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Subtleties of the "orchestration"

By Montague Ullman, M D

Dream Appreciation Newsletter Vol. 2 No. 1, Winter 1997

Even after people have been in a dream group using the process for quite a while, they are not totally comfortable with the third phase of the dialogue, the orchestration. This is where the questioning of the dreamer has been terminated and the group members now offer their ideas (orchestrating projections) about the dream imagery and waking reality that the dream has not yet seen.

The first rule is, we don't engage in the orchestration unless we are invited to do so. There are several reasons why an orchestration is indicated and one reason why it isn't. They all depend on where the dreamer is at, with respect to the dream at the end of the prior two stages of the dialogue (the search for context and the playback).


1.   The dreamer may feel satisfied but is eager to see if there may be more.

2.   The dreamer maybe at a loss and very much feel the need for further help.

3.   There is another indication for the orchestration in response to a need the dreamer may have and not have been aware of. This arises not out of a desire for further clarity, but out of an unspoken need to share of herself in so spontaneously honest a way before others who have proven themselves interested, empathic and accepting. Sometimes a dream is dreamt and presented precisely for that purpose.

The one indication for not engaging the dreamer in an orchestration is when it becomes obvious that as full an "ah hah" response has occurred as is likely to occur and that any further pursuit of meaning would be counterproductive. It is up to the leader, sensing that this is the situation, to raise this possibility with the dreamer who can then confirm it or not.

The technique of orchestrating someone else's dream is the most subtle part of the process and requires skills that take time to develop. Although learning how to listen carefully to everything a dreamer shares is important at every stage of the process, it is an extremely important prerequisite for an effective orchestration. Any feelings that come through in what the dreamer is sharing are important. When they come through clearly there is no problem. Sometimes they are highly nuanced, noted only in passing as if they were of no particular significance. If one is sensitive enough to pick them up and keep them in mind, on occasion they may hold the key to the dream's meaning.

Other helpful hints can be gleaned from attention to the developmental aspects of the imagery as one scene shifts to another to a final resolution, from paying particular attention to an image that stands out either because of its intensity or the amount of detail that is given, and finally the emphasis the dreamer herself or himself gives to the image.

Let me identify two things that help me get a felt sense of what the issue is and how the dream is depicting it. The first question I ask myself is: Based on what has been said about the context of the dream, can I hazard a guess as to what question is being unconsciously addressed in the dreamer's psyche on the night the dream occurred? The second question is: Can I get a sense of what general category of issues has been opened up, e.g. dependence or independence, being for others or being for oneself, expressing or repressing negative feelings, being passive or active, issues arising in connection with authority figures, etc.

Problem areas

The common error is to introduce ideas of one's own or gleaned from other sources into one's orchestration that have no justification in anything the dreamer has shared with the group. This is an error so easily slipped into based on a priori ideas of what certain symbols mean, about what numbers in a dream might mean, or psychoanalytic formulations about early development that have not been opened up by the dreamer. It is not a question of whether the ideas being expressed are right or not. The are simply not right for the dreamer at this time.

Another error is to continue talking about the dream as if it were still one's own. In this stage of the process you are telling the dreamer what you think the dream is saying. You speak directly to the dreamer using the second person.

There is also a tendency to reframe a dream so as to offer reassurance to the dreamer. The only true reassurance is the degree of contact the dreamer is helped to make to his or her own dream.

When these guidelines are not followed, there is the danger of opening up areas the dreamer does not feel prepared to deal with at the time, causing either confusion or needless anxiety. A dreamer, as the process unfolds, leads us into his or her psyche only to the extent they feel comfortable with the level of exposure involved.

One final precaution. The offering of an orchestration is not something one is suddenly obliged to do because the group has reached that stage in the process. An orchestrating projection should arise out of ideas simmering as the process unfolds, ideas that can then be organized and presented to the dreamer at the appropriate time.