproduce this in Appendix one as part of the reflexive account of the construction of this thesis. Hillman (1989:137) has also suggested that dreams can provide the ethnographer with important insights into emotional and conflicting aspects of the fieldwork situation.
My interest in studying the social meaning of dreamwork was crystallised by my reading of Tedlock’s ‘Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Perspectives’ (1981a). This was an edited volume of papers from a North American seminar which signified a new approach, that of the ‘communicative theory’, in social anthropology to understand both the personal and social significance of dreaming and it confirmed for me the scholarly value of studying created dreamwork groups in British society which appeared not to have been done before.
I have a number of intentions in this thesis. First I contextualise the study of dreamwork from historical and religious as well as from psychological and social anthropological perspectives. I describe the methodology of the study, and the construction of three ten week dreamwork groups that I ran over a period of a year. I describe and analyse how group participants established meaning and significance between day/night imagery and current life events. The establishment of meaning will include a focus on how the group process and various groupwork methods, such as gestalt and psychodrama, amplified and developed this meaning-making process for the narrator of the dream. In this way the communicative context of dream narration will be explored. One particular interest is to illustrate a process of transformation that is at the heart of dream interpretation and which sheds light upon the nature of our understanding of both self and world, that between the perceived internal image – the dream image – of the dreamer and its translation into a social and personal meaning for the individual dreamer and also sometimes for the group.
I also seek to show how the different interpretive approaches used by group members constituted a set of values, assumptions and processes about the relation of dream imagery to daytime life experiences. This constitutes in fact the equivalent of an emic dream theory.
The ethnographic parts of the thesis address the following questions:
a) What is the transformative process between the dream image and the formation of a socially constructed meaning for that image?
b) Are dreams experienced as meaningful by the group members?
c) How are dreams experienced as meaningful by group members?
d) How do group members perceive dream, and sometimes day imagery, as meaningful in relation to their current life events?
e) What themes emerge from the processes of dream discussion and interpretation?
f) How are these emerging themes linked to social issues such as a gendered awareness of personal development, and racist stereotyping?
g) What is the communicative context of these groups?
h) How does the communicative context develop and influence the understandings and interpretations arrived at by group members?
i) What is the impact of dreams and dream interpretations on waking life? In that sense how do dreams influence reality?
j) Do dreams become collective for the group?
The above basic questions are answered by the thesis as a whole. Within this framework:
Chapter one presents social anthropological perspectives on dreaming and also locates the key theoretical perspectives.
Social anthropologists have developed theories to analyse how dream material and its interpretation is socially constructed in specific and very different societies. I use these cultural perspectives on the role, function and use of dreams to inform my awareness of the value of dream material in Western industrialised societies.
In this chapter I also review the historical development of dream theory, beginning with the work of Tylor in the nineteenth and Rivers in the early twentieth century. I continue by considering the influence of perspectives derived from Freud in the twenties and thirties. Although, of course, Rivers himself was also greatly influenced by Freudian theory (1910: 387), as was Seligman (1923) in his search for ‘Type dreams’, which intended to show universal latent meaning in dreams across all societies. Likewise Lincoln’s (1935) work on the distinction between ‘individual’ and ‘culture pattern’ dreams is also noted. I describe the ‘content analysis’ approach of the 1950s and 60s, which attempted to quantify and analyse dream imagery cross-culturally in order to show patterns of cultural and personality variables.
The development of ethnopsychiatry in the 1950s by Devereux (1951) and his concept of the pathogenic dream is then considered, and the cross-cultural work of D’Andrade (1961), the conflict resolution approach of Crapanzano (1975), and Kuper’s (1979) structuralist attempt to compare the logic of myths with that of dream material.
Finally, I present Tedlock et al’s most recent work and their development of a new communicative theory of dreaming, which redefines the traditional boundary between psychological and anthropological approaches to dreaming. Their communicative theory of dream analysis proposes as the object of study, as I have already mentioned, the consideration of dream as a communicative event that involves the creative dynamics of narration, a study of the psychodynamic and cultural aspects of the group setting, and the indigenous dream theories of the society.
In chapter two I consider the methodology of the study and its impact on my findings. It begins with a reflexive account and analysis of my own historical interest and role within the dreamwork groups. I explore the dynamic between myself as researcher, dreamer and group facilitator. I discuss details of my research method including the use of participant observation and interviews and their effect on the outcome. I also discuss the ethics of research into the area of participants’ dreams, and issues of reliability, validity and sampling in the study. This chapter concerns especially the relationship between imaginative data and research findings. It also explores the current use and potential of artwork and vignettes in research. I go on to discuss the possible value of groupwork-based experiential methods derived from gestalt therapy, psychodrama, imagework, dreamwork and sculpting. I suggest methods of particular value when the research aim is to reach the implicit knowledge of the individuals and groups being studied. Bourdieu’s concepts of ‘the body’ and ‘habitus’ provide a way of conceptualising an embodied consciousness, which can be made manifest through the above methodologies. Finally, the epistemological and methodological potential of these methods are considered along with the implications of their adoption for the training of anthropologists and sociologists.
Chapters three to six present the substantive findings. In chapter three I discuss the process of narration of the dream in the group. I analyse the cultural dynamics of narration and accompanying theoretical issues. Chapter four focuses on the analysis of the group context and how that is related to the dreamwork. This includes stages of group formation; characteristics of group members; decision-making and leadership; conflict and communication; the development of group identity; trust and self-disclosure; and members’ evaluation of the group.
Chapter five analyses the interpretive approach of group members in order to present the overall emic and etic ‘dream theory’ of the group. Within this analysis I present a summary account of the theories being considered. There are various perspectives including:
a) a comparative religious perspective that sees the dreams as a message from ‘God’.
b) the Freudian approach in which dreamwork consists of decoding the latent meaning message disguised in the manifest message, which usually consists of primary-process wish-fulfilment. Here I give close attention to the distinction between primary and secondary thinking and between manifest and latent content;
c) the revised psychodynamic approach incorporates contemporary revisions to classical psychoanalytic perspectives. This approach emphasises the importance of manifest dream imagery and its value as a problem solving process that takes place as metaphor.
d) Jungian perspectives see personal symbolism as partaking of universal or ‘archetypal’ symbolism, and consequently dreamwork offers the opportunity of developing a deeper awareness of the self. The theory of the archetypes is presented together with Jung’s compensation theory of dreaming. I suggest that the group developed a form of ‘mini-archetype’ through its analysis and contemplation of key images. Jung’s development of the practice of active imagination is also included.
e) transpersonal psychology and its adaptation of Jungian theory and method.
f) I also introduce the Gestalt approach in which all aspects of the dream are perceived as an aspect of the self and their meaning is primarily derived from a conscious emotional experiencing of all parts of the dream.
g) socio-political perspectives are incorporated. These perspectives perceive all psychic imagery as derivative of an objective cultural situation. Interpretation should therefore seek to empower group members to shed oppressive social ideologies. For example interpreting the image of a black person in a dream as an example of the Jungian ‘shadow’ could be understood as racist. Explaining the image of a ‘witch’ as a negative aspect would be seen as oppressive by some feminists.
The chapter illustrates the usage of these different perspectives within the group and explains the inevitable eclecticism of interpretation. Group dream interpretation is therefore analysed as being derived from different competing but simultaneously held analytic paradigms. The amalgam of such analyses represents the equivalent of an emic dream theory. This ‘dream theory’ represents a cultural repertoire for understanding self and others within and through dream and other visual imagery. Examples of dreamwork utilising the different paradigms are presented.
Chapter six analyses the various groupwork methods used by the group and illustrates with substantial case studies the process by which these methods facilitated the elicitation of meaning from both dream and day imagery. Methods used by the group included: discussion and personal contextualisation; member suggestion, association and projection; pair and small group work; gestalt and psychodrama; artwork and imagework; symbol amplification (dream re-entry); meditation; and, finally, linguistic and metaphorical contextualisation, including punning. This chapter also summarises the ethnographic evidence that dreams influence the lives of the group members and therefore illustrates the second half of the proposition developed by Herdt:
that culture may actually change experience inside of dreams, or that the productions of dreaming do actually become absorbed and transfomed into culture (1987: 82).
The dream, its narration and interpretation can then be seen as generating both personal and group identity as well as future action. At the end of this chapter I consider the progression of members’ dream symbols, their change and development through the life of the groups.
The conclusion locates dreamwork within an overall context of metaphorical thought. Using the insights generated by Lakoff and Johnson (1980) into the metaphorical basis of our rationality and language, I show how metaphorical thought is the basis of both dream imagery and conscious awareness. Further, I establish that the insights generated by the group’s reflections on the dream data are created and validated by relating this data to the metaphorical meanings contained in ordinary language use. Overall, the thesis demonstrates the cultural specificity of dream imagery and dream interpretation, and offers insight into the social construction of both the unconscious and the interpretive process itself. Furthermore, the examples illustrate the problem-solving capacity of dream imagery and dreamwork, as well as exemplifying the metaphorical nature of cognition and language. Finally, I attempt to advance an understanding of the ‘work of culture’ as Obeyesekere defines it “(a) discontinuous movement from the ideational representatives of deep motivations to their transformations into culturally constituted symbolic forms” (1990:289). The ‘nonsense’ of dreams becomes the ‘sense’ and ‘meaning’ of everyday life, its categorisations, anticipations, affirmations and future actions.
CHAPTER ONE: THE SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL APPROACH
Anthropologists have historically been more concerned than sociologists with the study of dream as an aspect of the social life of the groups they studied. This probably arises from three intersecting factors. First, many of the societies they studied respected the dream and clearly acted upon the insights apparently gained from them. Secondly, therefore , the study of dream became a part of the holistic analysis that partly defined the enterprise of social anthropology. Thirdly, anthropologists were aware that dream and myth had similar features, both being sequences of vivid images and depending upon ‘inner visualisation for communication and impact’ (Kracke 1947:32).
Kracke regards myths and dreams as being “closely related”, and refers to Burridge’s use of the term ‘myth-dream’ to describe the situation in societies, such as Rastafarian cults, which do not make a clear separation of the two imaginative forms. Myths have been analysed as if they were the dreams of a culture (Abraham 1979:153-210). Moreover, as myth for Lévi-Strauss is a form of bricolage (1966:17) so the dream for Kracke is a form of bricolage which gathers,
from among the day residues ready to hand, and uses them to express metaphorically an emotional conflict, and to work out (or work toward) some resolution of it (1987:38).
Kracke demonstrates in his analysis of Kagwahiv Indian Amazonian society (1987:33) that the Kagwahiv Indians make a fruitful exchange between the associations and interpretations made from their myths and the way they explain their dream imagery to themselves. However, as well as similarities there are differences also, as whilst “a dream recounted ends as a narrative, a myth begins as one” (Kracke 1987:36).
Anthropologists have therefore been constantly confronted with their subjects’ concern and different evaluation of dream contents and alternative conceptions of the distinction between objective and subjective reality. Tylor (1871:88) perhaps began the cross-cultural interest in dreaming through his understanding of non-literate people’s lack of a hard distinction between reality and illusion (Parsifal-Charles 1986:477), and his perception that myth creation, mythogenesis, was a product of dreaming by way of animism. Freud’s work in the early twentieth century stimulated the first main phase of anthropological enquiry into dreaming. Seligman (1921;1923;1924;) sought to test the Freudian hypothesis that the latent meaning of dreams was universal across cultures (Tedlock 1987a:20). Colonial workers were invited to to provide manifest dream materials which were analysed to discover so-called ‘type-dreams’. This analysis was conducted without consideration of their cultural and communicative context. Later, Lincoln (1935:22) in his study of North American Indian dreams developed a distinction between “individual” and correspondingly unimportant dreams, and “culture pattern dreams” which were significant for the group and actively pursued. Although Lincoln perhaps is given the credit for the development of a typology of dreaming based on ethnographic research (Parsifal-Charles 1986:291) even his results are now considered ethnocentric (Tedlock1987a:21).
The 1940s and 1950s saw the development of the content theory of dream analysis (Hall 1951:60-3; Eggan 1952:469-485; Hall and Van de Castle 1966:17). This attempt to quantify and consequently to analyse cross-culturally partly reflected the culture and personality school of social anthropology. It has continued into the 1980s with the work of Gregor (1981:353). Indeed the content analysis of dreams is still used in psychological research. Catalano (1987), for example, recently sought to prove through content analysis that the dreams of emotionally disturbed adolescents are different from those of normal adolescents.
The voluminous extraction of dream symbolism by these anthropologists allowed the compilation of numerous manifest dream reports and their cross-cultural analysis for personality and cultural variables. Whilst this approach does attempt to value the dream positively as psychodynamically and culturally significant, it is, in fact, an approach that decontextualises dreams. The importance of dream narration, dream discourse and indigenous dream theory is almost entirely ignored. Moreover, Crapananzo (1981: 145-158) has argued that the ethnocentricism of the content analysis school of dream analysis is based on an epistemology that reduces language to a merely referential function.
The development of ethnopsychiatry from the 1950s onward by Devereux (1980) is another anthropological landmark in the analysis of dreaming. Devereux in his work with North American Indian groups sought to further integrate a Freudian approach into anthropological fieldwork (1951:139-168). He applied Freudian concepts of transference and reality-testing to dream reports as well as making a critical analysis of the concept of pathogenic dream (1966:213). He was concerned particularly with the notion of causality that underpins this concept.
In a study of a Crow Indian (1969:139) Devereux analysed his Indian patient’s dream within the cultural context of the Crow Indian vision quest and showed how he himself used this cultural context for therapeutic work with this patient. Devereux’s work effectively initiated the subject of ethnopsychiatry or transcultural psychiatry. For instance Devereux was able to use in therapy his Crow Indian patient’s cultural belief that success in the dream world anticipated successful behaviour in waking reality. He showed (1969:165) how the Crow Indian incorporated Devereux as therapist within the identity of a Crow Indian Spirit Being. Devereux facilitated the patient’s orientation to reality through the therapeutic use of his culturally sanctioned and prolific dreaming. However, as Obeyesekere has pointed out in his criticism of Devereux’s culturally specific reflexivity,
for Devereux the ‘manipulation of ethnic symbols’
may only provide ‘adjustment but not introspective self-awareness or ‘curative insight’ (1990:21).
Another psychoanalytically orientated anthropological approach to the analysis of dreams was that of D’Andrade (1961:327-8) who analysed the function of dreams in sixty-three societies, using material from Human Relations Area Files. D’Andrade concluded that dream usage arose out of anxiety, and that in hunter-gatherer societies, where there was a need for more self-reliance than in pastoral-agrarian societies there was also significantly increased use of dreams.
By the 1970s dreamwork was beginning to be considered within the context of the cultural system of which it was a part. Crapanzano (1975:145-158) analysed the metaphorical usage of saints and jnuns in the dreamworld of the Moroccan Hamadsha. He showed that personal use of particular dream symbols, and their performative function in terms of conflict recognition and possible solution, were firmly embedded within the ‘implicit folk psychology’ of the culture.
I have already noted that the similarity between myth and dream is an abiding theme in social anthropology. Kuper (1979:645-662) and Kuper and Stone (1982:1225-1234) attempted to apply the structuralist method of analysis of myth, developed by Lévi-Strauss (1963:206-231), to dream. Kuper considered that the similarity between myth and dream was that both are attempts to cope with problems of reality. These authors proceed to analyse certain dreams and dream sequences as if they constituted a systematic argument which used an ordered set of transformations to reach a resolution. In their analysis they attempt to show that the binary rules that structure mythical thought can be transposed to our understanding of dream content. Whether a structuralist approach of this kind marks a major breakthrough in the understanding of the dream in society is unclear. Tedlock recognised that Kuper had succeeded in discovering “underlying linguistically coded analytical rules” (1987a:27) within the dream narrative. However she and others have raised various criticisms of this approach. The observance of rules does not imply that such rules generate the dream material. Kracke (1987:50-52) as we have seen, argues that myth and dreams are also essentially different in that myths move from verbal narration to sensory imagery whilst dreams move from imagery to narration. Hence the narrative texts of dreams and myths, whilst related as we have already seen, are still dissimilar. Mannheim (1987:151) also implicitly criticises a structuralist analysis of dreaming by his rejection of the idea that structural laws can be discovered in the “narrative structure of dreams”. Rather he asserts that structural laws exist at the interface between culturally and historically specific interpretive and significatory systems. His view is based on his comparative study of Andean Indian systems of dream interpretation which found that, whereas their understandings of myth had hardly changed, those of dream interpretation had been almost completely transformed. He explained that there was “a fundamental difference between the way signs function in Andean dreams on the one hand, and in Andean ritual and myth on the other” (1987:149). This difference arrives because:
Quechua dream interpretations encode only the semantic dimension of language and thus have meaning only in terms of the immediate relationship between signifier and interpretant, while myths encode both the semantic and syntactic dimensions (Tedlock 1987a:28).
A structuralist approach can then be a part only of the cultural understanding of dream material, particularly as it is not concerned with the importance of the communicative context of the dream report itself.
Anthropologists have continued to develop the concept of the dream report. Tedlock suggested that the manifest dream content:
should be expanded to include more than the dream report. Ideally it should include dream theory or theories and ways of sharing, including the relevant discourse frames, and the cultural code for dream interpretation (1987a:25).
Tedlock describes this perspective as a communicative theory of dreaming. It has to consider the dream narration as a communicative event involving three overlapping aspects: the act and creation of narration, the psychodynamics of narration, and the emic interpretive framework. Such a theory considers the analysis of dream as more than that of an hermeneutically based text. It is also a social and cultural process or activity with expressive and instrumental outcomes. When this takes place then, we may take seriously Herdt’s proposition, already quoted above:
that culture may actually change experience inside of dreams, or that the productions of dreaming do actually become absorbed and transfomed into culture (1987:82).
The communicative theory of dreaming then, alerts us to the importance of the psychodynamics of the social setting and the interpretive framework of the participants. The social anthropologist is concerned with the analysis of an interpretive framework which necessarily structures both narration and interpretation.
Two examples from Tedlock’s edited volume (1987a) illustrate this important point. Basso (1987:86-88) relates her analysis of the dream theory of the Kalapalo Indians of Central Brazil to the differences between Freudian and Jungian perspectives on dreaming. Freud usually related dream imagery to the past whereas Jung saw such imagery as possible symbolic sketches of the dreamer’s future. Jung (1948:255-263) called this a prospective function of dreams, not to be confused with a prophetic function. Jung wrote:
(Dreaming) is an anticipation in the unconscious of future conscious achievements, something like a preliminary exercise or sketch, or a plan roughed out in advance. Its symbolic content sometimes outlines the solution of a conflict (1948:255).
Obeyesekere also sees a “progressive” role to dream imagery in that such imagery develops a “symbolic remove” from the deep motivation that occasions it (1990:17&57). Basso saw a progressive theory of dreaming as being those emic theories of dreaming that understood that dream imagery is future oriented in so far as the dreamer uses dream imagery and its symbolisation of current concerns to speculate upon, and orientate to, future goals of the self. Basso justifies this assertion by claiming:
Dreaming is also a performative event because it causes the future by revealing the dreamer’s life as it is encapsulated in current aspirations, moods and inchoately understood motivations and fears of an individual. The dreaming is thus less a matter about what will happen to a person than about the self becoming (1987:101).
Also in this volume, Tedlock (1987b:105-129) compared the different ways of dream sharing and dream interpretation between a Mexican and a Guatemalan group, the Zuni and the Quiche, to show how such differences are rooted in contrasting metaphysical and psychological systems. How the living and the deceased are differentially conceptualised is crucial to her analysis. This leads to wholly different interpretive results of similar imagery.
The Tedlock volume seeks to redefine the boundary between the psychology and the social anthropology of dreaming. The customary distinction between psychology’s field being the intra-personal and anthropology’s being the social is broken down. Psychology needs to understand how the dreamer uses concepts and language which are, of necessity, culturally based to narrate dreams. Anthropology, on the other hand, has to recognise that the communication and framing of dream narratives are always dependent upon emic dream theory. This development mirrors a more general fusion of self and society which has also been developed within contemporary feminist psychoanalysis (Eichenbaum & Orbach 1982:12). The intersection of self and society, and the dissolution of the subject/object distinction is once again a hallmark of the “embodiment paradigm” in anthropology discussed later in this chapter (Csordas 1990: 5).
The eighties have also seen the probable final collapse of the ‘Senoi’ theory and practice of dreaming. Stewart (1951:21-33), and later Garfield (1975:80-117) popularised the supposed dream usage of this tribal group in central Malaysia. The debate about the authenticity of their reports, based partly upon the work of anthropologists who studied the Senoi at an earlier date, has rivalled the debate over the authenticity of the Castaneda journals in its public impact (Castaneda et al 1970; Douglas 1975 193-200). Stewart, based on brief fieldwork, claimed that the Senoi were a uniquely peaceful and harmonious tribal group, without mental health problems. The cause of this happy state lay in their attitude to, and use of, dreams. Apparently each day the Senoi would hold “dream workshops” and would work collectively through interpersonal difficulties on the basis of interpreting their imagery. They acted upon their interpretations to avoid future conflicts. Senoi children were, he claimed, taught how to “incubate” dreams and thus to control their dream life. Stewart’s theories on Senoi dreamwork had a major impact on the developing dreamwork movement, particularly in the United States during the last fifteen years, and recently in Europe as well. Most popular dreamwork manuals are significantly influenced by this version of Senoi dreamwork (e.g. Williams 1984:301; Shohet 1985:78-81). However Domhoff (1985:34) demolishes Stewart’s claim for a unique Senoi dreamwork culture. He shows that the Senoi do not have dream workshops and have no unusual dream usage. Domhoff develops an effective sociological analysis of the sixties’ human growth movement in the United States and the way in which it adopted Stewart’s ‘findings’ to counter disillusion with contemporary cultural reality.
Tedlock and her colleagues (1987) provide an invaluable account of the state of contemporary anthropological analysis as well as offering some key directions for future work on dreams. Although the book, ‘Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Interpretations’, was, in general, well received (Parsifal-Charles 1986:460; Hodes 1989:6-8), it has been criticised by Hodes (1989:6-8) for its dated view of psychoanalytic thinking. He suggests that psychoanalysis has moved on from its original central concern with relating mental contents, including dream imagery, to previous socialisation. It now tends to centre on the transference relationship as it is experienced in the here and now by therapist and client. Hodes considers that there is a striking convergence between psychoanalysis and social anthropology and that both are becoming increasingly concerned with the communicative context of dream sharing. The dream in the psychoanalytic group is now seen as contributing to group culture and as being expressive for the group, as well as being indicative of personal transference (Yalom 1985:429; Cividini-Stranic 1986:147). Yalom uses the example of a dream by a group member about to undress in a room. This was considered by the therapist as expressing the dreamer’s mode of silence and their fear of disclosing a personal relationship to the group (1985:430).
Finally, another development of this decade has been the use of both researchers’ and informants’ dreams for ethnographic research purposes. Dreams are seen as throwing light on the subjective orientation and cultural position of the anthropologist, as well as on the intersubjective encounter between anthropologist and informant. As Hastrup (1992:119) has written “all ethnographers are positioned subjects and grasp certain phenomena better than others”. I think that a reflexive anthropology may in time recognise dream imagery as a valuable source of critical insight into the progress of fieldwork.
Levine (1981:276-93) analysed the dreams of three of her informants for transference material concerning her own relationship with these informants. She was able to gain an increased awareness of issues such as power, asymmetry between herself and informants, poverty and dependence and the degree of gender support she was offering to one informant during her marital difficulties. As already indicated, I have tried (Edgar 1988; & appendix to this thesis) to relate my dreams experienced during fieldwork to both the stages of fieldwork research and to the eventual analytic themes that developed in my Master’s thesis (1986). Whether the anthropological study of the ‘other’ will necessarily one day embrace the researcher’s own unconscious has yet to be seen, although Caplan has suggested, in her discussion of ‘engendering knowledge’ that:
…the time has come for us all, male and female, to recognise that the sense of self which has sustained the practice of ethnography for so long is irrelevant and that as the French poet Rimbaud put it ‘Je est un autre (1988:17).
I have now considered briefly the history of social anthropological approaches to dreaming and indicated my conviction that the perspectives developed in Tedlock’s edited set of papers offer important ways forward which I intend to pursue. A communicative theory of dreaming offers, as she suggests, an opportunity to integrate psychodynamic perspectives with “natural-language, socio-linguistic, semiotic, and interpretive approaches to the study of meaning in others” (1987a:30).
Overall, this consideration of the history of anthropological interest in dreaming as a potentially valuable facet of a society’s social life demonstrates the validity of conceptualising dream as a significant field for social anthropologists ( and sociologists) to consider. Moreover since doing anthropology at home is now well accepted within the discipline it is appropriate to assert the value of considering the analysis of dream, and dream narration, as a valuable part of the social anthropological enterprise.
I will refer at points in this thesis, such as at the beginning of chapter three, to particular anthropological studies of emic dream theory. From such anthropological evidence it is clear that whether the culture in question is non-literate or literate its members dream within the images, myths and symbols of their culture. I took into my study of dreamwork groups in British society this profound sense of the almost certain cultural specificity of the processes I was to observe and participate in. Moreover, I was aware that although the range of interpretive possibilities utilised by the groups would be bounded in some sense by the range of acceptable perspectives on interpreting dream imagery within contemporary British society, these boundaries are very broad. Group members could perceive dream imagery within a range of discourses ranging from that of total meaninglessness to one embodying spiritual wisdom.
The mainly anthropological perspectives that I use begin, as I have discussed, with Tedlock’s communicative theory of dreams.
This situates my focus on dream narrating as a cultural process, firmly in the social, and I would argue as constituting a central part of any comprehensive study of social life. I intend to sharpen it however by using the embodiment paradigm derived from Merleau-Ponty and Bourdieu, and explicated in Csordas (1990).
This presents the self as an integrated mind/body in reality inseparable from the social creation by which the subject is both generating and being generated (Csordas 1990:10). Moreover Csordas, following Merleau-Ponty (1962:238-9), asserts that not only are the reflective self and its cognitive processes culturally constructed, but experience prior to a reflective and abstract understanding is also culturally formed. He develops Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the “preobjective or prereflective” to express this idea (1990;10). Csordas also suggests that Bourdieu’s concept of habitus can be subsumed within the concept of the ‘preobjective’. For Bourdieu the body is similarly not an object within a world of objects, but rather a ‘socially informed body’ (1977:124) generating meaningful interaction through its ‘perduring dispositions’ (1977:72).
Bourdieu’s concept of habitus illuminates the way in which the bod contains implicit knowledge (1977:124). He shows how social values are retained and contained in the posture, gait and gaze of their possessors. It is no accident that totalitarian institutions spend so long inculcating cultural forms like British boarding schools in their emphasis on ‘good manners’. The body is then “treated as a memory” and:
The principles em-bodied in this way are placed beyond the grasp of consciousness, and hence cannot even be made explicit; nothing seems more ineffable, more incommunicable, more inimitable, and therefore, more precious, than the values given body, made body by the transubstantiation achieved by the hidden persuasion of an implicit pedagogy, capable of instilling a whole cosmology, an ethic, a metaphysic, a political philosophy, through injunctions as insignificant as “stand up straight” or ” don’t hold your knife in your left hand” (1977:94).
Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus and body explain how the social is written into all aspects of our lives and provides a conceptual link between the ‘worlds’ of humanistic groupwork methodology and the social sciences. In chapter Two I use his concept of habitus and body to elicit how ‘unconscious’ knowledge of the self and the social can be accessed through the use of humanistic groupwork methodologies.
Bourdieu’s explanation of how social knowledge is unknowingly acquired and internalised by individuals uses a similar notion of the ‘body’ to these humanistic psychologies. In both people are viewed as containing within a body, conceptualised as including the mind, dispositions and orderings of experience that are capable of becoming, but will not necessarily become, conscious.
In Csordas’s analysis, Christian charismatic religious practices including Glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and “resting in the spirit” are exemplary of embodied knowledge. The charismatic, even when speaking in tongues and being semantically unintelligible, is expressing, in sound and gesture, embodied, implicit and culturally based practices which position and contextualise the utterances. He also applies this embodiment paradigm to an analysis of the Navajo understanding and experience of the role of lightning in the causation of cancer (1990:483).
Dream and its cultural elucidation is, par excellence, a domain in which the concepts of a culturally constituted preobjective, and habitus are valuable. In a dream, as I shall argue the dreamer is both conscious and yet asleep. The dreaming subject experiences a stream of visual imagery, often with attendant affect but, excepting perhaps in the case of “lucid dreaming” (see p.124) has no reflective awareness of him/herself as located either in the dream state or as a discriminating author of his/her own metaphysical drama. And yet upon awakening, as well as in the dreamwork group sessions, bizarre and often indeterminate imagery of dreams is cognitively re-experienced and defined, more or less, into culturally based themes, structured narratives and patterned discourses. Indeed coming to terms with existence as evidenced through dreamwork presents a graphic example of Csordas’s notion of the process of objectivisation of self (1990:16). The developing narrative of the self present in a dream narrative and continued in the dreamwork of the group illustrates the implicit self becoming explicit. The affective awareness of “the embodied image” (Csordas 1990:160) delineates the therapeutic experience of the dreamwork. Moreover, the narrative and its possible existential meaning for the dreamer is then negotiated within a group process, using groupwork based techniques. This process as well as the product of dreamwork is a principal theme of this study.
The embodiment paradigm and the perception of dream narration as communicative process needs further supplementation which can be provided through an hermeneutic concern with the interpretive process involved in the nature of human understanding itself. Geertz articulates this hermeneutic approach as “the understanding of understanding” (1983a:5). The base of my study is a “psychoethnography” as Obeyesekere (1990:xx) defines the study of the transformation of symbolic forms from and into culture. The base of the ethnography is a textual construction of the dream reports and the process of developing meaning in emic terms by the group members. Such a “thick description” shows the creation of “the webs of significance” that Geertz (1973:5) defines as ‘culture’. ‘Psychoethnography’ cannot see the description of a material universe or a set of economic and political realities as its main task. Rather I describe the processual construction of meaning in a group setting. This process, illustrated in Figure 1, is the translation of the following sequential pattern:
Fig.1: Interpretive Process:
psychodynamics of dream audience
relating of interpretation to future of self and group.
My basic ethnographic text follows the pattern, shown in Fig.1, and I justify the process described within it as a ‘psychoethnography’ because it translates the symbolic forms of the unconscious into cultural forms and communicable meanings. Furthermore, I analyse the nature of the emic dream theory of the group. I create an interpretive circle in which I analyse both the cultural construction of the unconscious through its evident dream imagery, and a partially shared linguistically and metaphorically based interpretive process rooted in collective understandings of both dream meanings and socio-political context.
I show how, within the groups, the focusing of attention on the narration of the dream generates a suggestive process whereby some of the dream symbols become a ‘mini-archetype’, to borrow Jung’s term (1959:3), for the group. At this point the imaginative resources of the group are generating a close absorption with a manifest symbol, be it a button, a loaf of bread or the winged flight of a bird. Central to this absorption is the generation of multiple references for the other group members. The described button of the dream becomes a trigger for the recollection and narrative display of the multifarious ‘buttons’ within members’ remembered lives. The button becomes archetypal at that time for the group. In this sense Ricoeur’s description of an hermeneutic analysis as a study of “the world of references” (1991b:248 and 1981c:177) opened up by the text is particularly apposite. An hermeneutic analysis then concerns itself with “what is in front of us” (Ricoeur 1981a:202) rather than what is “behind the text”. Indeed my study is in large part such a study of the personal and group readings of the narrated dream texts, an emic analysis of understanding.
I study then a movement from sense to reference (Ricoeur 1981b:218), from an initial personal and group confrontation with apparent ‘non sense’ – the bizarre imagery of the dreamworld – through to a delineation of the sense of the imagery in narrative, to reach an acceptable reference to the life situation and personal biography of the dream narrator. Furthermore the study analyses the emergent meanings and cultural consequences of this dreamwork in terms of the impact upon the future construction of the selves of the group members. Perhaps in few other ethnographic fields can these transitions and transformations be so evidently perceived and read. Furthermore the notion of the psyche as a “decipherable text” (Ricoeur 1981:256) is central to an understanding of the process of the narration of the dream itself. The “textual study” is then a study of the ascription of meaning (Geertz 1983b:32) within and around the speech acts concerning the dreamwork.
Metaphor and the Social Relevance of Dreamwork.
Once dream imagery is perceived in this way as meaningful, and particularly once the imagery of the dream has referential meaning ascribed to it, it becomes a conscious metaphor. Kracke has described the dream as a, “highly condensed, visual or sensory, metaphorical form of thinking (1987:38)”. We have seen that he suggests that dream, like myth for Lévi-Strauss, is a kind of bricolage in that it gathers:
from among the day residues ready to hand, and uses them to metaphorically express an emotional conflict, and to work out (or work towards) some resolution of it (1987:38).
The metaphorical nature of the dream prompts me to consider at this point the role of metaphorical thinking more generally.
Lakoff and Johnson(1980) have analysed the metaphorical basis of our rationality and language. They have shown how metaphor fundamentally structures our concepts and thus implicitly consciousness and actions as well. Metaphor works by “understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another” (1980:5). Moreover the metaphors that structure consciousness are not arbitrary but based in everyday experience. For instance there is a relationship between the experience of spatial living, ‘spatial/orientational metaphors’ such as ‘up/down’ and human states of well-being and sickness. States of happiness tend to be expressed as ‘being up’ in some form and likewise being dejected or sad is commonly metaphorically described as being ‘down’. There is then a continuing dialogue and relationship between physical and cultural experience and understanding of the world through a metaphorically structured, language-centred, consciousness. Metaphorical thought is therefore the basis of both dream imagery and conscious awareness. As Bourdieu says, “…the mind is a metaphor of the world of objects which is itself but an endless circle of mutually reflecting metaphors” (1977:91). In later chapters I show how the apparent insights generated by a group’s reflection on the dream narrative are created and validated through the relating of images from this narrative to metaphorical meanings contained in ordinary language usage.
The Promotion of Ritual Structure
So far I have described the meetings of dreamwork groups as events like those of any other discussion group or of people with certain interests in common. However, I show in the ethnography, the group process, as structured, evoked a ritual process in which social change and personal development took place. Such a process of change is analysed by Turner (1974: 25 – 55) and I applied it in my M.Phil thesis (1986 & 1990:45-57).
In the dreamwork groups studied, although it was at the suggestion of the group leaders that the group should begin with the lighting of a candelabra and incense and finish with the blowing out of the candle, the suggestion was readily accepted by the group. The group event was framed by these acts. Within that time and space a typical set of procedures followed, which began with the ‘opening round’, which led into the discussion of one or more dreams in depth and often reached a climax with the ‘acting out’ of some part of the dream imagery through play, imaginative identification, meditation and artwork. As I show, within this process, there would frequently occur the transformation of the individual dreamer’s symbolic image into a symbol for the group. The evidence for this is demonstrated in the ethnography in terms of the ‘future life’ of the symbol in the group’s discourse and other members’ dreams. In this way the group developed ‘mini-archetypes’ with which they developed the cultural identity of the group and generated significance for the dream and fantasy imagery. Within this created liminal space separated from participants’ other group involvements (Turner 1977:37-9), the group spun its patterns of meaning through its absorption with, sensitisation to, and concentration on the narratively manifested images of the unconscious. The dream imagery became a form of theatrical event in which ‘the meaning’ was attempted to be read by the group as both audience and actors. The theatre analogy with dream is not new. Resnik (1987: 1) uses it as his central metaphor to structure his analysis of the dream.
The ritual structure of the group event, bounded in time and space, is peopled by self selecting seekers after their own meaning, who ‘invent’ and evoke symbols to contemplate, out of the resource of their own imag(e)inations. The image and its re- experiencing intersect and interpenetrate each other. The dream image is retrospectively recreated in new forms within the minds of the group members. The evoked meaning, reference and relevance for their lives of these manifest symbolic forms, does not stay within the domain of the private world of the dreamer. Rather it is fashioned out of the group process of action and suggestion, and becomes the collective property of the group. The group then ‘owns’ the symbol having converted a private symbol into a public one. This transformation of understanding feeds into everyday life and the shape-shifting symbolic form feeds into the future dreams and discourses of the group’s life. In a sense the original image of the unconscious becomes a symbol for the group through its cultural narration and appropriation by the group; thereafter it reclaims its metaphoric nature when referential meaning is ascribed to it. The everyday context of language and meaning has been transformed through a ritual process into a heightened and participative knowledge in which personal transformation has been sought and sometimes achieved.
In my discussion of the interrelation of metaphor and ritual I have suggested the ways in which dream symbols become living metaphors. These, of course, are what anthropologists have in other contexts described as root metaphors or key symbols.
There are many different theoretical views on the nature of such symbolism. Firth, for example, identified a symbol in a way reminiscent of the definition of metaphor already developed, as one thing representing or standing for another. He considered that the relationship between the symbol and that symbolised is that of the particular to the general and the concrete to the abstract. A lion symbolises courage. In this view a symbol is a concrete indication of abstract ideas. Firth (1975:64) cites Langer who makes the following distinction: a sign signifies an object or a situation whilst a symbol makes us conceive of an idea. The relationship between a symbol and its referent is usually complex and as Jung has noted, there is often an inarticulate even unconscious aspect to our use of symbols:
Thus a word or an image is symbolic when it implies something more than its obvious and immediate meaning. It has a wider unconscious aspect that is never precisely defined or fully explained. Nor can one hope to define or explain it. As the mind explores the symbol, it is led to ideas that lie beyond the grasp of reason. The wheel for instance may lead our thoughts towards the concept of a divine sun (1964:20-21).
A symbol then refers to an abstraction that cannot be fully articulated. Firth also describes symbols as “stores of meaning” (1975:81). Symbols can be potent agents of both personal and social change. Symbols, such as national flags and anthems, can be powerful instruments in the creation and and maintenance of collective identity (Lewis 1977:6).
As a study of individual and group enquiry into the meaning of dream imagery, my thesis is concerned with the meanings of both personal and cultural symbolism. I study the process whereby the personal symbols of the dreamer are transformed through group process into public symbols both for the group and for the individual. The group evocation of the meaning of the personal symbols, through gestalt and psychodrama for instance, transforms personal mental imagery into culturally contextualised sets of meanings. Dream imagery becomes “good to think with” (Lévi-Strauss quoted in Harris 1986:13) or as Obeyesekere puts it:
Personal symbols must be related to the life experience of the individual and the larger institutional context in which they are embedded (1981:13).
The cultural derivation of dream imagery in British society is shown, for example, in the frequent instance of group members using motifs and situations from television, such as the news or ‘soaps’, as fruitful day residue through which to re-enact symbolically their existential predicaments, in a transformed way. Moreover, as I outlined in the previous section on ‘metaphor and the social relevance of dreamwork’, I later demonstrate how meaning is attributed to dream imagery through reference to culturally sanctioned collective understandings expressed in idiomatic language use. Thus the interplay between personal and cultural symbol lies at the heart of the data and its analysis. Whilst for Freud, as I outline in chapter five, the essence of dreamwork is the analysis of the transformations of deep motivation into the personal symbols of the dream, my study is that of the circular transformation of cultural symbol into personal symbol into cultural symbol. As Obeyesekere says in countering the views of Leach (1958:148-149), “the symbol is both personal and cultural” (1990:22).
This account of the anthropological and social science theories which inform my thesis represents, as Geertz writes a “..recurring cycle of terms, symbol, meaning, concept, form, text and culture” (1983:50), to which I would add metaphor. Such terms represent the conceptual framework of this study and account for the imaginative and referential world of meaning created within the dreamwork groups.
CHAPTER TWO: METHODOLOGY
This chapter considers the methodology of the study. The chapter begins with a reflexive account of my prior interest in dreamwork. and the dreamwork movement. Issues pertaining to textual construction are noted. Thereafter I present the methods used in the study, which were primarily participant observation followed by semi-structured interviewing. I consider the issues arising from the use of these methods and particularly the issue of the merging of the roles of group facilitator and researcher. I then consider the issues of sampling, validity, reliability and replication in relation to the study. The ethical issues involved in the study are also considered. Finally I outline the possible adoption of experiential methods of data collection using the groupwork based methods of gestalt, psychodrama, artwork, imagework and dreamwork, and the training and ethical issues involved. I present this approach using Bourdieu’s theory of the habitus and Csordas’s theory of the pre-objective.
Reflexivity and method
The genesis of this dreamwork group and the associated research lies in my own long standing interest and occasional ‘use’ of my own personal dream imagery. For over twenty years I have often been struck by the ability of dream imagery to reformulate imaginatively situations that were preoccupying my waking thoughts. These reformulations, although often bizarre, sometimes seemed to have an anticipatory aspect to them rather as Basso (1987: 101) has suggested. I found that occasionally by dwelling on a seemingly powerful dream image and by turning it around in my mind and considering how it might relate to developing situations I was able to arrive at a conclusion. Such a conclusion often took the form of a decision about the direction of my life with respect to, for instance, career development or relationship issues. I then considered that the process I was conducting was a more explicit formulation of the folk wisdom to ‘sleep on it’ if one had a difficult problem. So for several years I kept a dream diary and consciously tried to remember my dreams. At this time I immersed myself in the work of Jung and realised that he had similarly advocated such a significant relationship to one’s dream imagery. By significant he meant that it was insufficient to relate to dream imagery solely as a kind of internalised source of artwork but that through a dialogue with one’s dream imagery important insights might emerge that could lead to personal change and development.
What was an off-and-on personal interest developed in two ways. First I encountered the dreamwork movement in the mid-eighties through participation as a member in a personal development group that included a consideration of dreams. This particular group combined bodywork exercises, meditation and discussion of members’ dream imagery. The dreamwork movement itself began in the seventies in the U.S.A. as an offshoot of the human potential or personal growth movement. At this time the publication of works by authors such as Garfield (1974) and Ullman and Zimmerman (1979) both popularised and guided groups and individuals into ways of working with their dreams. The dreamwork movement values dream imagery as being of potential benefit to the dreamer and the ‘meaning’ of such imagery as being accessible and understandable to the interested person (Hillman 1989:124-131). Dreamwork groups are relatively commonplace in the U.S.A. but occur less frequently in Britain. Through the group that I participated in I became interested in the linking of group process to the understanding of dream material. Secondly, whilst researching a therapeutic community (1986) I experienced a significant sequence of dreams just before, during and after the fieldwork stage. I found that contemplating these images and wondering how they might relate to the fieldwork experience was a powerful source of insight development, and assisted in my orientation to the varying stages of the fieldwork process and imaginatively prefigured core themes of my research (1989). An analytic account of how I used my dream imagery was given as a paper at the 1989 Association of Social Anthropology Annual Conference on the theme of ‘Anthropology and Autobiography’ (see appendix). This conference and the published papers from it (Okely & Callaway 1992) was designed to explore and analyse the previously often implicit contribution of the personality of anthropologists and their relationships to their informants, to the production of ethnography and development of theory.
The role of the self in the construction of the anthropological text has become a key concern in contemporary social anthropology. The ‘objectivity’ of the cultural construction of the ‘other’ in the written text is a central debate (Clifford 1986: 1-26; Geertz 1988:9; Carrithers 1990:263-82; Okely and Callaway 1-25). An extreme and almost solipsist perspective is presented by Leach in his discussion of the significance of the author as creator of the anthropological text:
An ethnographic monograph has much more in common with a historical novel than with any kind of scientific treatise. As anthropologists we need to come to terms with the now well-recognised fact that in a novel the personalities of the characters are derived from aspects of the personality of the author. How could it be otherwise? The only ego I know at first hand is my own. When Malinowski writes about Trobiand Islanders he is writing about himself. When Evans-Pritchard writes about the Nuer he is writing about himself (1989:141).
Kuper (1993:57-9) reviews the current debate in relation to the post-modernist concern with textual authority and the creativity of the writer through a comparative analysis of differing ethnographic studies of the Kalahari peoples. Kuper concluded that the personal construction of the anthropological text is a necessary and important part of the enterprise, and needs elucidation for bias and orientation. Similarly, Hastrup, as we have seen, emphasises the importance of seeing the anthropologist as a “positioned subject” (1992:119). However an awareness of the particularities of the ethnographer’s personal biography and history and their theoretical orientation does not preclude, for Kuper, an affirmation of the value of an ethnography in:
providing reliable accounts of human behaviour in particular times and places. Source criticism is a preliminary to the critical use of sources, not an alternative (1993:68).
My study is conceived and written within the context of a critical and reflexive awareness of myself as an interested subject as well as a distanced student. Indeed if all anthropological work is in some sense a “personal odyssey’ as Wade asserts (1993:213) then I acknowledge that dreamwork and its study offers for me and perhaps those kindred others who come to such groups, the possibility of a form of transcendence of the limitations of the dualities of ego and unconscious; self and world; present and non-present; desire and attainment; ideality and reality; knowledge and limitation. In a demythologised and desanctified world the dream image through its historical estimation and its personal reality becomes the sole source of an authentic and unknown, even unknowable, potential.
This therefore is a reflexive study in which I have outlined the course of my interest in dreamwork and its study and disclosed some of my own dreams. Apart from in the Appendix, I share only one snippet from a dream that I discussed in the groups themselves, partly because I only worked on one or two dreams since I acted mainly as facilitator. As it happened these unreported dreams and their interpretations were not in fact good examples of the points I wanted to develop. However the fact that I behaved as a participant through regularly sharing dream and personal material during the beginning round of each group contributed towards the overcoming of what Caplan calls the “self-other” dichotomy (1993:23). I have since remained as a member of a self-directed dreamwork group created mainly but not exclusively from an amalgam of the three groups that I co-facilitated.
Overall then my intention is not to present an “author-evacuated text” as Geertz describes the traditional tendency in anthropology to ignore the presence, influence and social structural position of the author (1988:9). I acknowledge my authorship through such devices as writing in the first person and through a certain sharing of biographical information and personal gendered experience, feeling and perception within the group process itself. Indeed I admit that in a certain sense, as initiator of the idea for creating a dreamwork group and being jointly responsible for its development, the field of study itself is inseparable from my anthropological intention. I study then, to perhaps an unusual extent, a personally initiated and intersubjectively constructed field of study. However in another sense ethnographers always share in the generation of their data, for as Hastrup observes “We have realised that fieldwork itself may generate the events, that are then portrayed as facts” (1993:176). Likewise Clifford (1986:2) redefines ethnography as the “invention of culture” rather than its representation.
Since the studied field did not predate the research enterprise the typical criticism of the anthropological enterprise as using “informants lives and statements to produce texts” (Wade 1993:201) is different with respect to my study. Whilst I still use the data of their groupwork lives there is a reciprocity involved in that many of my informants reported benefiting substantially from the opportunity to ‘do dreamwork’ in a constructed group. Indeed three years later, as I have already indicated, several original group members still regularly meet in a self-directed dreamwork group.
I used two principal methods to collect data. First I adopted a participant observer approach within the groups themselves, and secondly I did follow-up interviews with group members. With respect to the first approach, I was explicit from the beginning of the groups about being both a co-facilitator and a researcher. To this end I tape-recorded all the group sessions and individual interviews. I also kept some notes of the dream material as the groups went along though often I found this very difficult to do while maintaining a facilitative role. At the end of the session, after the debriefing with my co-facilitator, I made extensive notes about the dream accounts and the interpretations arrived at and also about the development of the group and individual members’ contributions. My co-facilitator was, as it happens, also studying the group process so I had lengthy discussions with her about the development of the group and also the contribution and issues arising from our leadership styles.
In the main, group members seemed to accept my combination of leadership and research roles. I will be explicit about leadership problems encountered, particularly in the second group in the later chapter on the group process. At the beginning of each group, I confirmed the members’ collective assent to the tape recording of the sessions for future research purposes. Each time there was a discussion about tape-recording and agreement that at any time any member could ask for the tape to be switched off and subsequently could ask for a dream or its discussion not to be included in my analysis for research. Such a request was in fact made on several occasions and has been honoured. For a dreamwork group to be successful there has to be a strict confidentiality rule and this understanding was easily transferred to the research process.
An interesting by-product of taping the sessions was that members could have access to the tapes after the group session was complete and members who had worked on a dream usually did borrow the tapes and valued listening to the discussion of their dream in a more leisured way. I lost one tape in this way and the tapes for the first seven weeks were unfortunately poor in quality because of an inferior recorder being used.
However tape-recording, seen as symbolic of my research by the group, was not universally welcomed. One group member in the interview session was quite critical and angry about “this” as he referred to the same tape-recorder in the interview,
” the most interesting thing was the tape recorder…i.e. THIS at first I was rational and felt okay about it but as the group went on I felt it intruded on it…I felt your research was intrusive…I thought you were manipulating it [the group] for the research…I felt a split between the idea that people have come together for the group and you have brought the research [need] to the group…I am wondering why I am feeling antagonistic to your research when I also bought my own needs and issues to the group…therefore why am I feeling this? “
I try to answer and justify myself.
T.”the confidentiality didn’t worry me…perhaps it was envy …this springs to my mind now that you were going to get more out of it than me”.
This example shows that for at least one member there was, whatever the reason, considerable animosity towards me as a researcher. Indeed with this member conflict about my facilitative versus directive role became an issue during the second group. Since finishing the facilitation of the group I have kept in contact with many of the group members partly through the ongoing dream group and have circulated copies of articles so far written. Feedback to date from these group members has been positive.
At one level I was however able to combine both facilitation and research roles. This was only possible because of the co-facilitator who shared the work of facilitating the groups. Since we usually divided our tasks into one of us taking a more active facilitation role and the other observing and timekeeping this allowed me every other week to concentrate entirely on observing the group process. Several of the group members were also skilled in groupwork and for considerable periods the groups ran themselves with minimal intervention from us. At times, however, the role of facilitator meant an absorption in group process that hindered a more distanced receptivity to the unfolding of the group’s life. Having a tape-recording certainly meant that the words of the groups were not lost and even transcribing these tape-recordings months and even years later bought the feeling of the sessions came back to me. As Hastrup reflects:
Fieldwork experience has become memory before it becomes text…the actual dialogues feed the discourse infinitely. Although fieldwork took place some time in an autobiographic past, the confrontation continues. The past is not past in anthropology; it is an ethnographic present (1992:125).
Since I was at the outset primarily interested in recording dream narrative, interpretations reached and the individual and group dynamics pertaining to them, it was not such a hindrance to have a record that was primarily aural. I also believe that my own memory of events, processes and participants was in fact good.
The second method used was that of interviewing all the group members and these interviews took place after the groups had ended or when an individual had ceased to attend. Individual interviews were sometimes delayed for several weeks. At least one member seemed to have forgotten almost all the group’s collective interpretations of her dreams by then. Interviews were semi-structured and the interview question areas are included in appendix two. The interviews took place either at my workplace, at member’s homes or latterly at my house. Each lasted approximately one hour.
They were noteworthy in several other ways. Often new information was offered by the subject. For instance one member shared in the interview the coincidence of symbols, such as the sacrifice, the stone circle and the named woman, between the dream described and their fantasy journey on a transpersonal psychology weekend (see p. 83). Often the subject had by then changed their appreciation and articulation of the ‘meaning’ of the dream and fantasy symbols. A clear example of this is shown by the following interview in which the subject shares their formerly unshared, at least in the group, experience of the fantasy journey of going ‘through the door in the mind”,
” I was upset by this and talked afterwards to Q…In the fantasy I found a dying woman in the belly of the earth and I never really got to the bottom of it…I was rather shocked as I didn’t think death such an issue…I was wary of this woman at first…she was in the process of dying…I realised I could go over and be there and take her hand and be there nursing her”.
In the ensuing discussion in the interview, the subject came to relate this image to her developing work in a branch of alternative medicine. At the end of the discussion she said,
“that is really useful…now I can categorise it.”
The interviews gave members the opportunity to express the development of their mental imagery over the course of the groups and also of their growing understanding of the imagery. One member discussed for instance her awareness of her sexual nature being first expressed in the image of the ‘brown woman’ described (see p. 143) and then represented in the ‘negro image’ described (see p.154).
Gender was an issue in the research process. I suggest later that the mixed gender of the group was significant. For example three female members working in one session in a small group shared a ‘faeces’ dream that they would not have felt able to share in a large mixed gender group. More significantly, as I argue later in the thesis, the third group especially became focused around issues of women’s emotional needs in and out of heterosexual relationships. At this point criticism was voiced by some female group members towards male members for their relative lack of self-disclosure. As a male in the group I was, of course, in a similar position to the rest of the minority of males, except in so far as I was also a co-facilitator. Moreover the group was co-facilitated with a female groupworker. My gender in the research process was probably most manifest in the interviews with some female members when I felt less than confident in pursuing very intimate and emotive issues for them when they emerged. For instance, when one female member referred to having “blue pencil” dreams about other group members I didn’t follow this up. However my male gender may have assisted male group members sharing in the interview situation their vulnerabilities about relationships with women. One male member, for instance, shared a sequence of several dreams he had experienced, prior to the group, in which he had been pursued by witches.
The groups I have studied involved only a relatively small number of people and it is perhaps rash to generalise from them. However in so far as the dreamwork groups were self-selected they represent a cross section of the kinds of people who are likely to be currently interested in understanding their dreams. As I show in my discussion of group composition, members had different characteristics in some respects such as age, occupation and gender but also had had some experiences in common. For instance, several members had considerable groupwork experience and there was evidence of interest in Jungian, transpersonal and gestalt approaches to understanding dream imagery.
Judging by my general experience of dreamwork groups I think that these group members were not unrepresentative and that their repertoire of group and interpretive processes are probably likely to be typical of other actual and anticipated dreamwork groups. In Britain, and in advanced industrial societies with a common historical past, in this general way there is likely to be a continuum of approaches to understanding dream imagery and this array of interpretive paradigms is likely to be similar in range to those I discuss in chapter five. So although my study does not claim to offer a definitive account of the characteristics of all British or European dream groups, it does offer an indication of the kinds of questions that can be asked, and the possible repertoire of processes and approaches likely to found in such groups. It is in this sense that I think the study is in fact representative.
Moreover the study is reliable in the sense that the data are available for re-analysis by another researcher because they are available on tape. The participants could at least in theory be re-interviewed. It is, however, much more difficult to assert that another researcher would reach the same theoretical conclusions as I did. Clifford (1986:99) points to this dilemma by reference to the markedly different readings of Samoan culture by Mead and Freeman.
The key issue with respect to validity of the data is whether and in what sense the dream narration is an ‘authentic’ representation of the visual imagery of the dream. This concern is amply discussed in chapter three when I consider exactly what is being narrated in the groups. However this is not such an issue as I first thought, since my object of study is not the dream or fantasy image for itself but rather the group’s understanding of the imagery and the process by which it is reached. Indeed the problematic aspects of the narration of the dream also represent, as I show, the insight that the narration itself, as in the case of other social accounts, represents the first stage of interpreting a dream. Validity in this study then consists in the authenticity of the attribution of cognitive meaning to visual experience,
rather than in the authenticity of the reported dream image. Since the test of validity of data is primarily based on the “adequacy of the evidence offered in support of them” (Hammersley 1992:69), I have presented many of the dream narratives and some of the accompanying discussions verbatim or almost so. I have aimed to ground my theoretical assertions about dreamwork within a context of relevant, concrete and empirically verifiable events (Hammersley 1992:62-69) and the events in question are the social processes of the the dreamwork groups. I have aimed to present a “data-rich” (Bell 1993:30) as well as a reflexive analysis. Indeed at times I have, through use of verbatim transcription, allowed the multivocality of the members to represent itself within the text. So, on occasion, I have let the words of the members evaluate the group (v. p. 113-4).
In relation to the formation of categories and themes of the eventual analysis I have followed primarily a grounded theory approach using “constant comparison” as suggested by Glaser & Strauss (1967:45) to elicit relevant categories. Theoretical categorisation has grown from an immersion in the descriptive parts of the analysis. This is a typical feature of theorising from an ethnographic base as Hammersley writes:
..most views of theorising that have informed ethnographic methodology are inductivist, in the sense that they treat theory as emerging out of the description of particular events. Such an approach views description as (at least) the first stage in the development of theory (1992:22).
I did attempt to undertake a qualitative analysis of the data using a qualitative computer research package, called Hypersoft (Dey 1993:273). However whilst I was aware of the various mechanical operations such a package could offer (Tesch 1991:26-8) I found small textual translations from the Microsoft Word file to the Hypersoft file eliminated the possible advantages of using such software. Particularly when making the transcripts of the group sessions I had developed a system of underlining and putting text in bold to indicate embryonic forms of analysis. However whilst the Hypersoft package could have proved mechanically advantageous to me, the translation into Hypersoft files took out these ‘bold’ and ‘underline’ annotations thereby undermining the possibility of using this package to advantage.
Finally this study of dreamwork groups is a study of the ‘other’ in an unusual sense. Whilst “doing anthropology at home” is now commonplace (Jackson 1987:1-15) and has been integrated into mainstream anthropological theorising and practice, it is often still the case that identifiable social groups like gypsies (Okely 1983), police (Young 1991) and the very frail elderly (Hockey 1990) and their behaviours provide the source of the ‘other’. In my study the bounded group consists of the dreamwork groups and their individual and collective relationship to a perceived unconscious. It is a “self-declared group” in the sense that Hastrup uses the term (1993:174). Whilst the hidden, the implicit and the ‘unconscious’ can be a focus for any anthropology, as indeed it is in Obeyesekere’s study of Sri Lankan ecstatics (1981), it is perhaps somewhat novel for the study of dreaming, dream narration and dream interpretation in the Western industrialised world to be the ethnographic focus, although the work of Hillman is similarly focused on the US context (1989: 117-141). Whilst I share with my respondents their language, cultural history and conceptual structure, the group confronted the ‘other’ of the phantasmagoric and bizarre world of dreams and dreaming. My study then is of that personal and social encounter with the ‘other’, or the exotic within.
The use of experiential research methodologies
The aim of this section is to introduce the use in social science research of experiential techniques developed from the humanistic personal growth movement which first developed in the United States in the 1960’s. So far research methodologies have barely begun to utilise these powerful strategies for personal and group change. In this section I first locate these methods and their related methodologies within the qualitative research domain and propose a concept of their value. Then I give a brief description of the methods themselves which is necessary to familiarise the reader with the techniques themselves. Thereafter I review the current use of experiential research methods. Finally I consider the methodological and epistemological implications of these methods alongside the implications for training of their adoption by social science researchers.
It is an irony that general social science research has not seen itself as being involved in the generation of individual or group perspectives, although its major empirical concern is with their understanding. The world is seen as outside and waiting to be described; it has already been ‘constructed’. It is true that much social science research (for example in the Weberian tradition) no longer embraces positivistic models of society. The role of the researcher as generating rather than merely collecting his/her own data still tends not to be seen as central to the research enterprise. Indeed his/her involvement is still seen as problematic and as something that needs deconstructing or at least elucidating in terms of a reflexive analysis of the impact of the researcher’s own personal or cultural bias. There are of course exceptions to the these propositions, including action-research and the use of focus groups.
However there is another whole set of potential research methods and related methodologies that are only very slightly used by researchers and that derive from experiential groupwork and the humanistic human growth movement. The study of the actual and potential use of some of these methods will be the focus of this section. The methods I refer to are sculpting, psychodrama, gestalt, dream and imagery work, and artwork. The hypothesis underpinning these approaches is that a research methodology can imaginatively generate novel ways for respondents to experience themselves, their past, present and future.
Psychodrama, for example, is a kind of role-play or re-enactment of some past or possibly future situation. Such a dramatic recreation of past or possible events is a group-based activity initiated in the 1920s by Moreno (Brazier 1991:2). The group members are used in the drama to act the different roles of a particular situation concerning one of their members. Since a ‘typical’ psychodrama evokes strong emotion concerning basic human experiences like loss, love and fear, the feelings of the rest of the members of the group will be evoked. Facilitating respondents to do a psychodrama in a therapeutic situation may allow the respondents to rehearse and often to experience a form of catharsis about an unfinished aspect of their personal life. Such a process of involvement may, and often does, generate new insight and reformulation of the concept of self. In a different way the experience for respondents of considering how their dream image might relate to their present situation may, on occasions, generate a fresh perspective on their personal and social preoccupations and those of others involved.
Sculpting involves a group member using some of the other group members physically to represent past or present relationships in the former’s current family, family of origin, or a significant group such as a work group. The person doing the sculpt arranges the key people to display how he or she feels or would like to represent the group or family in question. So a sculpt may display the whole gamut of feelings in relationships whether they be togetherness, security, conflict, anger or hurt. Alliances and hostilities in a group can easily be shown by using typical motifs such as ‘the clenched fist’ or ‘hugging’ and the spatial representation of people through closeness and distance is a powerful way to express feelings. The ‘sculptor’ may be very surprised by how he places significant people in his/her life such as siblings or parents. The ‘knowledge’ that he/she represents in the sculpt may be surprising and show feelings and perceptions that have until this point remained unacknowledged. The evocation of such unacknowledged perceptions through the use of techniques such as sculpting and psychodrama, if utilised by a researcher, would allow them the opportunity to access significantly deeper perceptions than an interview or questionnaire normally allows. Perceptions of which the respondent is barely conscious can then become conscious.
It could be used for example in research on family members’ views on ‘health in the family’. A sculpt involving each family member physically positioning the others in relation to one another and in relation to the question ‘how do you see health in your family’ is very likely to generate significant perceptions on individual and family lifestyles, communication patterns within the family, and data as how the issue of ‘health’ itself is perceived. For example it might reveal family members to be more oriented to psychological than to physical definitions of health.
In the same way gestalt techniques derived from the innovative work of Perls (1969) offer similar opportunities. Gestalt therapy focuses on the ‘here and now’ of people’s feeling states. Perls moved away from the idea of the unconscious and developed in its place an integrative model of the self in which the ‘therapeutic task’ was to reclaim buried and incomplete aspects of the self through a form of directed role-play or projective identification. In gestalt the person working on an issue ‘becomes’ the person they wish to dialogue with and this is often symbolised and made more actual by the person changing seats when in the role of their own mother, daughter or boss. Through this process of spatial change and emotional disclosure the person is intended to ‘get in touch’ with suppressed and repressed parts of themselves. In for example the context of dreamwork, from which examples will later be presented, Perls considered that each part of the dream represented a part of the self and the process of working with dreams involved this projective identification with different images from a particular dream. Such a procedure is quite different from the analytic procedures of orthodox analysis. We can see then that these powerful techniques from humanistic psychology have as a common theme the intended arousal of neglected and avoided aspects, experiences and emotions contained within the self. Often the body itself is seen as representing suppressed emotion and a gestalt therapist will often point out the difference between the spoken and unspoken expression of the self.
This view of the self potentially offers a severe criticism of the nature of personal and social data offered by the more orthodox research methods involved in the various forms of interviewing and questionnaires. The limitations of the latter are well documented but usually the critique is limited to the truthfulness of the respondent and issues of procedural reactivity, together with the implicit biases that can enter the interview process by way of race, gender, age and class dimensions. What an experiential model of research methodology suggests is that for those research projects that are interested in reaching levels and forms of knowledge not immediately apprehensible by the respondent or even through participation in a focus group, these groupwork based methodologies offer powerful instruments. The researcher then, of course, is involved in the production of experience as well as its recording and analysis. I now introduce other examples of this type of approach namely imagework, artwork and dreamwork.
Imagework, otherwise known as visualisation or guided fantasy, is usually based on a directed daytime fantasy which involves the participants being directed in a daydream of some kind, though imagework can involve individuals guiding their own.
Imagework has developed from the active imagination technique of Jung and the theory and practice of psychosynthesis developed by Assagioli (1965:11-34). More recently transpersonal psychotherapy has integrated the work of Assagioli and Jung to form an imaginatively based approach to therapy. Rowan says that:
In active imagination we fix upon a particular point, mood, picture or event, and then allow a fantasy to develop in which certain images become concrete or even personified. Thereafter the images have a life of their own and develop according to their own logic (1993:51).
This is an active process in which the person actively imagining ‘lets go’ of the mind’s normal train of thoughts and images and goes with a sequence of imagery that arises spontaneously from the unconscious. It is the quality of spontaneity and unexpectedness that are the hallmarks of this process.
A very typical exercise of this type is for the facilitator of the exercise, after an introductory relaxation exercise, to lead the participants on a journey. A classical form of this is to start the journey in a meadow and to lead participants over an obstacle and up a hill to a house on the hill and there to meet a wise person who they can talk to about any question that they have. An exercise like this is described in Ernst & Goodison (1981:161) and, in my experience can trigger disclosure of and work on important personal issues. Examples I have encountered in leading such sessions are participants dealing with unresolved grief issues and rehearsing the outcomes of possible important decisions. Moreover the quality and characteristics of the environment in such a fantasy journey are seen by practitioners as indicating aspects of an individual’s personal state. Therefore the kind of weather encountered may indicate the individual’s present kind of feeling state whether of happiness or of sadness, whilst the type and difficulty of the obstacle met and the method of overcoming it may indicate the current level and development of problem-solving skills. In chapter six I present examples of imagework, from the groups that I ran, that were based on motifs or images that developed spontaneously from group members’ dreams. Such examples of imagework are a member’s ‘being a plant bulb’ in their imagination; another ‘being a bird’ and finally ‘going through a door’ in the mind. In the last case two group members had coincidentally dreamt of not going through a door during a recent dream.
Artwork is often used as one method of working with dreams and images. Group members are offered the opportunity to draw their sequence of mental imagery or the dream they have had. In this way they objectify the imagery and offer themselves the opportunity to relate to the imagery outside of themselves as well as offering a way in for others to share insights, make suggestions and otherwise dialogue with the now externalised imagery. Benson has written about the use of artwork as:
These techniques emphasise the feeling and intuitive
aspects of personality and offer a valuable way of exploring events in the group life which are not always logical or are hard to talk about in a coherent way (1987:213).
Again we see the possible benefits of using these approaches to reveal and disclose those things which the respondent either is most anxiously concealing, or has already concealed, from themselves.
The dreamwork movement has been outlined earlier in this chapter. Whilst most dreams are seen initially as incomprehensible to the dreamer, I have found that very often the group member who works on their dream is enabled to derive some understanding and even insight into an aspect with which they were currently preoccupied. Often we would use the other action methods of gestalt, psychodrama etc as ways of getting in touch with the latent perceptions of the dreamer. Examples of this process and their outcomes are offered later in the thesis.
Here my argument is that these methodologies offer the opportunity for researchers to progress more deeply into the psyche of the respondent, and on some occasions, for the researcher to obtain material suppressed and repressed by the conscious mind. It is not, of course, a novel concept in anthropology that we carry and contain forms of implicit knowledge, even values, within us. In chapter one I introduced Bourdieu’s concept of habitus and Csordas’s concept of the preobjective to show how the “socially informed body” contained implicit knowledge. However such implicit knowledge may well remain unconscious and unknown without intervention from others either in the form of therapy or long term social analysis like participant observation. As I shall demonstrate later the methods described provide me with the means to reclaim this knowledge of self and society.
First, however, I want briefly to point to some of the uses of such methods that have already been practised within the social sciences. Several researchers have used vignettes, or incompleted stories to facilitate the expression of opinion by informants (Caudill 1958:131-147; Alves & Rossi 1978: 541-564; Finch 1987: 105-114). Whilst the vignette technique is not a new one and differs from those I have just outlined it does in a similar way offer the respondent a creative opportunity which can then be read by the researcher as offering socially significant and normative statements. Bendelow suggests that the use of vignettes is valuable as a way of accessing “general imagery” (1993: 218). In her own study of the gendered dimensions of the perceptions of pain she has used artwork as a way to access respondents’ perceptions. She used paired sets of reproduced artwork to trigger respondents’ expression of “beliefs about pain” and subsequently analysed these responses for gender distinctions.
James (1993:129,149,290) used children’s artwork both as an interviewing trigger and a way of accessing their perceptions of ‘significant others’ in the school setting. Wunder (1993:117-127) reports her research as a sociologist into the day and night (dream) imagery of the siblings of disabled children. She presented her unexpected finding that the respondents’ imagery showed a series of common themes in relation to their disabled siblings. These themes included desires and aspirations to be ‘a saviour’; guilt that ‘they’ were normal; the “notion that someone or something (a fairy Godmother) would change things”; and sorrow about the disability. The author concludes that such day and night imagery represents a potential source of data that researchers could access and use to increase empathy and knowledge about the key preoccupations, conscious and unconscious of their informants. The author considers that groups such as persons with AIDS, children of alcoholics or people with chronic or terminal illness would benefit from such consideration. Indeed to my mind if the proposition holds that such imaginative data is relevant and valuable to the researcher, the methodology should be usable with any comparable social group. Wunder’s article shows that both day imagery and night/dream imagery offer the opportunity to explore profoundly and to understand more deeply core personal, group and social issues.
I aim to show that the quality and level of perception of self and social state obtained through the methods used in the group, such as image and dreamwork, gestalt and psychodrama, are qualitatively different from those possibly obtained by questionnaire and orthodox interview process. This methodology can tap the hinterland of the self and may relate and reveal deep changes in the person. Social research often intends to discover perceptual attitudes about the person and their views of the world for comparative analysis. The results are constrained by many factors of which one is the conscious self of the person. The examples I present show imaginatively, (see p. 200) such as in the example of the ‘parrakeet fantasy’, the time and nature of a transition in the person’s social state, personal identity, capacity to change and ability to conceptualise the self.
Finally, imagework can be used as an adjunct to oral history. Oral history crucially depends upon participants’ memory and their access to their memory at the time of the recollection. As part of the process of remembering, guided recollection can be used. This consists of leading respondents, individually or in a group, through their early memories as a way of retrieving forgotten aspects of their personal experiences. I have been involved in a type of exercise when the aim of the session was to retrieve and analyse participants’ perceptions of their childhood awareness of significant difference in other children. This was a workshop session involving, after a relaxation exercise, participants being facilitated, through a guided exercise, into their earliest recall of significant difference amongst their childhood peers. Following the exercise, discussion and analysis took place as to how early concepts of race, gender, ability and other differences were constructed and their implications for the formation of self-concept and peer group formation.
This section set out to show how action-based, experiential, methodologies derived from humanistic psychology can be usefully appropriated in applied social science research. They have particular value and power when the aim is to reach the implicit knowledge of the respondents. Such techniques could have many uses such as in the example I gave of the use of sculpting in researching family health attitudes. Yet it is evident that they are especially valuable in researching repressed areas of feeling, for example focusing on possible sexual abuse situations involving children and adults.
To be effective these techniques require considerable familiarity with their use and skill in their application, although arguably a researcher could observe a groupwork practitioner using them, rather than using them him/herself. An ethical concern with careful use is especially important as these techniques do reveal latent feelings and unrealised intuitions previously only partially made conscious or possibly even repressed. Yet it is important to evaluate these methods for possible use separately as well as thinking of them as a related group. For example, the use of sculpting, artwork and some levels of imagework are not difficult to learn to use sensitively. Yet psychodrama, gestalt, dreamwork and advanced levels of imagework do need considerably higher levels of skill and familiarity.
Clearly some researchers will feel that these methods are unacceptably intrusive and raise power issues that are very problematic. However whilst I accept that these non-traditional methods have, as their intention, the gathering of more profound data, I would argue that any data-collection method involves intrusion and can provoke problematic self-disclosure. Even a simple interview can suddenly trigger a sensitive area for the respondent and leave the researcher with ethical problems in terms of how to handle supportively the resulting situation. The methods I have outlined will often be a catalyst for both minor and major disclosures, yet the negative aspects of disclosure can be greatly prevented by the sensitive explanation of the task and technique to the participants before and after the exercise.
Nevertheless I feel that I have demonstrated their general usefulness especially in relation to theories of not necessarily verbalised knowledge, like those of Bourdieu, Merleau-Ponty and Csordas.
CHAPTER THREE: THE CULTURAL DYNAMICS OF NARRATION
In this chapter I intend to analyse and to illustrate the process of transformation that is at the heart of dream interpretation; a transformation which sheds light upon the nature of our understanding both of ourselves and the world. The process of transformation I am referring to is that between the perceived internal image – the dream image – of the dreamer and its translation into a social and personal meaning for the individual dreamer.
Dream interpretation consists of several stages. There is the recollection of the dream by the dreamer and the subsequent filtering of the original imagery into what Kracke (1987:36) describes as ‘language-centred thought processes’. This filtration of imagery into thought is an act of translation which begins the construction of meaning. It does this by relating the visual imagery to the cognitive categories of the dreamer’s culture. Such cognitive categories carry implicit ways of ordering and sequencing time and space, person and action that inevitably begin to define and delimit the possible readings of the text or narration.
Brown (1987:155) presents this translation through the Freudian distinction between primary and secondary process thinking. He argues that dream imagery is immediately translated from primary process thinking into secondary process thinking upon recollection. The dream audience can receive only the verbal text of the dream even if that text is embellished by drawings and paintings of the dream imagery. Often the dream narration is already the beginning of an interpretive process insofar as the dreamer will be associating with and categorising the sensory imagery. The dream has thus become a text available to an audience, and is now open to hermeneutic analysis (Ricoeur 1970:5). Kracke (1987:35), however rejects this approach altogether. He thinks that it negates the continued involvement of the dreamer throughout the interpretive process. This arises because the dreamer is him or herself associated with and affected by the dynamics of the group.
The dream narration is then a social act which both expresses and creates social affinity and meaning. There is however still a gap between imaginative thought and speech. Herdt uses the idea of discourse frames to express this perception. In the Sambian society of New Guinea, Herdt found three different discourses within which dream sharing took place. There was public talk, secret talk and private talk. Each of these discourses was structured in differing ways in relation to ‘cultural rules, premises, expectations – frames that organise behaviour’ (1987:59-61). Public discourse was the most common, during which anyone in the social group could be present. Secret discourse referred to the communication of ritual secrets and was sexually segregated. Private discourse concerned personal secrets, typically about sexuality.
The question of the importance of knowing which parts of dreams are not being shared is clearly demonstrated in the following example. An entertaining incident from one of the dreamwork groups that I studied arose when the group split into three small groups of three or four members to discuss recent dreams. It was only in this situation, as I pointed out in chapter two that it was possible to share a recent dream involving faeces. With much laughter the three women concerned admitted during feedback to the larger group that unless they had been together in a same gender group they would not have shared that particular dream content. Examples of group members not disclosing sexual contents of dream images, particularly when they referred to other group members, were commonplace and emerged in the subsequent individual interviews. The not-narrated can then be as significant as the narrated! Such examples show how important knowledge of group and social processes are to the interpretation of disclosed dreams.
Narrative theory also distinguishes between different features referred to in the totality of the narration. Genette (1988:14) distinguishes between the ‘story’, which refers to the finished set of events being referred to; the ‘narrating’ itself, which is also a key feature of the communicative theory of dreaming; and the ‘narrative’, which refers to the product of that event, be it a written or oral text of some kind.
Dream narrations in the group were replete with instances that illustrate the actual process of the translation of primary process thought into secondary process thought. Two examples will suffice to illustrate this processing as it occurs during narration. Throughout this thesis I shall quote extensively from the transcripted dreams of group members. To distinguish narration of the actual dream from the dreamer’s commentary in narration I have put the first in italics and the second in normal print. However in this chapter alone I have highlighted the commentary in bold script. Throughout the thesis I have also generally omitted punctuation such as commas and fullstops when quoting from the transcript so that transcript excerpts are not encumbered with too much implicit grammatical analysis by the author. However I have indicated pauses by the speaker by three dots and I have retained the use of question marks, quotation marks and exclamation marks. The first example describes a dream which was narrated to the group by a female member. In her narration she describes a dream in which she experienced feelings both of jealousy and concern about being rejected by her partner at a party. The dream narrative went as follows:
“I woke up crying…I was at a party in L. with a group of friends…and I have recently been to a party over there...I was with S. who is my partner though it is difficult to describe the relationship and I came into the room and he was talking in quite an intimate way with someone…a woman…whose face I could not see…and I thought he is going to kiss her…and he kind of bent over and kissed her…I was directly behind her and I wasn’t sure if in the dream he actually saw me or not…I think he did see me he sort of scooped this woman up and went off to a different part of the room…and I thought I don’t like this…and I didn’t know what to do about it and I sort of followed him about the room and we did this kind of dance round the room with him and this woman and each time we got close he would move away again and he was enjoying himself…this being wrapped up in this woman…and I thought what can I do about this and vaguely seeing someone I knew but I thought I don’t want to be with him as he is ugly…and then I woke up…crying…really upset…even though really S. was staying in my house that night…not in my bed…I didn’t want to see him to get a cuddle…it was if it had really happened and I blamed him”.
“What was disturbing was this dancing away and me not knowing how to handle it and me saying it was okay for him to be having a nice time and enjoying himself but it also wasn’t alright…it wasn’t really as if he was trying overtly to avoid me…it was almost a taunting quality but so subtle…he wasn’t being overtly angry or provocative but he was aware that I was there and he was moving away from me”
The above dream narration illustrates several issues. First the narration begins with the statement ” I woke up crying”. This places an emotional frame around the forthcoming dream narration. The disclosure that the dream had such a powerful emotional effect on the dreamer keys the group in to expect emotional expression and an emotional tale. The statement that the dreamer “was at a party in L.” is followed by the comment that she has recently been there to party. Implicitly the group is being told to expect reference to the actual party as well as to the dream party. It is also being indicated that the dreamer has already begun to think about the possibility of meaningful connections between the ‘real’ and the ‘dream’ party. She refers to her partner but indicates that she cannot describe the partner in a simple way or at least not the person’s role in her life. This partner was known to one or two group members and the dreamer’s awareness of this may have led her to be careful about her definition of this person’s role in her life.
The narration continues with a description of perceived action by the partner, but this action was unclear to the dreamer…“I thought he is going to kiss her “indicates a lack of certainty as to the actual meaning of the action. Further on the dreamer indicates more uncertainty by saying “I wasn’t sure if in the dream he actually saw me or not…I think he did see me..“. This uncertainty indicates either a lack of a certain awareness in the dream itself or a subsequent lack of clarity in the remembering process, due possibly to the emotional significance of the perceptions involved. The narration continues with two references to ‘sort of’ as in “sort of scooped this woman up” and “I sort of followed him”. Both uses of ‘sort of’ indicates a vagueness as to the actual act and may be avoiding a fuller definition of the feelings accompanying that part of the recollection and narration.
The dreamer then indicates the dance they did by saying “this kind of dance”, probably indicating with gesture a form of dancing. The dream narration continues with her recollected perceptions of her thinking in the dream until the dreamer describes herself as waking up crying. Her immediate emotional response was to identify the content of the dream with her current relationship with her partner. On waking, the dreamer clearly carries over the hostile feelings generated or mediated through the dream and its immediate recall. She attributes these feelings in the present to her relationship with her partner. She says “it was as if it had really happened and I blamed him”.
The narration continues with the dreamer elaborating both the dream action and her daytime personal response to her partner’s behaviour. She defines “what was disturbing” and evaluates which behaviour in the dream “wasn’t alright”. Clearly at this point the narrator is responding to her remembered dream imagery as if “it was real”, though at no point in this narration does she identify her partners behaviour in the dream with his behaviour in ‘real life’. This example shows that the narration is clearly different from the original dreaming experience and it is obvious that such an original experience can never be directly replicated. What is however demonstrated through this narration is that it is a narration that has been translated into ‘language-centred thought processes’ (Kracke 1987:36). The dream imagery is presented in a form which is recognisable by group members and with acknowledged emotional responses, which members could understand, throughout the telling. The narration is reconstructed during the telling to the group and illustrates the problems of translating imagery into exact linguistic concepts, hence the inexactitude of words used, such as “sort of..”. Furthermore physical gesture, laughter and the narrator’s consciousness of the group’s awareness of her personal situation are features of the narration. Also, particularly near the end, narration, emotional response and critical discussion become fused.
The dream audience has then participated in much more than an objective telling of a dream. The narration “fixes not the event, but the meaning of the speech event” (Ricoeur 1981:199) for the narrator, before further amplification of the dream’s meaning by the group and the narrator. Indeed the narration, in this instance, is a presentation of a kind of visual play involving a common drama of love and betrayal with which the group can easily identify. The narration offers a potential “ensemble of references” for the group and the narrator, as Ricoeur (1981:202) describes an hermeneutic perspective. The party in the dream being narrated can stand for all parties experienced by the group. The world of the narration would become then “the totality of references” (Ricoeur 1981:177) opened up by the narration.
The second example of a dream narration illustrates again the construction of the narrative by the narrator,
‘It was a horse race meeting…also a fairground meeting and a race was about to take place…The horses’ names were very unusual…there were only three horses and then the odds went up…one was 10 – 1…one was 100-30 and the other was 12-1 and these were ridiculous odds and no bookie would give such odds as they would be bound to lose money...and the colours were yellow-blue-yellow and their numbers were in those colours and I said I must get a bet on and I went to the bookie’s place and it wasn’t a normal bookie’s place…and it was like a roundabout and these 3 horses were represented by three parrots…a yellow and a blue and a yellow and they were whizzing around as if they were on a fairground carousel and I was itching to place my bet on one of these three horses or on all of them as I was going to make a pile of money…and there was no bookie there and the race was about to start…like missing the boat again”.
This dream narration shows some similar points. We see again a running commentary by the dreamer that contextualises the dream imagery as bizarre. The narration stresses that the betting odds being offered by the bookie were “ridiculous odds and no bookie would give such odds…”. The betting place was not a “normal bookie’s place”. The whizzing around of the parrots is conveyed in metaphorical terms “as if they were on a fairground carousel”, clearly an interpretation of the kind of movement noted in the dream. The metaphorical description of the parrots as being like a fairground carousel enters into the dream narration as part of the dream and becomes a part of the dream text heard, learnt and remembered by the group. That text, constructed and mediated by interpretation, association, daytime cognitive categorisation, omission and embellishment becomes the dream text of the group. The humour and gesture of the narration are part of the text experienced by the dream audience and later discussed and ‘worked on’. I will show later that posture and gesture are consciously read by group members particularly in gestalt interpretive mode.
The dream narration was sometimes interrupted as a dream snippet which was narrated thus:
“Its just a snippet…it was frightening…I was walking down the street…suddenly through a gate came a horrible head of an awful dog…it came over but was held by a leather strap.”
X.“Was it a rottweiler?”
Narrator,“it was a pointy type of rottweiler””
An insignificant interruption maybe and one that can be held not to have significantly influenced the narration. Yet it illustrates that the audience is active and anxious to begin fitting the reporting of visual imagery into an understandable idiom, one that is ‘good to think with’. The Rottweiler perhaps currently stands at the apex of dog demonology.
The narration is a moving feast. The next example shows the difference between two dream narrations of the same dream made in the same meeting. On this occasion the italics represent the first narration, the underlined italics inside brackets the second telling and the bold script the accompanying commentary.
“it’s a recurrent dream…most dreams I have are bad… one theme in the dream is to do with houses… the other theme is trying to start on a journey but I can’t…two themes came together which is quite worrying “people (maybe was one man) were actually destroying my luggage that I had piled into a van…I was getting ready to start…I was in the house…I was really furious with people…I picked up and threw the telephone at them through two windows…the wires got entangled and the house caught fire (all these wires under the floor caught fire and there were the lines of fire all over the road) and was collapsing around me…I got outside…got my luggage onto the van ( I was rushing around trying to get me and my luggage into the van)…people were firing…they were shooting at the van…I was trying to shield myself…I run towards another door (the door – the door (emphasised) in the dream reminded me of the front door of my old school….it was a very old door) then suddenly I found myself (holding an old blanket or cloak…I thought the blanket would shield me) holding a few months old child…but the baby is able to articulate a whole sentence which I wrote down in the dream but I don’t remember it”…there are two themes that often come up I am thinking about this dream a lot.
The first telling or narration of this dream occurred in the beginning round when group members shared important events in the last week and mentioned if they had any dreams to ‘work on’. This member signified at the beginning of the session that he wanted to ‘work on’ the dream and that it was an important one as it was both a recurrent dream and it had some nightmarish qualities, for instance the fire and the being shot at. The second telling comes after another dream has been ‘worked on’ and is noticeable as being longer and with greater self-disclosure. More detail is given as in.
“I was rushing around trying to get me and my luggage into the van” or “holding an old blanket or cloak…I thought the blanket would shield me”.
In the second narration the narrator’s association of the door in the dream with his remembered old school door is conveyed. Also a second dream is referred to in the second telling which begins to detail the original description of this dream as a repetitive dream.
Different tellings at different times even within the same evening show well the contextual nature of dream narration. The dynamics of narration then become part of the available text of the dream. The second and more elaborated telling can be due to a greater trust in the group and in the progress of the group’s formation during the session itself. This session was only the second session of the second group and the narrator was telling his dream to the group for the first time. Alternatively the variant tellings can be analysed as structural transformations of an ‘original’ dream. Kuper (1983:153-175) has analysed different dreams of a subject over a two night period and presented a structural analysis of the progressive transformations of the oppositional themes in the dream sequence. However the material in the present two renderings of the one dream, whilst clearly different and embellished, suggest rather that the extended second telling is due to a development of recall, and a greater trust in the group following a discussion about another dream, rather than being significant as a structural transformation of the original dream.
The bizarre nature of dream imagery and its patterning is itself problematic for its translation into the daytime categories of cognitive thought. Part of the following dream shows the narrator struggling with a description of what was at the time for her ‘the indescribable’,
“I was out in the country…there were no trees…lots of hills long grasses…I was with lots of people…I don’t remember who they were…There were a couple of horses who were with us…we were watching birds…at one point I looked up and there was this enormous bird…vast…absolutely stunning …I was looking at it totally amazed at how beautiful it was…its wingspan was vast…brown and white patterns…as I looked at it…it became two…one layer almost came off and flew away from it…I can’t explain it very logically...but it was as if it had two layers…I think at that point I was on a horse…and it started to gallop”.
The bird in the dream is described as splitting into two in a rather amoeba like way. The surreal quality of dream imagery is well-known and such imagery has been influential in the development gof modern art. The work of Dali is particularly noteworthy in this respect (Walton 1967:7).
The use of imagework or guided fantasy was described in chapter Two. The narration of these fantasies in the dreamwork groups studied often appeared to be describing a sequence of personal mythical events that sometimes related to previous fantasy journeys. The narration of these fantasies was often structured as a dream sequence with a distancing of self involved, and a narration of the apparently bizarre and incomprehensible. The following example is a description of a fantasy journey of a woman in the group. The fantasy was of ‘becoming the bird’ based on the dream of another group member, described above,
“I was on a beech tree…there was a beautiful big tree on a mound with others around…I was a lovely dusky soft brown bird sitting on a nest in a crook of a tree…I was two birds …this brown bird stayed there all the time and I was also a beautiful bird of coral colour with big strong wings on top of the tree…I took off and a strange thing happened and I was in a great forest and I was looking down on a stone circle and there was a young women on a flat rock in a white dress as a sacrificial victim and I went down and picked her up in my very strong claws…I went off to a cliff somewhere and put her on a ledge and she went into a cave…I was worried she would get vertigo and fall off the edge…I flew off to a snowy peak…it was beautiful like a volcanic cone and I am looking down and I go to explore an enormous lake and woodland with creatures such as a deer and rabbits and flowers…and I soared up past these cliffs again and I came down to land again…and I was a bit confused as to who I was…I was a bird or a human and I was at a stone circle and there was this lovely women in white again and I assumed she was the same woman again and she was called Daphne and she wanted to give me a beautiful all faceted round crystal in a black cloth…I then flew back to the tree…it is quite fascinating”.
Clearly the dreamer found this imaginative sequence fascinating and she was able to identify the woman in the dream with a previous motif from a fantasy journey made outside the dreamwork group. Mythological features abound in her description of the fantasy. The motifs of the stone circle, the sacrificial drama, the rescue from the air, the escape to a mountain peak and the crystal gift from the rescuer locate this sequence as in some sense dream-like and therefore involving the same issues and dynamics of narration and communicative context for my analysis.
Narration of a dream involves a social construction of the imagery both to oneself and to the narrator’s perception of the group. The following example shows the dreamer reinterpreting her feeling about the image to make it to be more acceptable either to herself or to the group.
“I was in the train of someone very famous…a pop star or a king…someone who carried great presence and I was part of the entourage and I was travelling the whole time…I was arriving just before this great person… I was arranging hotel bookings etc…and I was bathed in his reflected glory and I felt terribly self important or rather I didn’t but I played the role of being self-important as really it was quite boring”.
At first the narrator exhibits pleasure with the feelings of self-importance engendered through the role experienced in the dream. However she swiftly redefines her sense of self-satisfaction with the role, to harmonise more exactly either with her own sense of self or with her desired image within the group.
The next example shows the narrator ‘playing to the group’ and having an investment in the group’s perception of herself as a sexually attractive person,
“I was going round in various groups levitating above everyone and then ducking down when things were good and interesting…I was levitating above people’s heads and there were two gorgeous men and I went down into that like a shot!”
The narration of this dream defined the narrator as a ‘free spirit’ as she later defined the wish fulfilment aspect of this dream for her. The description of the men as ‘gorgeous’ and herself as going ‘down into that like a shot’ presents herself to the group as sexually or romantically interested.
The presence of the group and the narrator’s awareness of themselves and their role and image in the group is then crucial to the formation of the narrative of the dream.
Overall then the narrative of the dream or of the guided fantasy in the group is significantly different from the original experience of the dream or fantasy material. Even in its remembering the imagery is processed into the categories and forms of our culturally constructed existence. Association and embellishment, censorship, the desire for privacy and exhibition all influence the rendering of the tale of the dream. The dynamics of the dream audience, the degree of trust, prior friendship, shared values and length of time together all contribute to the ‘narrating’ and hence the ‘narrative’ itself (Genette 1988:14). Hence there is no final or original or definitive dream text itself, rather one of many possible renderings in a powerfully defining group and cultural context.
This cultural reworking of the original dream imagery has been considered by Obeyesekere. He suggests that we utilise cultural forms to weave the dream imagery into a narrative plot, which he calls “emplotment’:
This term (emplotment) enables us to designate the process whereby the dream thoughts are creatively organised into a narrative that can, in some instances at least, stand on its own as a story. To miss this is not simply to miss something significant about dreams; it is to miss understanding an aspect of cultural creativity that can transform deep motivation into narrative (1990:267).
The construction of a communicable and ordered narrative out of the bizarrely ordered fragments of often ill-remembered dreams confronts participants and a researcher with the fundamental experience of narrative creativity as well as with a confrontation with the “preobjective” self (Csordas 1990:5). The experience of first defining the dream image to oneself and then translating the imagery in all its multi-various and potential definitions into a communicable linguistic entity goes beyond baffling and taxing the imaginative resources of the dreamer. It transforms the most subjective of experiences into an object for viewing and absorbing by the group as well as by the original dreamer. This process of objectivisation, of the self becoming an object within and for the world, as defined by Csordas (1990:40), reaches its zenith in these dreamwork groups. The dream imagery, on occasions, is transformed into artistic statement and performed dramas. Such an objectivisation of the self was noted by group members as the following quote shows. In a dialogue reported in detail in the following chapter, one of the members (A: page 106) describes the dream as “a story or picture and therefore the dream is out there and can be worked on quite safely”.
CHAPTER FOUR: THE GROUP
As we have seen in chapter two, the dreamwork movement in Western industrialised societies began in the United States in the 1970s as an offshoot of the personal growth movement. The essence of this movement is that the dream image is an important aspect of the self and is significant in developing understanding both of oneself and of one’s world. Writers such as Garfield (1974) popularised ways of working in groups with dreams. For this she drew substantially on anthropological research into how non-literate peoples viewed dreaming, often in an altogether more positive way than in the West.
Ullman (1979:92-116) and subsequent other writers have written about how to run dreamwork groups. In the last few years dreamwork groups have mushroomed in the U.K and can now be found in most large cities. The women’s movement especially has explored the dream and the products of active imagination (Ernst & Goodison 1981:161; Butler & Wintram 1991:52-54) with a view both to a deeper understanding of female personal and social identity, and also as a way of challenging negative patterns of gendered socialisation. In particular the writing and guided imagery exercises of Ernst and Goodison have inspired and taught groups of women, including survivors of different forms of sex abuse. Shohet (1985:83-120) has reported the creative and significant use of dreamwork groups in schools and communities. He also writes about the use of dreams for specific consciousness raising purposes such as overcoming racial prejudice. More recently dreaming has been seen as a way, not just of understanding the self as some kind of ego isolated within a social vacuum, but as a way of becoming aware of how social structure and social stereotyping have been constituent factors in self development (Ullman 1989: 281-282). Fromm has described this area of our group lives as the ‘social unconscious’ (1955 quoted in Ullman 1989:281). A sociological/anthropological perspective on dreaming (Ullman 1989) can therefore unmask prevailing personal/group myths and stereotypes about men/women and black/white people, for example, and so, I suggest (1992:57 and forthcoming), can be used in consciousness raising groupwork initiatives as well as the perhaps more typical ‘therapeutic’ or personal growth type groupwork settings.
This chapter focuses on the group, its dynamic process and how this process interacted with the dreamwork. In particular I consider the following: characteristics of the members; the stages of the group; decision-making and leadership; conflict and communication; the development of group identity; trust and self-disclosure; and members’ evaluation of the group. Overall this chapter analyses the dynamic and interactive aspects of the group life. Tedlock’s communicative theory of dreaming proposes that such an analysis of the social dynamics of the dream sharing be considered as an essential aspect of any anthropology of dreaming.
I will now focus on the three ten week dreamwork groups of which I was the co-leader. These groups were of two to two and a half hours duration and took place between September 1989 and June 1990. Recruitment to the group was by local advertising, word of mouth and through the membership networks of the local independent groupwork training agency where the sessions were held. The recruitment literature only suggested that potential group members should be interested in sharing their dreams. We did not interview or select members prior to the start of the first session of each of the three groups. The groups were held in that agency’s premises. The room we used was distinctive in that there were no chairs in it but only many large cushions. Group size was between six and twelve.
The group programme usually consisted of a structured round at the beginning in which members shared how they were feeling. This opening round provided the opportunity for members to begin to relax, join the group, shed preoccupations and share important current events in their lives. This was followed by a short description of any dreams they had had and their wish to work on a particular dream or not. Then the group would choose two or three dreams to consider during the rest of the evening. The most common method of working with a dream was by suggestion, discussion, association and comparison. The group attempted to help the dreamer relate their dream imagery to their current daytime, conscious life. We regularly supplemented discussion with action techniques such as the use of gestalt exercises, particularly an emotional identification with different parts of the dream, psychodrama, artwork, meditation and visualisation. The visualisation exercises proved particularly productive and were always based on a powerful image from a member’s dreams. Images used in visualisation ranged from ‘being a bulb’ to ‘going on a journey as a bird’ to visualising a ‘door in the mind’ and then going through it. Every session was audio-taped for research purposes and members had access to the tapes.
Membership: (see appendix 3 for table of members’ backgrounds)
The first group had six members of whom four continued through to the end of the third group. The second group contained twelve people which was really too large for such a dreamwork group (Williams 1984:251). The third group contained nine members. On average one person started each of the three groups but left after one or two sessions. Members were of all ages, were mainly female, white and professional. Some were married, but more often were separated or divorced. Members had children of varying ages. Many of the members had interests in what very loosely could be described as New Age pursuits such as yoga, meditation, astrology, circle dancing and aromatherapy. There were two members who attended Quaker meetings and one Methodist member. Otherwise mainstream religious commitments were not evident. Nearly all members presented as heterosexual. Whilst almost all members had been to therapy or personal growth groups before, none had been to ongoing dreamwork groups, though one or two had been to a single dreamwork group or guided fantasy (transpersonal psychology) weekend. Several members knew one or more group members prior to joining the group and this prior knowledge was a significant dynamic on occasions within the group. For instance on one occasion when discussing a dream image about ‘laying paving stones” a member reminded the dreamer that they had given her advice when laying out her garden in her present house. Occasionally prejudices about one another appeared to come to the fore in, for example, whether to interpret a dream image sexually or not. Access to ‘privileged’ and prior knowledge of the dreamer was claimed by another member on at least one occasion. Some members knew each other from circle dancing and this provided a familiarity for some new members.
There were a variety of attitudes to the value of dreaming. Many members thought dream imagery was in some way potentially relevant and useful for their waking lives, but felt that a pondering alone on the meaning of their imagery was necessarily limited. Others were coming to the group primarily for its potentially supportive role and for a ‘space’ in which they could share their current concerns. One group member who articulated this orientation particularly strongly stated that the dreamwork part of the group was incidental to her and she felt that dreams were vehicles to represent and share intimate life concerns. She spoke also of the ‘undefended self’ encountered in dreamwork. Another member said he was coming to the group to gain experience of groupwork and had little awareness of his own dreams. Another who came for most sessions of one of the ten week groups believed strongly that all dreams were prophetic and came from a strong ‘religious’ or at least ‘spiritualistic’ orientation.
Almost all the members who stayed through a group term of ten weeks disclosed either to the group or in the follow-up interviews that they were going through a period of their life which involved, in their eyes, great change or considerable crisis. These crises were typical of the issues of our times; they included ageing, separation, divorce and work/career stress. Whether the magnitude of these perceived changes differed from the scale of life change normally experienced has not yet been specifically studied. Moreover it became clear that the years following, for instance a marriage or partnership breakup, could still contain a major period of ‘coming to terms’ with the loss and change experienced. Indeed the conscious processing of these change experiences in relation to the recalled dream imagery provided the bulk of the subject matter of the group discussions.
There were two co-leaders, and my colleague was a female freelance groupworker and counsellor. As group leaders or facilitators we prioritised the telling and the working with members’ dreams and tended only to disclose our own dreams once on average during a ten week session. These occasions were when either no member had a dream or when, in my case, it was the final week of a group term. There was a level of groupwork expertise and some members were well able to facilitate gestalt and psychodramatic exercises for example. However several members were not so experienced and exhibited reluctance and shyness in relationship to the disclosure of both the detail and form of personal concerns.
Stages of the Groups
A common feature of theorising about groupwork (Benson 1987:84; Brown 1979:66; Preston-Shoot:1987:111) is a concern with the issue of the group process as exhibiting various stages. These theorists present groups as typically passing through common stages. Tuckman (1965:384-99) describes these as “forming, storming, norming and performing”, whilst Schutz (1979:11-137) describes a developmental pattern involving stages described as inclusion, control and affection. The value of such formulations is the idea of some kind of potential pattern to the mosaic of possible group events and processes. At the beginning of their existence groups typically are concerned with issues of emotional belonging, of whether the individual members ‘feel’ or expect to ‘feel’ comfortable and accepted within the group. Members typically experience ambivalence at this stage as to whether the group is ‘right’ for them. Anxiety, whether manifest as silence or loquaciousness, is a typical feature of this stage.
After the issue of belonging has begun to be resolved, the group begins to focus on its perceived task and deals with power issues between members and with the group leaders. This is usually called the ‘storming’ stage and as this metaphor suggests this is a typical time of conflict and rivalry, about, for instance, the actual aims of the group and interpersonal power. However it is important to realise that such group stages do not occur in a standard linear pattern but rather the stages snake in and out, and events and developments in and sometimes without the group can precipitate ‘storming’ sequences. As I will show later the three dreamwork groups encountered and developed different conflicts and issues in their time.
In the linear pattern I am (with some reservation) outlining, groups, having navigated the stage of critical and political definition, can then embark on their actual work. In this case it was the discussion of dreams and the search for meaning within and through the discussion of dreams. In all three groups this stage was reached and ‘the work’ of the group was achieved. The groups ‘formed’ into an effective form and pattern for their task, and this effective form tends to be considered as a set of norms. ‘Performing’ is often in the groupwork literature the final stage of the groupwork process and defines the time in the group when the work of the group moves forward without time being absorbed in, for instance, defining the task and the roles of the membership. The stage of ‘norming’ tends to blur into that of ‘performing’ and generally refers to a satisfactory group climate in which members are contributing well and where there is a high and developing degree of trust and coherence.
I will outline the development of the three groups giving examples of these stages.
This was a small group with only six members. It developed very quickly, was small with only six members, and was characterised by a high degree of experimentation in ways of working with dreams. It was in this group that methods such as gestalt, psychodrama, meditation, fantasy work were used for the first time. The group rapidly developed a high level of trust and coherence and quickly developed norms that lasted throughout all the three groups. For instance the practice of ‘doing a round’ at the beginning to allow members to share how they were feeling in the present was adopted. This beginning with a ’round’ is a typical groupwork device and has several functions: among them are the equalisation of speaking roles, the opportunity to impart critical personal information to the group and the opportunity to ‘leave aside’ current preoccupations and to focus on the group session. As part of these rounds we established that members should briefly share if they had a dream or not and the present value and intensity of that dream. This member evaluation of their dream helped establish whether the dream was short or long; powerful or not; single or recurrent. This disclosure allowed the group and its facilitators to begin to prioritise which dreams to ‘work on’.
The group then rapidly established itself as an entity with agreements about when and how often to meet. Rules of confidentiality and agreement about tape-recording were discussed and agreed. The session always began with the lighting of candles in a candelabra and an incense stick and finished with the candles being blown out. Refreshments were taken at the end of the first two groups and during a mid-meeting break in the third group.
This first group quickly developed a cohesion and a commitment to experiment. The group in the second week did a guided fantasy based on the image of a flower bulb which had been described as part of the dream worked on during the first week. Members also had the opportunity, during this guided fantasy, to remember any dreams they had had and to symbolise these in terms of an image or object. Then they, metaphorically speaking, brought these back to the group, like a souvenir from a journey. The variety of symbols and images coming back ranged from a gold chalice, a silver cup, a picture of stones under swift flowing water, an eagle and an image of being burnt at a stake! These disclosures to the group and the discussions provoked by them facilitated a rapid coming together of group members and a sense of excitement as to the potentiality of the group. In fact, towards the end of the first group one member commented ironically that ‘we’ knew much about the unconscious lives of group participants but surprisingly little about their daytime identities and preoccupations.
In the final session of the life of this first group no dreams were discussed. Instead one member discussed a pressing relationship issue and received supportive feedback from the group members. This ability of the group to suspend ‘dreamwork’ on occasion was to be a feature of all three groups and it occurred in approximately one session during each ten session period.
Different group members experienced the group process differently. In interview one member said in response to the question “What did the group mean to you?”
“I felt really ignorant in relation to the group especially at first…One day I went away feeling really awful…On the third week I felt bad through not contributing enough…it felt difficult to speak my mind about dreams in the group…I felt I was letting others do the work…I nearly didn’t go back then but the next week it was brilliant…I worked on a dream and then we did a guided fantasy/meditation with one of the facilitators…I was able to really understand the dream…then I really started to enjoy the sessions and then I couldn’t go to the last two sessions…I gained confidence…I don’t have to feel inferior”.
The second group.
This began several weeks after the first one ended and after the Christmas break. The break was longer than usual to allow for one group member to return from a long holiday and so rejoin the group at the beginning. The second group contained twelve members and was probably too large for a dreamwork group. All the members from the first group except one returned to the second group. There was surprisingly little friction between ‘old’ and ‘new’ members and this ease was probably caused by the characters of the new members, who were energetic and ready to ‘work” and share dreams from the outset of the group. Moreover, as already indicated, some ‘new’ members were already either friends or knew some ‘old’ members. However the group soon began to enter into a conflictual area in relation to the ‘different’ perspective on dreams of one of the ‘new’ group members. Whilst this issue will be developed in the next section on ‘conflict’, the group’s focus on resulting interpersonal and leadership issues seriously affected the group’s ability either to ‘norm’ or ‘perform’, to use that terminology of group process. The effective departure of the member with a ‘different’ perspective on dreams towards the end of the second group’s life allowed the group to ‘do’ some dreamwork and some discussion of dreams occurred in every session. However the impact of the interpersonal difficulty, differences expressed as to orientation towards dreamwork and the meaning of the dreams had significantly impeded the development of group trust and group coherence. One male group member reflecting on the experience of the two groups said,
“..the first group was the most exciting time…we worked together really well…conflicts got resolved…I experienced a very positive lot of action…In the second group I was grateful that the group start was delayed as there was a lot going on in my life…It was a bigger group of people who I didn’t know…the group went down…I got quite stuck in it and things didn’t get resolved as in the first group…there was a lot of unfinished business…which was resolved by the two most prickly members leaving the group…they were potentially very valuable members”.
The Third Group.
The composition of the third group was different from the first two. Three new members joined and three members from the second group left. Two of the three ‘new’ members left after one week, apparently because they, certainly one of them, had wanted a more directive group. The third ‘new’ member left after three sessions for reasons he reported as “wanting more challenge in the group”. However the ‘old’ members recognised that due to the prior cohesion of the group, the third group was probably a difficult group for ‘new’ members to join without feeling excluded. This left a group of nine members, of whom one didn’t come towards the end of the sequence. The group ran for nine weeks and finished with a party on the tenth week to which almost all members who had been at the three groups were invited and came. The time of the weekly sessions in this third group was extended to two and a half hours instead of two hours though often in this sequence there was a refreshment break in the middle of the session.
This third group was characterised by several features. Firstly the dynamic innovation of the first group was somewhat absent with less innovative groupwork practice and more reliance on simple discussion of dreams. Secondly, there was again an establishment of a high level of trust and group coherence and particularly high levels of self-disclosure were manifest in this group. In the middle of the sequence, there was a noteworthy session in which coincidentally three female members disclosed either that they were in the process of leaving their long term male partners or were effectively considering this. No discussion of dreams again took place in that session but as a consequence there was a resulting focus on women members disclosing personal issues and some criticism of male members for their reluctance to or for their inability to conceptualise and communicate about their emotional lives in a group setting. The group during this period was described as ‘being like a women’s group’. For instance in the sixth session the focus of the group discussion was on why and when women leave long term relationships and the resulting costs and dilemmas concerning money and children that result. This emphasis on greater female participation in the group and a feminisation of group issues was a feature for the second half of the third group. Male members were not excluded, but at least one felt pressed into sharing more intimate aspects of himself with the group than he felt at ease with. At the beginning of the session after the partnership disclosures, he said that he had felt “pressed to speak” and had felt uncomfortable because of this. He further felt that he had had to carry “guilt as a male” but had realised that the issues being discussed were his also.
Overall the three groups had different characteristics due to changing membership structures. For those members who were present throughout the three groups, the three separate groups probably felt more like three separate stages of the same group, there being a core of members throughout the three groups.
Reference has already been made in the previous section on stages of the life of groups, to the development of group norms as being indicative of group development. Norms quickly became established about how the group should spend its time. Smith states, with reference to his review of the study of group norms that the following norms would typically be approved by most members in encounter-type groupwork settings:
…. all groups approved of asking for feedback, talking about the here and now, giving feedback, challenging the leader, and probing a member who had been silent. Virtually all groups disapproved of putting down a member who had just opened up with personal feelings, talking a lot without showing one’s real feelings, and being frequently absent from the group (1980:19-20).
In the first session a balance between action work, in this case a gestalt exercise, and discussion on the dream narrative occurred. This set a pattern for subsequent sessions. Most weeks one or more of the following methods such as gestalt, psychodrama, guided fantasy or meditation was used to facilitate the dreamwork. Every dream ‘worked on’ was of course discussed usually beginning with questions of clarification about the dream imagery and its narration such as “was there anyone else in the room?” or what colour were the clothes you were wearing?” Whilst the group and its facilitators were ideologically firmly set against interpreting anyone’s dream, there was often a suggestive process. Members might suggest a way of looking at a dream such as, “Have you explored looking at ….?” or “Perhaps you are identifying too much with the X role?”. By the end of the groups two processes had happened in relation to suggestion. Firstly the boundary around a suggestion was more clearly asserted and a member making a suggestion would tend to make the suggestion with the following preamble, “If that were my dream, I would….. think about it in that way”. This symbolically clarified the point that any comment made by a group member to the dream narrator was likely at best to contain projective aspects by the speaker onto the dream symbolism of the narrator. A member asserted the importance of members ‘owning’ their suggestions in the following words:
“When you interpret you are saying that here is some useful information about me which I offer you as possibly useful for ‘you’ therefore it is easier for the dreamworker (narrator) to evaluate interpretations and either accept or reject them”.
The further issues around the mode of suggestion by group members is developed in chapter six.
However whilst this apparently exemplary framing of any suggestion was being asserted as the best way to make suggestive comments, the experience for several dream narrators in the group was that they were being bombarded with suggestions that they couldn’t assimilate. Criticism was made that members were not always ‘respecting the dream’ by the multiplicity of suggestion being made. This situation of ‘bombardment’ was caused by the eagerness of people to share their ideas and projections with the narrator of the dream. The commonest method of developing the potential and implicit meaning of a dream for the narrator, after suggestion and clarification, was gestalt identification. As already described the basic gestalt exercise involved the narrator imaginatively identifying with one part, object or event, from the dream and then describing themselves as if they were that object or event. Further methods of ‘working’ used were working in pairs and threes on occasions. Usually there was considerable discussion prior to going into any grouping smaller than the large group due to the expressed concern that this would inhibit the development and shared experience of the group. However when this pairs/small group approach was used, approximately once each ten week sequence, then the results were usually favourable in so far as members could verbally share, or in one case, draw and colour their dream narrative to a greater extent than they could in the large group. The second occasion this happened was that involving faeces dreams as already mentioned (see p. 54.). The development of group norms was not however without areas of conflict emerging and sometimes being resolved.
Conflict is a normal part of group life and can lead onto a resolution or a broader synthesis of aims and means, or it can be destructive for whole or part of the group. Miles says that:
A group without conflict may be in serious difficulty, points of view are being masked and inhibited, and good solutions cannot be worked out (1959:25).
Douglas (1976:117) agrees with this viewpoint, stressing the importance of distinguishing between creative and destructive conflict in a group.
Four main areas of conflict emerged in the dreamwork groups studied. These were: the nature of dream interpretation; the nature of the group; the role of myself as facilitator; dealing with the evidently ‘different’ orientation of one group member. I will discuss each in turn.
The key difference concerning interpretation was in relation to the acceptability of a well known part of the Freudian paradigm. There was a split in the group between members who tended to want to interpret dream imagery as covert sexual symbols and those who felt that they were well able to dream explicitly of sexual issues when necessary and resented such sexual interpretations of their imagery. The split between group members on this issue is exemplified by the following dream of a female group member. She dreamt of:
“..another women having a gynaecological operation…lying in a tank of water. One of the doctors was carrying a huge hypodermic syringe. and injected it into the women’s skull”.
The issue of another female group member interpreting this image as a sexual one was still unresolved weeks later when the original dreamer forcefully disclosed to the group that there had been a subsequent and sexually explicit progression in the dream that she had not previously disclosed. The dreamer disclosed this additional information to show to the group that she was able to dream explicitly about sexual matters and to invalidate the suggestion that the hypodermic was a covert sexual symbol. This example also illustrated contemporaneously the importance of non-narration or in this case delayed narration of sensitive dream data.
I have already indicated that members came to the group with different degrees of interest in the study of dreaming itself. At least one member was explicitly seeking a personal support group and felt that dreams provided a suitable vehicle for facilitating discussion about prevalent life concerns. The issue of how much the group was a dreamwork group became manifest only during the middle of the second sequence and was linked to the other conflictual issues relating to my facilitation and the different orientation of one group member. In the sixth week of this group almost the whole session was taken up with the introductory round. This was partly due to there being substantial feedback from the previous week’s experience of a guided fantasy. The frustration felt by some members more interested in doing dreamwork is evident in the following quotation,
K. “I feel a lot of time was spent doing the initial round…we are losing dreams...it is interesting but!”
Z. “I feel we need time to build up a feeling of safety, trust and connection with people before going into the most private space…otherwise I would feel most exposed…need trust and confidence to know what to share”.
J. “I feel this very strongly…I have a lot of material to share but…I am not happy to share until I have some sense of the other members in the group”.
K. “Time goes very quickly”.
D. “We need to be more brisk”.
H. “We are processing last week this week…we didn’t have time last week”.
D. “I am against rigid time slots…it will be different each week”.
F “It is not a round…it is a to-ing and fro-ing…I am not sure what it is”.
Q. “I need to speak in the first hour to get the first two to three sentences out”.
F. “We need structure to do that”.
J. “It feels that it doesn’t matter that we are not spending time on dreaming much as we are not really working on dreams now…we also value other things”.
L. “I want space to hear people’s dreams”.
G. “I suggest lengthening the group”.
O. “It feels to me that people are wanting varying things in terms of how much structure and space”.
The above discussion illustrated the wide disagreement at this point in the second group. That particular session continued with discussion of the previous week and then moved onto discussing a dream.
However in order to try and resolve this situation I started the following week by saying,“I want the group to do some dreamwork!” Shortly afterwards I was confronted by criticism of my being overdirective:
Z. “I feel upset…I feel I am going to upset the apple cart…I felt uneasy about how the group was started tonight by Iain…I don’t need to be told about dreamwork…told to ‘get down to business…I need trust in the facilitator…what is your motivation in starting the group by saying ‘let’s get going on dreams’…I was one of the first to trust your discretion re recording…last week I began to wonder about that when you spoke about U”.
(next there is criticism of my passing on personal information to this second group from a group member from the first group who had left at the end of the first group. This information was passed on by me with that member’s explicit consent but, due to its importance for other group members following their involvement in that member’s psychodrama, I was criticised by Z. for the way in which I had imparted it).
Z. “I was upset (referring to the imparting of the information) quite a lot and went away unhappy though I was happy about other parts of the week…I was unhappy about your complete lack of discretion”.
I defend myself by saying that,
“U. wanted to communicate this information to the group…and wanted to say goodbye to the group”.
Z. “You should have checked out the telling with other members
of the group in the psychodrama…I don’t want to go back into
it as I would have to go back into the dream and recognise the
difference of perceptions”.
I defend my opening remark saying that,
“There is a continuum of interest within the group for dreamwork”.
K. supported me and said, “I was glad to hear news of U. I didn’t feel anything had been betrayed”.
D. “I felt last week was not ‘off task’…dreams are a tool to
understanding myself…both others and me…we bypassed the
dream and got to the real point…the meat of the thing which is
the ‘undefended self’…there was great deal of interaction
F. “Agree there is a powerful relationship between my dreams and my life…what we did last week was immensely useful and powerful as a away back into dreams from the bottom rather than the top down”.
R. “There is a difference in how safe people want to be”.
A. “Dreams are a way into the undefended self or we can work on dream as a story or picture and therefore the dream is out there and can be worked on quite safely…we can explore the interactive saga of life without a dream and this was happening last week…there are three levels to be worked on…first straight in like last week…secondly with the dream out there…thirdly with the dream as a way into the self.”
Q. “There is too short a time for dreamwork given the amount of time spent on other issues…I think we have got somewhere when we have worked with a dream…you (the facilitators) have set your stall up and I have come to your stall”.
J. “I feel frustrated about how little time is spent on dreams”.
J. says she has, “the courage to talk about a dream”.
The dream we then discussed proved to be one of the most valuable both for the individual and the group. The final main area of conflict for the group proved to be the group’s response to one member in the second group who demonstrated a markedly different orientation to the dreamwork and who was perceived as having a different way of working in a group. This member disclosed that she had had a history of mental health problems, and arguably, from the perspective of the group, should have been counselled by the facilitators to leave the group. However the facilitators did not do this. In the third session of the second group this member narrated what she called a “murder dream” which contained very violent imagery. Considerable tension built up in the group following this narration. The narrator ascribed a ‘devilish’ feel to the dream and tended to monologue about the dream and rejected all attempts to ‘work’ with the dream imagery in terms of possible linking of the dream imagery to her current life issues. The following week she refused to participate in the artwork session in which members drew pictures of a dream prior to sharing them. In the feedback after the pairs and artwork part of the session, this member (H) appeared to dominate the group and the following edited excerpt from the transcript illustrates other group members resisting her interpretations and recommending her not to feel responsible for everyone in the group,
H. “I feel awful about sharing my dream last week”.
Z. “you can’t guarantee happy endings to dreams!”
A. “Has talking about the dream triggered difficult feelings?”
H. “I am concerned about how the group received the dream…felt something horrible going wrong…feel everyone was disturbed by my dream…I want to reassure people that it wasn’t a horrible dream…I feel that my dream which was a peaceful dream turned into a disturbing one unlike the outcome for Y’s dream the week before…I feel I have been a negative damper on the situation”.
D. “The effect of looking at dreams in a group can be quite disturbing…there is no agreement that we all go home happy”.
X. “I think the beginning of the session is the time to talk about how much is left from the previous week’s work”.
Q. Challenges H. about how much she (H) may have “hurt us”….and says, “I can handle any such hurt”.
F. Strongly says, “I am responsible for my feelings and I can handle my feelings”.
H. “I feel wrongly guided about dreamwork last week”
G. “Do you really mean this?
H. “I was made to feel uncomfortable last week and I feel I made others feel uncomfortable also”.
K. “You should check out if you think you have made people feel uncomfortable”.
F. “I think you should have sorted this out at the beginning of the session”.
H. “I think everyone else here knows everyone else except me”.
This interaction was probably the most difficult interpersonal sequence of the group and thereafter the group adopted a vigorous and reflective impatience with this group member. This was shown in the following interactions. She came to one or two more sessions and whilst she was able to speak freely, she was in turn challenged by other members if they felt she was unduly taking up ‘group time’ or if she was imputing thoughts and feelings to other members with which they disagreed.
As previously described, the third group was markedly less conflictual, except, as noted, when gender became an explicit issue in relation to levels of self-disclosure within the group.
Whilst group cohesion can be shown in many ways, such as regularity of attendance, the sharing of speaking roles and sensitivity to members’ needs and aspirations, one aspect of cohesion that is noteworthy was the regularity of remembrance of and sharing of members dream and fantasy imagery. On many occasions members spoke of previous dream and fantasy imagery and their interpretations. Members would refer to having incorporated an image from someone else’s dream into their own. An example of this was X. referring to “Y’s cats (from a dream not described in the thesis) crept into into my dream and one went into my bath and it was really dirty and they left all these bits in the bath…there were three cats”. I asked how she knew that they were X’s cats and she said “they just were”. Another spoke of ‘stealing’ someone else’s dream image. Members reported, particularly in the later interviews, having dreams about the group and group members. However these tended not to be disclosed in the group.
The above reported experience of shared visual imagery is evidence of a group cohesion and a group life. This sharing of imagery also represents the development of a common ownership of the imagery of at least some dreams. Such a collective identification supports my assertion of the group’s development of a form of ‘mini-archetype’ or ‘root metaphor’ which the group incorporated as part of the narrative of both the individual and the group, and as such was part of the identity of the group both personally and collectively.
The model of leadership used was that of facilitation. Facilitative leadership seeks to avoid the imposition of unnecessary structure upon the group and aims to allow members the maximum power possible within the group. The aim of this model is to ‘make easy’ the development of the group and the individual involvement of particular members. I planned and ran the group with a freelance groupwork colleague with whom I had worked with before in a groupwork setting which had incorporated some dreamwork. Whilst I came to the role with more interest in dreamwork per se, she had a greater interest in the group process than myself, as she was enrolled on a groupwork training course and was studying the process of the group for her assessment on that course.
We tended to take turns in introducing and finishing sessions and usually did not work on our own dreams in the group, though exceptions to that have already been noted. My colleague shared and worked on her dream material more openly than I did. We did however share current life information about ourselves and referred to any dreams we might have had in the opening ’rounds’. We fully shared the planning and debriefing before and after sessions and were in basic agreement as to the aims and range of methods to be used by the groups. I have already focused on the main points of friction in the groups and how these included, among other issues, the role and dynamics of leadership.
Whilst there was a basic harmony and trust between us as co-leaders there were small disagreements, for instance, about ending the sessions promptly, with my co-facilitator keen for a prompt finish both for the sake of having a clear structure and because of different domestic arrangements from myself.
Our leadership was positively affirmed by most group members. One member referred to our,
“bringing different perspectives which had been enhancing. for the group…felt leadership had been very valuable…had been valuable and gentle…had developed non-confrontational feel and had been supportive and guiding…I felt safe about sharing stuff”.
Overall the facilitative style and the different groupwork experiences we brought to the group allowed the groups to develop effectively and provided an interesting dreamwork and groupwork experience for most of the participants. Probably the least successful operation of our role was in the second group where we allowed the group to deal with the difficult interpersonal situation. This strategy, however, is consistent with a facilitative mode of group leadership.
Smith (1980:19), a principal theorist and evaluator of the research literature on groupwork sees self-disclosure to the group and feedback by the group to the member as the central ingredients of encounter-type groupwork. Self-disclosure was a key issue in these dreamwork groups. The dream and its narration within a supportive group opens up a direct way into what a member described as ” the undefended self”. The dream image might not initially appear relevant to major preoccupations of the self but often in the narration itself or certainly in the ensuing discussion and action work, key possible insights, often accompanied by emotional pain and even traumatic memory, might be triggered. Different levels of self-disclosure by different members at different stages of the group were apparent. Already described was the ‘peak’ of self-disclosure towards the end of the third group when three female members shared intimate concerns from their personal life. Self-disclosure is obviously related to a number of factors, including the degree of trust in the leadership and other group members, the level of security about confidentiality within the group and the member’s previous experience of self-disclosure and its consequences for themselves within the group setting.
Often a member would refer to the possible issue ‘brought up’ by the dreamwork in a form of personal code, indicating their understanding of the reference but not wishing to declare it more explicitly. For instance in the ‘button’ dream to be discussed in chapter six, the dreamer refers to the button hanging by a thread as symbolising a much larger impending loss in her life. At that stage the group would only have been able to speculate as to what ‘much greater impending loss’ might refer to, though in this case the reference was made explicit by the member later in the group sequence. Another time a dreamer referred to a member’s suggestion as “hitting the nail on the head” but ventured then no further. Quite often a member would refer to a dream that they had had but wouldn’t ‘work on’, for instance, “I have had a dream but couldn’t talk about it tonight”. Likewise with the results of the guided fantasy sessions, members would not always share completely the experiences they had undergone in those fantasies.
In terms of developing a climate conducive to self-disclosure I have already referred to the efficacy of dreamwork to encourage this given reasonable facilitation and a working group. Within these groups there were key times when self-disclosure developed, such as when members first discussed relationship issues, or when sexuality was discussed. However privacy was always retained and in the individual interviews I conducted following the end of the groups there were several references to dreams, often of a ‘blue’ nature that members had had about each other that had not been disclosed.
Evaluating the group
During the follow-up interviews I asked for members’ evaluations of the group as a whole. The replies were generally very positive and partly reflect the situation in which those members who only stayed for one or two sessions were not later available for interview. The following is a selection of evaluative comments. The first focuses on gender.
“Particularly important was meeting new people and particularly the men in the group…I felt able to be the same person with the men as with my women friends in the group…this is a new experience for me as my life has been very divided for me so far (on gender lines)”.
“Overall I do feel better about myself and part of this is the group…like a sea change…yes…and I give credit to the group for a lot of that”
“Particularly my reaction to conflict…it has underlined my avoidance of conflict and made me value confronting conflict…felt I have become more honest about sharing how I feel”.
“I feel the group has been invaluable in helping to show where I am or consolidating where I am…I knew it would be the right thing to do to start working on my dreams in a group…it has been a very interesting time for me…I have made a step that I have been on the verge of making for a long time and there will be other steps…all my dreams were indicative of that…either heralding it or giving me a handle on it in some way…the third group was twice as good as the second and the longer I was in the group I felt more comfortable…there was double the benefit in the third group (this member was in the last two groups only)…you have to make all that groundwork to get to the state of trust and security to get that benefit from what you disclose yourself…disclosing to a safe group of people is vital as it verbalises how you are feeling and you may not know how you are feeling…I have developed these intuitive connections due to the dream group”.
“I will take dreaming much more seriously now…I won’t dismiss them again…I want to dream…my subconscious has things to say to me…I don’t feel frightened of dreams now the fear is defused”.
This chapter has shown the importance of an understanding and an analysis of the group process and group life. Dream narration does not occur within a social vacuum. Dream narration needs an audience and which parts of the dream and how the dream is narrated will depend upon the totality of the group climate. Trust, security and effective leadership are clear prerequisites for full disclosure of the remembered dream imagery in narration. As one dream narrator said above, “disclosing to a safe group of people is vital as it verbalises how you are feeling and you may not know how you are feeling”. This quote well indicates the importance of the subjective feeling of safety in the facilitation of self-disclosure. The quote also shows that through narration the memory of the dream is enhanced and also that the narrative process itself promotes awareness of current feelings. In this way feelings are made manifest both to the narrator and to the group. The implicit feeling is made explicit through narrative and positive audience participation. So, affective awareness follows the articulation of the ’embodied image’ (Csordas 1990:160). Such trust and security are not however inevitable aspects of dreamwork practice in groups, as our experience in the second group shows.
The next chapter continues the communicative analysis of dreamwork by considering the dream theories applied by the group members.
CHAPTER FIVE: EMIC AND ETIC CLASSIFICATIONS OF DREAMS
The original intention of this chapter was to develop an hermeneutically based classification, or typology of dreams, comparing typical dreamwork classifications and a classification emerging from the groups themselves. Hence I embarked on two processes. First I developed my own categorisation for the dream narratives as well as considering how the dream narrations fitted those of Shohet (1985:43-47). However, as I shall demonstrate, these classifications are very problematic and may only obscure more than they reveal.
The categorisation that I developed for classifying the manifest dream imagery, in part from listening to how group members viewed their dreams, is as follows: nature; relationship; activity; conflict; sexuality, precognition and active/passive role dreams. Members would for instance introduce their dream by saying, “I had a nature or a sexual dream the other night”. Some dreams seemed to fall easily into one category, for instance, one member’s dream of being in the country (this dream was partly described on page 82) easily fitted into the ‘nature category’,
“I was out in the country…there were no trees but lots of hills…long grasses…I was with lots of people…I don’t remember who they were…There were a couple of horses who were with us…we were watching birds…at one point I
looked up and there was this enormous bird…vast absolutely stunning…I was looking at it totally amazed at how beautiful it was…its wingspan was vast…brown and white patterns…as I looked at it it became two…one layer almost came off and flew away from it…I can’t explain it very logically but it was as if it had two layers…I think at that point I was on a horse…and it started to gallop and in reality I am very afraid of horses…I was aware of how this horse is starting to gallop…but I didn’t panic…didn’t fight it…I let myself go with it…There was no saddle…I don’t know how I got onto it…I held onto the mane…let go…allowed it to gallop and just trusted it to be okay and it did stop eventually…it stopped and then I remember it happened again and I thought this time it is going to go off with me and it was wilder this time and it was galloping and galloping…we got to a point where the land was quite flat and then a very very steep hill almost at an unbelievable angle and the horse was charging…going at this hill…I was thinking oooh…and what happened was I wasn’t particularly panicked and the horse actually went up this hill and I was able to slip off the horse and sit in the grass perfectly serenely and happily…I sat in the grass for a while feeling very good…this aborigine came up…running…as he was worried to see if I was okay as I had fallen off the horse and I just said a big grinning “thank you” to let him know that I was alright…not knowing if he would understand “thank you”…and there was another character …a ‘nature boy’ and he talked…he was talking about his island…and he was one of the group who came across to the place I had been galloped to…and he was talking about his island and the rainfall and how heavy the downpours were and how wonderful that was…and he was really portraying it in a powerful way and I remember being aware in the dream that it wasn’t the rainfall that was wonderful but him and his perception of it and I remember feeling we “could all be like that” and I thought that we could all have that view of life and he said that everything was “topsyturvy and not as it should be”.
This rather long dream narration displays a range of apparently strong ‘natural’ imagery. The manifest content, to use the Freudian distinction, is very much to do with nature, with countryside, birds, horses and other natural phenomena. However, on closer examination the dream contains the dreamer, an aboriginal ‘nature boy’, riding which is a cultural activity and the dreamer engaged in a thought process about the ‘way of things’ in the world. The dream contains humans and cultural activities. In discussing the dream, as we will see in a later chapter, the developed ‘latent’ meaning arrived at by the dreamer herself concerns her present personal struggle about which part of her ‘nature’ to prioritise in pending work and career decisions. Once the dream is discussed and ‘meaning ‘ arrived at for the dreamer, the initial ‘naturalness’ of the dream is significantly developed and the nature motifs are translated into cognitive categories in relation to current life issues. So this ‘nature’ dream as the dreamer described it, is in the ‘reality’ of the dreamwork discussion, a dream concerning relationships, conflict and activity. Once a ‘latent’ meaning for the dream imagery is arrived at by the dreamer in the group, this set of meanings becomes a part of the ‘dream text’. Perhaps the emphasis the dreamer placed on the word ‘nature’ in describing the dream prefigured the later discussion concerning her ‘nature’!
This example of the complexity of reference and signification of the dream and its interpretation within the group could be repeated many times over. It was rare for a dream, as opposed to a dream fragment, not to involve at least an activity, a relationship and a ‘piece’ of nature. So whilst the intention to classify the imagery using emic categories rapidly became problematic, the group still used the categories in references like ‘that was more of a relationship’ dream or a ‘nature’ dream. Moreover members reported and narrated dream symbols that appeared to form a sequence between dreams, such as one which involved one member in dreaming a sequence of dreams of various animals that she felt represented in some way a part of a process of ‘coming to terms’ with an aspect of herself (see p. 222). Equally problematic, for the purposes of such categorisation, is the distinction between what is primarily a ‘relationship’ dream and what is primarily a ‘sexual’ dream. This even without reference to Freud’s sexual interpretation of manifest dream imagery. The degree of activity or passivity by the dreamer in the dream is also seen as significant in terms of the explication of the meaning of the dream (Shohet 1985:64-65).
The precognitive kind of dream occurred regularly within the group and refers, as Shohet (1885:44) also defines this type of dream, to dreams in which in some sense the future is perceived to be anticipated. The validity of this kind of dream in terms of its possible outcome is, of course, a major issue and I have already referred to Basso’s and Jung’s development of the concept of the ‘progressive’ dream (see p. 25). The question of whether dream imagery can in some sense ‘predict’, ‘anticipate’ or ‘prophecy’ the ‘future’ is a very old concern and it is commonplace for non-literate societies to validate this ‘predictive’ feature of some dream imagery (i.e: D’Andrade 1961:328). The ‘Umeda’ hunter-gatherer group, for instance, believe as Gell states (1992:46) that if a woman dreams of a fish she will get pregnant. On several occasions members insisted that dream images in some sense became manifest in reality unexpectedly in the future. The most common example of this is shown in the following dream in which a few weeks later the dreamer feels she sees in ‘real life’ the place in the country that she has ‘dreamed’ about,
“I am on a ritual journey…I am alone but I am aware of a group of people off to my right…the setting is a rather dark…a very steep bank…there is dry crumbly earth…straight ahead and on either side a ridge comes round…there are loads of tall trees and people on the ridge on the right and I am going to be trying to scramble up the centre…this is the steep bit but the other way is the right way to go…there is a very mysterious feel about this place…later on people are rehearsing a play…I have a part in this play…the last image is being in a theatre with very tall narrow brick walls…my last thought is it would be terrible to get out off if there was a fire”.
A few weeks later the dreamer reported enthusiastically that she had come across the place in the country for the first time.
The most striking issue involving the concept of time in a dream sequence was that of a dreamer who described having regular dreams of babies but had no conscious wish to become pregnant. This situation appeared to continue and she narrated such dreams in the group. Later and after she left the group she in fact became pregnant and once she was reconciled to her situation she reported beginning to have ‘toddler’ dreams! These ceased following a miscarriage.
The recurring dream or the recurring symbol within a dream such as a baby motif was common, and these dreams had a high priority in terms of both being significant and worth ‘working on’. Nightmares similarly were thought to be particularly important to ‘work on’, and were defined not by symbol but rather by affect, such as the experience of fear and terror.
Whilst the emic categorisation of dream types is severely problematic it did serve to provide a rough categorisation for use in, for instance, determining whose dream had priority in being ‘worked on’ during a particular session. Recurrent dreams and nightmares had priority; thereafter priority was allocated more on when the member had last had the use of ‘group time’ and on how emotionally significant they and also the group felt the imagery was for them at that time.
In terms of the dreamwork movement, Shohet’s (1985:43-47) classification of dreams is representative of non-psychoanalytically orientated classifications. He classifies dreams into the following kinds: nightmares, creative/problem solving , precognitive, warning, lucid, wish-fulfilment, clearing, ‘big’, information, communication and social dreams. Social dreams refer to the ‘social order’ in which we live and he exemplifies this type by referring to Jung’s famous ‘rivers of blood’ dream which Jung subsequently regarded as referring to the forthcoming Great World War. ‘Clearing’ dreams as a category refers to those dreams that process daytime events and avoid information overload. Shohet’s category of ‘big’ dreams is typical of many societies which divide dreams into important and not important ones. ‘Information’ dreams refer to those dreams in which unrecognised problems which had not previously intruded before on daytime consciousness are reflected in dream imagery.
The lucid dream is a category often referred to. The concept of lucid dream refers to the quality of consciousness experienced in a dream. The lucid dream is supposed to be one, “where you know you are dreaming in the actual dream” (Shohet 1985:45). The lucid dream is perceived as being true as a result of laboratory experiments performed by Hearne (1985:76) and reported by Ansen (1988:5). Group members certainly reported such dream experiences and one member even affirmed that his dreams always and only involved a kind of video replay of long past events, a kind of ‘direct memory dream’. Another potential area of study was into hypnogogia which Mavromatis (1991:104) defines as “the unique state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep” which can be blurred with the phenomena of dreaming. However a concern with hypnogogia did not manifest itself within the dreamwork groups studied.
These categorisations are interesting in so far as they reflect the assumptions of the dreamwork movement and those people involved in the non-psychoanalytic study and use of dream material in UK society. The categories assume the value and potential ‘meaningfulness’ of dream imagery. The categorisation reflects a perspective that dreams can be prospective, useful and even informative as to future events. In this perspective our daytime consciousness is seen as assimilating environmental information which is not made conscious, and yet can be manifest, metaphorically or not, in our dreams. Hence these categories do not assert a mystical authority to dream imagery as does Biblical prophecy on occasion.
This section articulates the range of interpretive schemata within which group members explored, explained and understood their reported dreams. Such a set of schemata represent the interpretive framework of the group and the overall ‘dream theory’. The theories used, and sometimes articulated by group members, cover the gamut of contemporary, and mainly psychological, ways of understanding dreams. As already indicated in the introduction, the approaches used included quasi-religious, Freudian, Jungian, revised psychoanalytic, gestalt, transpersonal and what I define as a socio-political contextualisation approach emanating from a structuralist perspective. In this section I aim to both define the various theoretical perspectives and identify examples of their interpretive use within the group. In so far as I am defining and contextualising these group-articulated perspectives I describe the analysis as consisting of a mingling of both emic and etic accounts.
Whilst in these dreamwork groups a religious approach was rarely explicitly expressed, a religious perspective on dreaming is highly significant in many of the main world religions. The importance of the dream within both Judaism and Christianity is frequently evident in both the Old and the New testaments. ‘God’ is said to communicate with the prophets, such as Abraham, Noah and Moses through the medium of the dream and likewise ‘God’ speaks to men and women, such as Mary and Joseph, in the New Testament. In Islam as we will see the dream had a high valuation, whilst in the Hindu tradition dreaming is placed above waking reality in the hierachy of realities (Tedlock 1987a:3). Recent religion, such as that of the Bahai faith, likewise positively evaluates the potential of the dream. The following quotation from the writings of the founder of the Bahai faith make this clear:
Indeed, O Brother, if we ponder each created thing, we shall witness a myriad perfect wisdoms and learn a myriad new and wondrous truths. One of the created phenomena is the dream. Behold how many secrets are deposited therein, how many wisdoms treasured up, how many worlds concealed. Observe, how thou art asleep in a dwelling, and its doors are barred; on a sudden thou findest thyself in a far-off city, which thou interest without moving thy feet or wearying thy body; without using thine eyes, thou seest; without taxing thine ears, thou hearest; without a tongue, thou speakest. And perchance when ten years are gone, thou wilt witness in the outer world the very things thou hast dreamed tonight.
Now there are many wisdoms to ponder in the dream, which none but the people of this valley can comprehend in their true elements. First, what is this world, where without eye and ear and hand and tongue, a man puts all of these to use? Second, how is it that in the outer world thou seest today the effect of a dream, when thou didst vision it in the world of sleep some ten years past. Consider the difference between these two worlds and the mysteries which they conceal, that thou mayst attain to divine confirmations and heavenly discoveries and enter the regions of holiness (Bahaullah 1945:32-33).
Indeed even within a religion the significance and role of the dream can significantly vary over time as Kruger (1992:57-82) demonstrates throughout his study of the ambivalent position of the dream in early and medieval Christian thought.
This ambivalent view of the dream, still evident today in the popular view of dreams, Kruger (1992:19-24) traces back to late-antique authorities such as Macrobius. Macrobius presents five different and hierachically ordered categories of dreams ranging from the true and the revelatory (oraculum and visio) to the false and mundane (visum and insomnium). Yet mediating this opposition of true and false dreams, Macrobius suggests a middle type of dream (somnium) in which truth is represented in fictional, allegorical and metaphorical form (Kruger 1992:24). I will show later how the dreamwork groups I studied often came to understand dream imagery as a form of metaphorical truth.
Classification of the dream within a religious perspective typically focuses however, not on the discovery of some latent psychological or existential meaning, but rather on reaching a correct perception of the authority and purpose of the dream as meant by the spiritual authority which has invoked the dream. Such a classification involved in medieval Islam, for example, an applied understanding of hierognosis (Corbin 1966:384). Hierognosis refers to the hierachical classification of the different orders of visionary knowledge displayed both in dreams and waking realities. Therefore dreams would be interpreted by oneirocritical means by reference to the status of religious imagery appearing in any dream. The dream had a special status in Medieval Islam as the Koran was partly revealed to the Prophet in dreams and the Prophet apparently spoke regularly with his companions about their dreams. Dream interpretation involved particularly the assessment of whether the dream image and its apparent meaning emanated from angels or demons (Meier 1966:422); demons being able in dreams to manifest themselves as angels. The oneirocritical assessment hinged on the context of the dream and particularly on whether the dream advocated moral or immoral choices, as angels would be unable to advocate ‘evil’ as the concept of ‘evil’ was understood in Islam.
Interestingly, it is in the Sufi tradition within Islam (Corbin 1966:406) that the concept of the ‘imaginal world’ is developed to define a discernible world between that of sensibility and intelligibility. This ‘imaginal world’ is defined as a world of autonomous forms and images which is apprehended directly by the imaginative consciousness and was held to validate suprasensible perception. This concept of the ‘imaginal world’ reappears in Jung’s (1959:49) concept of the ‘active imagination”, Assagioli’s (1965:144) theory of psychosynthesis and visualisation techniques, and Rowan’s (1993:51) presentation of transpersonal psychology.
I have already described aspects of the use of ‘imagework’, or ‘visualisation’ as it is usually called, in contemporary psychotherapeutic practices and in the dreamwork groups studied. Suffice it here firstly, to recognise the apparent genesis of the concept of the ‘imaginal world’ in the Islamic theory of the visionary dream; secondly to recognise that the contemporary anthropology of dreaming is beginning to develop this concept of the ‘imaginal world’ to critically discern the culturally diverse relationships between the concepts of the dream and waking reality (Tedlock 1987:3-4). Price-Williams (1987: 246-61) subsumes both the capacity to dream and ‘actively to imagine’ within the concept of the mythopoetic function in humans. The mythopoetic function, a term introduced by Ellenberger (1970:314), is essentially a formulation of the creative capacity of the imagination to generate spontaneous imagery which are open to interpretation. The conceptualisation of an ‘anthropology of the imagination’ is separately taken up in Duerr’s ‘dreamtime’ which argues coherently and philosophically for an integration of imaginative products within the concept of the ‘real’ (1985:89-103). Price-Williams recommends that the task for anthropology is to elicit why some imaginary products gain social support and others do not. However, such a view denies the possibility of both a partial cultural structuring of the unconscious and a contextual study of the narrative account of the visual imagery.
Within the group overt religious adherence and belief was only occasionally evident, though a significant minority of group members referred to religious practices, such as church going. I am using the term ‘religious’ in this setting to define a rare attitude by a group member to perceive the dream primarily as a ‘spiritual communication’ emanating from a ‘divine being’. The consequence of this perspective is that the purpose of ‘dreamwork’ is confined to hearing, understanding and if necessary obeying the instruction inherent in the dream ‘message’.
The one dream narrated to the group which was presented as being a ‘religious’ dream in the sense outlined above was as follows,
“Someone was claiming to be my mother but not my mother…and got married to a man with two children…a boy and a girl…the boy was handicapped and totally twisted…his body was all twisted and he couldn’t do anything for himself…it was not only his body that was twisted…he was also a very malicious and a very devilish kind of personality and his sister was about ten or eleven…to look at her was very attractive and she did her brother’s bidding and any devilish thing he planned she would put into fulfilment and because I was their sister by their parent’s marriage I couldn’t get away from them and they made my life hell…I don’t know why the girl was healthy and attractive…a normal kind of child…I couldn’t go to anyone about my problems with the life I had got with them because the boy created pity and the girl didn’t look bad she looked normal…she was so attractive and if I had told anyone what I was going through they wouldn’t have believed me…I don’t know why but the girl was having tubes put into her back…I was told to put the tubes into her and coolly calmly I was going to murder that girl…instead of tubes I got cannulas with rods in the middle…I put cannulas near the blood vessels…I was going to release the cannulas and the girl was going to bleed to death slowly…I wasn’t going to be found out…she was wearing a loose blue dress and so no-one would notice the blood and so I put the cannulas in and I knew they were in the right situation and I walked away waiting for the day for me to release them…before I got the chance to take the rods out the boy and the girl said to me jointly ‘we know what you are doing what you are planning we have made your life really bad…we would apologise to you and go away and leave you in peace’.and I woke up”.
The narrator of this dream effectively prevented discussion or suggestion from the group as to how she might approach thinking about the dream. She combined a monologue about the ‘events’ in the dream with considerable self-disclosure. She spoke about the dream in terms of experiencing “devilishness from the dream”. Later in the individual interview with this dreamer she spoke of the dream being “a warning” about future events in a particular setting. She referred to dream images as “having to happen” and the dream as being “prophetic”. The other members referred subsequently, particularly in the individual interviews, to this dream narration as having been profoundly unsettling. Indeed this was the only occasion in the two hour groups when a break was called for after this dream narration and in the middle of the session. The effect on the dynamic and life of the group of having one member who resisted the ethos of the group and who had a singular view of the meaning of dreams has already been presented in chapter four.
Whilst this dream, the only one narrated by this member, was the only evidently ‘religious’ dream in the sense I have described, reference to imagery from religious texts was occasionally evident in the narration and subsequent discussion. One member dreamt the words, “the years that the locusts have eaten” and had been helped to find the rest of the biblical reference “I will restore the….” (Joel Ch.2.v.25:748). Later in discussion in the group she felt the reference was meaningful in the context of her present feeling about her coming to terms with the loss of her years in a marriage which was now being dissolved. Here however religious imagery is being used metaphorically.
The Freudian Perspective
Freud’s pioneering work on the structure of the psyche and the role and function of the unconscious is extremely well known and many of his insights have passed, not always exactly, into the popular culture of understanding dreams. Freud proclaimed the interpretation of dreams to be “the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind” (1953:5.608) and saw dreams as being the repository of the unfulfilled wishes and desires of the dreamer. In particular he distinguished between the manifest content of the dream and its latent content (1974:143-156). The manifest content was made up of motifs derived usually from the trivialities of daily experience, which he called the day residue. The latent content referred to the hidden, repressed and unconscious meaning of these motifs or images which was buried in a distorted form within the manifest content. The transformation or distortion of the latent content of the unconscious takes place through the processes of dramatisation, symbolisation, condensation, displacement and secondary elaboration (Rivers 1918:389). Dreamwork then became for Freudian analysis the bringing to light, through free association, of the repressed aspects of the self. Often these repressed aspects referred to incomplete aspects of childhood development, such as the unfulfilled Oedipal wishes of the dreamer, or a similar traumatic event. Dreams then are “the guardians of the sleep” (Freud 1953:4.233) as dreams allow the safe and hidden expression of repressed wishes.
Freud also elaborated the important distinction between primary process and secondary process thinking. Primary process thought is for Kracke, “a highly condensed, visual, or sensory, metaphorical form of thinking”. Secondary process thinking is defined as conscious, “centered on language and is linguistically communicable” (1987:38). Dreaming is for Freud, par excellence, primary process thought which he regarded as a more primitive form of thinking which also formed the core of myths and fairytales. Such an important distinction has however been challenged and Kracke reviews this debate, concluding that:
Primary process thought is a qualitatively different kind of thought from secondary process and is just as much subject to maturation and refinement as the latter (1987:37-40).
The critique of the hierachical relationship between these two kinds of thought is significant as it opens the way to evaluate dream imagery as an important means for integrating the social, as well as the unconscious experience of the person.
The capacity of the unconscious mind to represent unresolved conflict through imaginative processes is central to most psychotherapeutic systems of thought. The generative capacity of the mind to creatively represent conscious and unconscious concerns in dream imagery is crucial to varying forms of dreamwork. What is at issue is what daytime concerns the mental imagery of sleep stands for and how it is generated. Once dream imagery was seen as a potentially decipherable code the way was open for varying formulations of the meaning of the symbol systems of the sleeping mind.
Within the dreamwork groups studied the Freudian approach was consciously articulated mostly in relation to the popularisation of Freud’s view that most symbols, and particularly many common ones, reflected repressed sexual desires (2). There was a view expressed in the group that typically long thin objects would represent the phallus whilst container type objects would represent the vagina and womb. Often there was joking about such perceived representations. Sometimes there was disagreement and interpersonal conflict generated by a member attempting to impose such a sexual interpretation upon a member’s dream. The most evident example of this process has already been described in chapter four.
Overall the group members brought a Freudian interpretive approach into the discussion on dreams in so far as Freud has laid down certain parameters from which all contemporary psychological perspectives tend to derive. As already indicated these parameters include his crucial distinction between primary and secondary process thinking, the distinction between manifest and latent meaning and his account of symbolisation. Indeed his evaluation of dreams as potentially meaningful and indeed therapeutic is the foundation for twentieth century dreamwork approaches.
Revised Psychoanalytic Approaches
Whilst a Freudian perspective is the classical twentieth century perspective on the meaning of dreams, his findings have been substantially developed particularly in what Fosshage describes as a ‘revised psychoanalytic model’ (1987:28). In this revised psychoanalytic perspective the basic distinctions between primary and secondary process thought and that between the manifest and latent meanings of the dream have been re-evaluated. Dreaming in this neo-Freudian perspective is seen rather as a manifest problem-solving and integrative process that takes place as metaphorical thought.
Primary process thought is, within this recent model, perceived as being a different but equal form of mentation that is capable of refinement and development during the subject’s life. Complex mental operations, such as the solving of mathematical problems solved, can be achieved in dreams (Fosshage 1987:28). Moreover, the adoption of this model allows for a focus on the manifest content of the dream as being of predominant value for interpretation. No longer is the manifest content considered important solely as a device with which to free associate in analysis. Rather the metaphorical imagery of the manifest content is the most appropriate available representation of the issue or conflict being expressed in the dream. Fosshage describes this appropriateness as, “Hence, a dreamer usually selects a particular dream figure, not to be a disguised stand-in for someone else, but rather because the figure within the dream context is a most poignant representative of the particular issues at hand” (1987:31).
The classic perception of the ‘real’ meaning of the dream being deeply disguised changes then into a focus upon the manifest images and symbols of the dream. Moreover the dream is seen as being ‘prospective’ as I have already referred in chapter one to Basso’s and Jung’s view that the dream is future-orientated, rather than orientated to the infantile past, and it is also adaptional. Dreaming is then a problem-solving and integrative process occurring as metaphorical thought. Glucksman summarises this revised model as:
dreaming mentation regulates threatening impulses and feelings by means of its defensive operations, and facilitates the acquisition of new insights, fresh perceptions, and adaptive solutions to current dilemmas in the light of past experience (1987:20).
The old adage of ‘sleep on it’ as a way of resolving conflict and finding new solutions to life’s predicaments can be seen as reflecting such a progressive view. No longer does the dream have to be interpreted by the expert analyst but rather is more democratically accessible to thoughtful dreamers.
Many of the dreams and the understandings of them reached by group members and presented in this thesis illustrate for the dreamer the potential value of the manifest imagery of the dream. The following dream and its interpretation will suffice to illustrate this point and represent many others, some of which will be presented later in the thesis,
“I was in a crowd of people and I was watching some sort of martial official ceremony…and there were some men in formation I think either on parade or dancers wearing very striking clothing for performance or uniform…the ceremony finished…I was standing back in the crowd and I couldn’t see well…people dispersed a bit…then I could see better and there was a stage and a door at the back opened and a group of people came out and there was going to be a wedding between a very ugly gross capitalistic man with a leer on his face and a very young weeping and despairing young woman…and she went to the extreme left and on the right was the agent who had arranged all this and who was a malevolent character with wolfish teeth…there were family members there and there was a clergyman and it was all Dickensian and I woke up before the marriage and she was standing there sobbing.”
The above powerful dream allowed the dreamer to recognise both to herself and to the group her overall estimation of her marital situation and the family dimensions to the marriage decision. The manifest imagery of the ‘unhappy marriage’ clearly represented to the dreamer, though still with significant distortions, her own perception of her marital situation.
A Jungian Perspective
Jung, like Freud, is a twentieth century giant in the field of dream interpretation. Jung is important for dream interpretation in several ways. He developed the idea of the collective unconscious, the archetypes and the theory of the dream as compensatory. As already shown, his technique of ‘active imagination’ is significant as a key technique enabling people to access less conscious states and fields of imagination.
The concept of the ‘collective unconscious’ was developed by Jung to represent his perception that the human psyche contained impersonal and archaic contents that manifested themselves in the myths and dreams of humans. Jung’s idea that all humans contained a common and universal storehouse of psychic contents is in contradistinction to Freud’s view of the unconscious as consisting primarily of a personal unconscious. Jung defined the difference thus:
Whereas the personal unconscious consists for the most part of complexes, the content of the collective unconscious is made up essentially of archetypes (italics as in original) (1959:42).
For Jung the collective unconscious was a pre-given, something inherited by all people.
The Jungian archetypes are the tendencies of the psyche to manifest patterns and forms in certain particular ways. They are not in themselves the actual culturally specific representations as perceived in dream and fantasy, though Jung was not always clear about this distinction (Samuels 1985:33). Archetypes formulated by Jung include the self, the shadow, the anima and animus, the mother, the child, the wise old man and the trickster figure. Jung maintained that the archetype can never be fully known (1951:109). They have a noumenal, awe-inspiring, quality and only their manifestation can be observed in an ordered form in myth, and in a more disorganised way in dreams and fantasy.
Jung’s theory of the archetypes has bewildered many psychologists and certainly empirical definition is difficult. However, taking the example of the anima archetype, Jung broadly defines this archetype as being the “feminine aspect” of a man (1964:31). Within this definition the multifarious representations of the the ‘female’ in the dream may represent positive and negative aspects of this ‘feminine self’ of the male. For instance a man may contain both representations of the ‘muse’ as inspiring ‘genius’, and also that of the siren who lures man to his downfall. Neither image represents the ‘anima’ in its totality but both are aspects which can be recognised and given meaning through dreamwork. Further the anima, for a man, can be the principle of relatedness to the unconscious. Jung’s view of the anima has been critiqued by feminist writers, such as Wehr, as representing a timeless and decontextualised view of the relationship between male and female that is inevitably sexist (1987). Whilst she affirms his recognition of the feminine and creative aspect of the self, she advises a definition of the feminine that has emerged from women themselves (1987:125).
Within the dreamwork groups studied there was a definite, albeit popular, awareness of Jung’s theory of the archetype and the collective unconscious. Reference was often made to ‘this is an archetypal’ dream or image in the dream. Such references were made when the image considered was perceived as being universal in some way. Hence a child motif in the dream of a man in the group was considered archetypal, whereas a series of child images in the dreams of a young women were not. In the former case (see p. 80) the interpretation arrived at was that the child image represented the lost intuitive aspects of the person’s life as well as the “mourning” for a lost childhood, whereas in the latter case the dream image was felt to signify an unconscious concern with maternal desire.
The group process amplified the various symbols from dreams into a form of ‘mini-archetype’. Symbols such as ‘bread’, ‘button’ and a ‘sherry glass’ developed into evocative and contemplative images that were good for the group to think with. As one member said,
“Dream images are common to people and common issues come out of collective underlying themes…therefore working on one dream puts you in touch with one’s own issues…it is neither here nor there as to who had the dream”.
The use of dream symbols, such as the bird, the bulb and the door which were all derived from the dream imagery of the members to focus guided fantasies upon, also had a similar effect of generating these symbols into mini-archetypes or living (root) metaphors. Reference to mythological stories to help discern possible meaning in dream imagery was evident on occasion. A woman reported a dream, a part of which referred to a sherry glass being in her hair. In the discussion of this image reference was made to the Samson and Delilah myth, the common symbolic interpretation of the cutting of hair and its equation with the loss of virility. This example, however, shows how the use of such a myth as that of Samson and Delilah can potentially fix female sexual power within an imaginative order that affirms male virility and feminine deceit.
Jung’s theory of the ‘compensatory’ function of dreams is well known. Jung saw the role of dreams as:
to restore our psychological balance by producing dream material that re-establishes, in a subtle way, the total psychic equilibrium (1964:50).
He gives as examples people who are arrogant or ambitious dreaming of flying or falling. He regarded dreams in this sense as warning people about their one-sidedness.
Overall the above key ideas of Jung’s thinking informed the ‘dream theory’ of the group in several ways. Members perceived that dreams might involve impersonal and common symbols and that these were not reducible in a Freudian sense to sexual referents. Rather the symbols referred in some rather arcane way to becoming more complete, more oneself. In this sense there was some recognition of what Jung termed the ‘individuation process’ (1959:275), being the evolving union of conscious and unconscious aspects of a life, working through dream contents and the reflective process the dreamer applied to their own consideration of these symbols.
Jung saw the dream as a natural and normal phenomena (1964:90). It did not mean something other than it was. He quotes the Talmud which says of dreams, “The dream is its own interpretation” (1964:90). Jung prefigured the contemporary dreamwork movement’s focus on the manifest content on the dream and conceptualised the dream as anticipating possible futures and not as referring back to infantile pasts’. For Jung the dream is a symbolic sketch of the future, and a treasure house for self-discovery.
Transpersonal psychology has already been referred to with respect to its interest in ‘imaginal thought’ and for its advocacy of visualisation and guided fantasy as key methods in the practice of the therapy. Transpersonal psychology is broadly based on Jungian thought, particularly his theory of archetypes, and on his practice of active imagination as a technique. Assagioli, according to Rowan (1993:40), first used the term transpersonal as part of his articulation of psychosynthesis. Assagioli distinguished between the more impersonal ‘prepersonal’ archetypes as defined by Jung, and what he called the ‘transpersonal’ archetypes of the superconscious (1967:8). The superconscious is, for Assagioli, the higher creative and intuitive aspects of the self. The aim in transpersonal psychology is to connect the ego with its superconscious, its ‘higher self’. This connective process is facilitated through a series of guided fantasy journeys usually in a group setting. A conceptual advantage of the transpersonal perspective on the theory of the archetypes is that many more themes emerging from the imagination can be viewed as archetypal. Instead of the limited number of true Jungian archetypes any common symbol such as the flower or the journey can be seen in context as archetypal. So the transpersonal theory of archetypes validates such a description of important symbols evoked and developed by the group, such as ‘button’, ‘loaf’, ‘bulb’, ‘bird’ or ‘door’.
At least two group members had participated in transpersonal psychology weekends, and on two occasions they reported a development of imagery between the transpersonal psychology experiences and those of their dreams. One of these dreams has already been presented (v. p.82). In the individual interview the dreamer told me about a mythic journey on a transpersonal psychology weekend she attended prior to the dream group,
“when I first worked like that it was very powerful (she then describes the mythical journey from before) I went to a castle and there was a knight in the room in chain mail with a mask or visor over his face…I’m not sure if there was something awful under it or if it was empty…it was very scarey…and then I was flying over some woodland and I saw a cave with a chalice in it and then a stone circle way below…then before I knew where I was suddenly I banged down on the ground and a Druid was about to cut out my heart…it was necessary…then I was in a crypt with a coffin and three women with candles and a knight who had died there and it was the same young knight and I became that knight and came alive again…and came into the castle and I thought it was to do with my father…or my father in me and I was thinking of my father and then one day in the garden after the image of my father and the image of the knight in chain mail came into my mind and this was how he was before he died…he went senile…and he was cut off from us and it was like there was nothing there…it seemed to heal something to do with my father as though I owned a part of myself again and I associate my fantasy with this older one…so it felt things had come full circle…it was the same stone circle…and I was given a diamond by the woman and I’m asked who she was and she said Daphne…so I felt in a better position than being sacrificed…Daphne (name changed) is goddess for the month of X which is my birthday…so there is a progression in the fantasies as well as in the dream motifs”.
I have included some of her associations concerning her identification of the knight with her dead father. Several motifs that can be considered as transpersonal archetypes or ‘mini-archetypes’ are contained both in the dream and in the above fantasy journey, such as those of the stone circle, the potential sacrifice, the diamond and the woman, Daphne.
In the second example the dream imagery prefigures the motifs of the transpersonal fantasy journey. In the dream, which is long and contains a recognisable sequence and structure, a ‘green man’ steals a small square box and a large key and throws the key and box onto a ledge so as to hide it. Only one ‘brown woman’ saw the ‘green man’ hide the box. The brown woman got the box and the key from the ledge and took them back to her flat. The green man later came back and violently searched all the flats. This is a brief summary of the parts of the dream referring to the key and the box. In the individual interview she talked about how the key and the box had reappeared for her spontaneously in the fantasy journey on the transpersonal weekend only a week later,
“I feel the dream is very well explained now…in most areas it makes sense…I had it a week before going on transpersonal two which was on the male and female principles…on the weekend we were meant to set out to get a chalice and a sword (in the fantasy journey)…but I came back with a box and a key which had been in the dream…so the dream prefigured the fantasy by a week…I refound the box and the key…I feel they are masculine and female symbols…in the dream the box is locked…I opened it in fantasy…couldn’t open the box in the dream as the key was bigger than the lock…in the fantasy the box has a golden cup in it and I close the box and take it to a wise person and she told me to open it again and it had a silver spear in it which was the moon and I took the moon out of the box and I went down the hill with the moon in my left hand and the key in right hand…it was amongst the most exciting experiences in my life…I haven’t put it down since sailing on…”
This mythical drama, which the person found most significant at a turning point in her life, contains imagery from her dream of a week before. The image of the key and the box from her dream reappears, apparently in defiance of the group leader’s instruction to ‘take a chalice and a sword’, in the fantasy journey. This reappearence contains a progression however as, whilst in the dream the box cannot be opened because the key is too big, in the fantasy journey the box is opened with important results for the woman. The symbol of the moon represents for the woman the reclamation of part of her feminity, lost for years in an unfulfilled marriage.
Both these examples show progression and transformation of symbols between fantasy and dream. Both contain transpersonal archetypes such as the moon, the box, the key, the sacrifice and the diamond. Moreover the pattern of the stories in the reported dreams and fantasies is mythical in so far as the story sequence primarily contains impersonal symbols and themes and is analogous to legend, folklore and fairytale. Moreover the dreamer/fantast’s attitude to the imagery defines the symbolic pattern as archetypal in a transpersonal sense. Hillman views such archetypes as being defined by their “emotional possessive effect, their bedazzlement of consciousness so that it becomes blind to its own stance” (1985: 23-24),
as well as by their content. The theory and practice of transpersonal psychology was then a significant feature and way of approaching, defining and understanding dream and fantasy symbolism in the dream groups.
The gestalt perspective in the group was very important as one member defined herself as a gestalt therapist, and gestalt techniques, as we will see, were an important technique regularly used in working with the dream imagery. Gestalt therapy was the creation of Fitz Perls (1969). His theory rejected the notion of an unconscious and focused on a concern with the person ‘getting in touch with the here and now’ and ‘being in touch with their feelings’. Dreams in gestalt theory are “the high road to integration” rather than Freud’s “high road to the unconscious” (Houston 1982:44). Each part of the dream is seen as a part of the person that potentially they can get in touch with through dreamwork. Even an insignificant part of a dream is an opportunity to develop a further emotional integration of the various aspects of the self. Gestalt therapy is an action approach to re-experiencing the self in a more complete sense. Hence in gestalt dreamwork the dreamer is advised to see each part of the dream as a part of themself. They are asked to identify emotionally with all or part of the dream imagery. Hence they speak of their dream not as about something ‘out there’ and impersonal but rather they would say, “I am the …….” , speaking always in the present tense. Often the dream narrator uses two chairs or cushions, one to sit in when ‘being the dream’, and one when they are themselves. Effectively this allows them to dialogue between different aspects of themselves and this can be a powerful experience.
Sherry glass dream
I will give an example now of a group member doing a gestalt identification with a ‘being a sherry glass ‘ which in her dream was a hair roller in her hair! Further examples of the use of this gestalt technique will be given in the next chapter.
D. suggests X. imaginatively identifies with being a wine-glass,
Y. “Let your hair down!” laughter.
X. “You are very serious about it”.
others, “We are we are…we’re riveted”.
X1. (X1 = narrator as sherry glass) “I am a wine-glass… slender…old…valued” (laughs).
F. “what is it like in X.’s hair?”
X.1. “Not the right place…might break…don’t want to be in her hair or in her pocket…might get crushed”.
D. “How do you feel about being old and valued?”
X1.“I like being valued…not old…vision of being used a long time (laughs)…Oh dear” (X. obviously has an insight into the meaning of what she has said).
X1.“I feel very squashed in the pockets…want to be seen in a display cupboard.”
I. “Do you want to be drunk from?”
X1. “I enjoy being filled up with sherry…it is my use…lovely pale dry sherry.”
D. “It gives pleasure.”
X1.“Has a lovely effect on the brain…lets everything flow away”
T. “Sounds quite aristocratic….fino sherry.”
X1.“Yes special you see.”
T. “How do you feel in M.’s hair?”
X1. (bit missing ) “Bound in straight hair…will make X. look better…a bit demeaning…used in this way…feel unsafe in pocket…squashed…very unsafe in her hair”.
D. “What is your relationship with X.”
X1. “She values me…um…out of character in a way.”
Y. “Then why in the hair?”
X1. “It was the only thing she had to hand to use or it was convenient…when I feel I am being a sherry glass…I feel very good”. (laughter).
X1. “Very gracious”.
X. “Not sure which part of me is the sherry glass…I keep wanting to say ‘I am very old’ (emphasised)…handed down from grandmother…slender also…I have lasted a long time (emphatically spoken). End of gestalt exercise.
. In the ensuing discussion personal feelings of fragility, age, being valued and long used sprang up on account of this exercise. She immediately related these to her current emotional situation of coping with recent divorce and separation. Issues of power and the use that is made of someone were facilitated through later discussion as were current feelings about herself. Personal meaning of the hair symbol was sought through spontaneous association and insight into metaphorical language use such as the sexualised meaning of ‘letting your hair down’.
Ideas from gestalt theory and practice figured prominently in group discussion and practice. The gestalt practice of identifying with a significant part of a dream was the most common technique used except for group discussion and suggestion. The idea that the dream imagery referred only to oneself and had no meaningful relationship to external events was an important perspective often voiced in the group. The gestalt perspective is clear that all dreams are to be understood subjectively.
There was often ambivalence about external referents to dream imagery. If a female group member dreamt of their male partner, did they perceive the image to be potentially disclosing of an aspect of their partner, an aspect of their ‘male’ self or to be a metaphorical statement about their relationship to their partner? Whether to understand a dream image in an ‘objective’ or a ‘subjective’ way was always a key issue in the group, and also was sometimes a concern between a dream group member and a partner. The dream already described (see p. 74) in which the female dreamer has a ‘jealousy’ dream about seeing her male partner dancing intimately with another woman at a party, was narrated by the dreamer and understood as being relevant to his possible behaviour. The dreamer had woken up following this dream, feeling that the dream was very real and as a consequence felt quite rejected. She had described this dream to her male partner who advised her to ‘interpret’ the dream image of him as part of herself! He advised her to explore the part of her that wanted to be at the party and having a good time and not to blame him in reality for her dream imagery of his unfaithfulness. Here the politics and dynamics of interpersonal relationships intersects with plausibly different ways of relating to dream imagery.
A Social and Political Perspective
The interpretive purpose displayed in the dreamwork groups was influenced by social theory as well as by psychological theory. A feminist perspective was the most manifest political and social perspective in the interpretive process. Ernst and Goodison have attempted to integrate a feminist perspective in their use of both dreamwork and visualisation methods (1981:158). A feminist perspective, in relation to dreamwork, is concerned through its focus on personal imagery, with an analysis of the oppression of women in a patriachical society as well as with the practical empowerment of women within their actual lives.
Such a perspective approaches any interpretive position in relation to dream imagery as possibly needing to be critiqued from a feminist standpoint. Moreover such socially constructed systems of meaning as interpretive frameworks for dreamwork are continually being re-evaluated as shown by the following example drawn from a family therapist recently writing about using dreamwork in such therapy. Buchholz (1990:388-390) analysed examples of using dream material in family therapy situations. He encountered a deep level of mutual understanding of dreams within these families. In one example both the 18 year old boy, Billy, and his father had had the same dream in which Billy was pursued out of a cellar by a witch figure. Discussion of this dream image opened up key dynamics within the family linking Billy’s drug addiction to his relationship with his parents and the relationship between them. The ‘witch’ image was chronologically and dynamically linked to an early description of Billy’s mother by her mother-in-law as being a ‘witch’, and overall the dream was understood in the session as expressing Billy’s wish to escape a seductive mother. This ‘witch’ image appears to have been a key for both the male and female members of this family to disclose deep fears and hitherto unrevealed fantasy material about each other. However, the negative meaning ascribed to the ‘witch’ image in the discussion about the dream is presented in the article as being unproblematic. Yet, such a negative stereotyping or interpretation of the ‘witch’ image can be critiqued from a feminist perspective as being a sexist interpretation. Such a conflictual diversity of interpretation well illustrates the micro-cultural and political aspects of contemporary dreamwork. Likewise the feminist interpretations evident in the examples from my dream data, such as in the following data, similarly illustrate the point,