The use of Dreamwork in psychotherapy:
the Embodied Imagination method
Anne Di Lauro
Part of my work as a psychotherapist is to help clients to locate and strengthen their “inner healer” - the part of themselves that can care for and heal their suffering. We work together to become more aware of present reality and how it is impacted by past psychic wounding. In Jungian terms, awareness of reality involves discovering some ignored parts of one’s psyche (the shadow) in order to free the psychic energy that might be locked away there.
As they begin to make meaning of the various threads of their lives, clients might also experience moments of contact with the numinous, a sense of something larger than themselves, moments that feel like grace or enlightenment. The primordial role of spirituality in psychic wholeness has long been familiar in Jungian psychology and in psychotherapeutic methods that have their origins in Jung’s work. Research into the role of spirituality in the health and healing of the psyche is also becoming known in general psychotherapeutic writings.
Often what emerges in psychotherapy is inner conflict – for example, a choice between the client’s needs and the needs of others, or conflict between the inner life and the outer life.
Jung found that, by holding the tension of opposites, the client eventually transcends their dilemma.
One of the tools that I use to help clients in their explorations and healing is the Embodied Imagination method of dreamwork developed and taught by Jungian analyst Robert Bosnak.
In the Embodied Imagination (EI) method (formerly called Embodied Dream Imagery), the therapist or dream worker gently and respectfully guides the dreamer to re-enter the landscape of the dream, to slow down the dream images and to feel the emotions of the dream in the body.
The dream worker follows the images of the dream with close attention, devoting as much time as is necessary to allow each image to be explored, felt and anchored in the body. The work is done in a state of deep relaxation and the dreamer is encouraged to stay with body feelings and to stay out of his or her head. The dream worker looks in particular for contrasting states within the dream.
The dreamer is helped to experience the dream not only from the dream ego’s perspective but also from the point of view of the other characters in the dream through identification with the dream-Other. Identification is not the same as imagining what the other feels, which is merely projection of our conscious attitude onto the dream-Other. Rather it is an involuntary happening that is brought about by careful observation of the dream-Other’s bodily posture or way of moving.
As a result of the dreamwork, several things usually happen:
1. The dreamer’s sense of self is enhanced. The dreamwork gives a “gloss” or value to the dreamer’s inner world. The dreamer enters into the images that furnish his/her inner world, valuing the complexity of that inner world and of its connection and interaction with the outside world.
2. Because dreams tend to be a metaphor for what is currently going on in the life of the dreamer, he or she becomes aware in a bodily sense of what is happening in the dream and hence more keenly aware of the true emotional state of affairs in his or her life.
3. Because the dream often presents symbolically a conflict that is creating distress for the dreamer, experiencing the two opposites as embodied feelings helps the dreamer to fully recognise that there is a conflict and to tolerate the conflict until it resolves itself through a growing or development in the dreamer’s own psyche.
4. Because the dreamer is no longer in his or her head, staying with the embodied emotions brings about insights, memories and connections that would not normally be available to consciousness.
5. When an image in the dream connects to a past trauma, fully experiencing the way that past trauma continues to live in the body allows the dreamer to recognise and deal with how it is currently impeding wellbeing.
6. The dreamer gets in touch with her/his “inner healer” via feelings and energies in the dream that might seem foreign to her/him in waking life but which represent the potential for healing and growth.
7. A sense of contact with the numinous can happen through beholding an image that conveys a feeling for which words are inadequate.
8. The dreamwork facilitates change because the dreamer has truly experienced his or her reality and potential rather than only conceptualising them.
Although the Embodied Imagination method at first sight might appear to have some similarities to the experiential methods of Process-oriented psychotherapy and Gestalt therapy, there are differences. EI is conducted while the dreamer remains still with eyes closed, focussing inwardly. There is no physical interaction between the dreamer and the dream worker. In EI the dreamer does not play a role or act out. Sensing into the energies of other figures of the dream does not happen through role-play but through slowly focussing on the body and movement of the other figure, until the dreamer slips into the bodily sense of the “other”.
The method can also be used with memories, both distant and recent. Clients find that entering the awareness of the other by sensing into what it is like to be in the body of the other creates particularly valuable insights and healing.
A number of international dream groups using the EI method are conducted by Robert Bosnak’s colleague Jill Fischer via Cyber Dream Work.
Author note: Anne Di Lauro is in private practice as a psychotherapist in Brisbane. She has a Master of Counselling degree from Queensland University of Technology and is a certified Embodied Dream Imagery Psychotherapist. She has been involved with Embodied Imagination for over eight years and incorporates it into her psychotherapy work. She also provides training in the Embodied Imagination method.
Bosnak, R. (1988). A Little Course in Dreams Boston: Shambhala.
Bosnak, R. (1989). Dreaming with an AIDS patient: Out of print.
Bosnak, R. (1996). Integration and ambivalence in transplants. In D. Barrett (Ed.), Trauma and dreams (pp. 217-230). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Bosnak, R. (1996). Tracks in the Wilderness of Dreaming: Exploring interior landscape through practical dreamwork. New York: Delta.
Di Lauro, A. (2003). The experience of the dreamer in Embodied Dream Imagery: A phenomenological study. Unpublished Masters of Counselling Project, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane.
Jung, C. G. (1967). Symbols of Transformation (2nd ed.). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Jung, C. G. (1974). Dreams. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.