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Becoming The Dream A Gestalt Approach

By Hank OMahony.
You are the maker of the dream
Whatever you put into the dream must be what is in you.
[Fritz Perls]
This quote from Perls, the founder of Gestalt psychotherapy, goes to the heart of dreams in Gestalt.
Freud, who brought up the whole question of dreams enabled us to look at dreams. His concept is that
a dream is a distorted representation of a secret incompatible wish that does not agree with the
conscious attitude and is censored, or more correctly, distorted. This makes the dream unrecognized
by the conscious mind but the wish still lives and shows itself.
This leaves us with a dream that is distorted, censored and not available to the conscious mind. But is
this true? Can we safely say that a dream is that obscure? This is perfectly plausible since a dream is
like a censored secret; otherwise we could understand it. Mostly we dont understand our dreams,
rarely will you come across dreams that are clear from beginning to end. Freuds solution, to impose a
definitive structure on the origin of dreams, restricts their meaning and controls the resulting
understanding of our dreams.
Dont Interpret
Fritz Perls states that: In Gestalt therapy we dont interpret dreams. We do something much more
interesting with them. Instead of analyzing and furthcr cutting up the dream, we want to bring it back
to life. Life in Gestalt therapy is becoming authentic people who arc capable of experiencing and
expressing their own emotions.
Avoidance
To understand dreams, we need to look at the structure of avoidance in Gestalt therapy. All of us have
holes in our personality. These are blank spaces, areas of our life and our personality that we have
disowned or are phobic about. If I allow myself to experience this is will be nothing or Ill cry for ever
and ever This is the impasse, the area in Gestalt therapy that is the dead area.
Let me illustrate: A person came to me with a nightmare. In the dream she was in an attic and saw a
dark, musty, spider-webbed corner. She woke up frightened and very scared. I began by getting her to
be the attic. This she could do as long as she didnt have to face that dark corner. Then I said: be the
corner She shrunk into herself and began to tremble, I cant she said. She started to shake and
tremble with terror. Whatever was in that corner was so terrifying she wouldnt face it. By allowing her
to experience and remain in her panic she began to face the corner of her attic. There in the corner was
herself molested! A part of herself she had been avoiding for years.

Most role playing is designed to use up our energy rather than face the impasse; to avoid the anxiety
this produces. If we resist the temptation to go back to cliches and role playing, we use our energy to
live with the anxiety of our disowned parts.
Freud once called the dream the Via Regina, the royal road to the unconscious. Perls states that it is
the royal road to integration, of re-owning certain parts of our personalities. The unconscious is
something very hard to know, but the dream is the most spontaneous reality we have. It comes without
our intention. We dont will it nor do we deliberately plan it. There is nothing absurd or distorted in a
dream. We dont experience it as absurd at the time it is real and we feel it as a real experience. In
our waking life there is always some control over our actions, either imposed by the environment or
produced within ourselves. Not in a dream! we fly, change shape, are swallowed up and return whole.
Now Perls contention and the theory of Gestalt is that all the elements of the dream are fragments of
our personalities. We have to re-own these projected and fragmented parts of the personality and reown the hidden potential that appears in the dream.
Produce a Drama
In Gestalt therapy the method of working dreams is to enable the client to produce a drama with the
client playing all the parts, writing the script and dialogue, and then acting out the drama. The
therapists job is not to interpret the dream or even point out to the client what is going on in the
dream, rather it is to load the client to parts of the dream that they might be avoiding. This can be by
projecting their own thoughts, words, emotions, etc., onto someone else in the dream. By becoming
each one of the persons, things and even emotions and modes within the dream, one really becomes
that thing! Whatever it is in the dream become it. The therapist encourages the client to feel,
experience and even savour being each part of the dream.
Rather than going on about the theory, let us consider a few examples. Nora has just married for the
second time after a number of years as a widow. She has just had this dream and wonders if she is
dreaming about a disaster for a very close friend. She scorns light and her breathing is shallow.
Therapist: Tell me the dream in the present tense.
Nora: I am walking into a kitchen, I think its my kitchen and I see two people arguing. Hes saying she
doesnt love him, that shes too busy and is never available when he wants her. She looks at him, she
seems very angry. She begins to speak but stops, turns around and walks away. I now recognize the
couple they are very close friends of mine. Then I wake up feeling scared and breathing very badly.
Thats it.
Therapist: O.K. How is your breathing now?
Nora: Not good.

Therapist: Id like you to allow yourself to breath. (Nora does this) Now Id like you to be the man in
the dream describe yourself.
Nora: Im tall, and straight. Im wearing a dark suit.
Therapist: Now what do you have to say to Nora.
Nora: (as man) Dont you see I love you, and I want you to be near me, and all this running around
confuses me. What do you want? Im afraid youll leave me.
Therapist: Now Nora whats your answer?
Nora: I do love you (she seems to be excited) Oh my God! its my own husband John yes I do love
you but I have other things to do for myself.
Therapist: Say that again.
Nora: I do love you but Ive other things to do for myself.
Therapist: Tell John what other things you have to do for yourself.
Nora: Ive got to find out who I am. Sometimes I must go off by myself to be alone. But Im not
leaving you. Its just that I need to do both things. I dont want to hurt you but I must do what I need to
do no, Im going to look after me and my life too!
Nora looks very alive, and opens her eyes, she looks at the therapist and states: Ive been scared to
admit this to John and even myself. Weve only been married a short time and I feel his possessiveness.
Its too much for me. Ive got to stand my own ground for myself.
Therapist: I love you and there are other things I need to do for myself by myself, can you say that to
John?
Nora: (hesitantly) I love you and there . . .there, are other things things I need to do for myself by
myself.
Therapist: Id like to stop here?
Nora: Thank you.
Now in the dream, Nora had projected her worst fears about her new marriage and its future onto her
friends. When asked to create a drama with herself as its centre, she immediately recognised that it was
her own life and future that was at stake. That was the reason for her fear and anxiety. Confronting the
issue now enabled her to clarify her own position. In doing that she got in touch with both poles of her
marriage her love for and desire to be with her husband and her need to be alone to discover herself.

Having re-owned the projection, Nora now can use her energy for herself and use her self knowledge to
make real contact with her husband.
Recurring Dreams:
Client: I have this dream that keeps recurring, sometimes for weeks, then not happening for months,
or years, but then it comes back again. In the dream Im always hurrying.
Therapist: Id like to stop you here. Now Id like you to close your eyes and tell me one of the dreams in
the present.
Client: Any one?, O.K. Im in school, Im heading off to take an exam. Im in a hurry, a panic. Im not
sure where the exam is and Im frightened that I wont find the place (breathing is shallow)
Therapist: Take your time, breath deeply and continue the dream.
Client: I see the sign EXAMINATION HALL then Im in the hall, and there are lots of people and
Im trying to find a desk, (again shallow breathing) I get to the desk and sit down. I look into my bag
for my exam book and pens. I cant find them. Im frightened that I left them at home but I finally get
them. Everything gets quiet, and the papers are given out. When I get my paper my hands are
trembling and I can feel the sweat running down my back, (his hands are trembling) I open the paper
and its blank. I wake up shaking and crying and very, very frightened.
Therapist: O.K. Id like you to be the exam paper, describe yourself.
Client: Im white off white and Im square and theres nothing written on me -Im blank.
Therapist: Say that to Mike (clients name)
Client: Mike Im off white yellowish, square and Im blank.
Therapist: Mike, I want you to be the Mike in the examination hall what do you look like?
Client: Im dressed very formally a suit a dark suit, white shirt and tie. Im clean and smart.
Therapist: O.K. What do you want to say to the examination paper?
Client: Youre blank, what is a blank examination paper doing here? what am I doing here? (here he
seems excited, not depressed)
Therapist: Say that again, what am I doing here?
Client: What am I doing here? I dont want to be here. I want to be.. (he stops and begins to
breath shallowly)

Therapist: Breath I want you to imagine yourself wherever you would like to be. O.K. let yourself go.
Where would you like to be?
Client: South Africa, (he begins to cry)
Therapist: Allow your sadness and breath.
Client: (crying softly) Im in South Africa and am standing at my sisters grave. Ive never been here but
this is her grave (beginning to cry more openly)
Therapist: Breathe, have a look in the grave, can you sec your sister?
Client: Yes!
Therapist: Is there anything you need to say to her?
Client: Mary, Im sorry that I wasnt here.
Im going to stop the process here, suffice it to say that Mike went on to share his grief the first time
that he had really allowed himself to feel the loss of his sister. The resolution of the recurring dream for
Mike, was very different from an interpretation of the dream itself. By itself I would be led to think
Mike is always failing to live up to other peoples expectations. No matter what he did, in every dream
the exam paper was blank and he would fail. However, by enabling him to produce his own
interpretation, we find out that his blankness is an avoidance of doing something else. In avoiding his
emotions, his sadness over his sisters death, he made himself blank. Getting in touch with this made
him realize that he really wanted to be somewhere else. His normal conforming attitude to lifes rules
was an exercise in futility he became blank. By allowing himself to stay blank, he understood his
need, his emotional need to be somewhere else: grieving for his sister.
As a recurring dream, the message was the same. Whenever he avoided his own emotions, especially
strong ones, he made himself blank. His unconscious self knows this is not healthy, so his dreams
continue to produce the same message. He needs to experience being blank not waking up scared of
being blank.
By avoiding the blankness or the repression of his emotions, he is stuck. The recurrence of the dream
is meant to emphasise his stuckness. By using the Gestalt process of staying in the impasse, getting him
to experience that impasse, he was able in the now to be blank.
Now, here is the essence of Gestalt. The therapist does not interpret the blankness, nor fill in the
message. There is no message, just blankness.
Now comes the change the Aha! experience. As Fritz Perls used to say I dont have to be here, this
is the implosion the going away from the dead middle zone of non-contact with either the self or the

environment. The movement towards self, away from fear of what might be to what is.
Im in South Africa at my sisters grave. Here we are at an explosion of authentic behaviour grief at
his sisters death.
In this work, the therapists job is to enable the client to move away from roles and cliches into the
impasse. Then the work is to frustrate the client from avoiding the impasse but to remain there, in
the now, experiencing the anxiety this will produce. The healing human who stays with this impasse
will produce the organically whole response the activity that frees and fulfills the authentic needs of
the individual.
References
Fritz Perls: Gestalt Therapy Verbatim
C.G. Jung: Analytical Psychology, its Theory & Practice.
Hank OMahony is co-founder of the Irish Gestalt Centre. He has run a number of Dream Workshops
using Gestalt, and is currently researching a book on the Gestalt approach to dreams. He has been
leading groups for 25 years and has 7 years experience training psychotherapists.