Dream-work Expanded for Groups

Dream-work is the caffeine of the soul. An effective practice will help keep us spiritually awake. Why is this? By intentionally reflecting on our nightly dreams, the process of “noticing and befriending” gives one direct access to unconscious material of all kinds. The dreamscapes of the nightly REM cycles reveal metaphors of feelings and mood, otherwise unacknowledged parts of the personality, seeds of creativity, even messages from God; but this inner development takes place best when we train ourselves to remember and reflect. Those who keep a dream journal, and expand the material into conscious awareness, those who sometimes share content and insights with family members and spiritual directors are following  an ancient practice; it was widely commended, then forgotten, and is now returning in post-modernity.

Until recently, I thought prudence encouraged limited sharing of dream material, apart from intimate relationships and those trained in dream-work. There may be dangers in manipulative interpretation, broken confidences and group pressure.  Attending the annual summer Haden Institute Dream Conference has broadened my perspective on this issue. The small group technique developed by Bob Haden is clearly safe, effective and stimulating for participants. Of course the best way to experience his method would be to attend a conference, but the simple process is well explained in Haden’s 2010 book “Unopened Letters from God: Using Biblical Dreams to Unlock Your Nightly Dreams,” available from: www.hadeninstitute.com.

When a person I have been mentoring has some experience with journaling and has had a session or two around Chapter 9, “Dreams” from “Discovering the Treasure Within,” I try to involve them with 4-6 others in a dream group to meet as long and as often as participants find it helpful.

The Group Process Outlined (A fuller version is in Haden’s book, page 183-184.):

  1. Leader begins with a simple ritual to center the group and invoke God’s Spirit.
  2. Take a few minutes to check in with each other. Share an experience, relevant information, or feelings.
  3. Leader may give a short presentation on the wisdom of the dream, a reading from Jungian psychology, scripture, mythology –“something to call forth the Self.”
  4. Everyone shares a dream scenario, or perhaps just a title.
  5. Leader asks for a volunteer to work with a dream. (This is the main course; there may be time for two dreams.)
    1. The person shares the dream story without interpretation or reflection.
    2. The group asks questions to clarify for all –no interpretations.
    3. The leader asks the person to “give the dream to the group.”  The dreamer turns chair around so as to listen without responding.
    4. The group “projects” on the dream from each person’s perspective. This time is not for analysis or interpretation. Each one shares, always beginning with: “If it were my dream…” or “In my dream…”  (“This is a way to minimize, own and acknowledge projection.” Haden)
    5. Leader invites the dreamer back into the group to share further insights, connections to conscious life, and amplifications that may come to mind.
    6. Leader reminds dreamer and others the dream(s) will continue to develop, no need to work through every detail or concern.
    7. Conclude with a closing prayer circle.

The leader should be a person experienced in facilitating small groups and with some knowledge of dream work; otherwise, leadership may rotate. Haden notes this procedure is not meant to be psychotherapy or a substitute for it, though growth and healing may often be experienced.