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Which Rules Are Made to Be Broken?

By Montague Ullman, M.D.

Dream Appreciation Newsletter Vol. 3 No. 2, Spring 1998

I am frequently asked if it is ever all right to deviate from the process. The pro­cess offers a structure within which safe dream work can be carried out. A structure is not a rigid container. There can be some "give" to it.

Clearly stated, the pur­pose of a dream group is to provide the dreamer with the help s/he needs to the extent that help is wanted. Within the structure and with this goal in mind, there is the freedom for all to say what­ever they wish to say but at the proper time and in the proper way.

The only truly un­breakable rule is: "Thou shalt not do harm to the dreamer." That harm can come about whenever the dreamer's authority and con­trol is threatened as it is when leading questions are put to the dreamer. These run the risk of touching on areas the dreamer is not ready to go into or does not wish to go into. Any attempt to push a dreamer beyond the limits s/he has set will have the same effect. This is also true for orchestrating projections based on specu­lations or theoretical knowl­edge not justified by any­thing forthcoming from the dreamer.

Here are a few creative ways to be flexible with the process without harming the dreamer.

There is enough flex­ibility in the process to adapt to the constraints of time when the dream is very long. For instance, combining the two substages of Stage 2 (feelings and metaphors) can save time. Even when one engages with both of these substages separately, they can be limited in the interest of time.

Combining these sub­stages is also more expedient when a dream is offered that consists of a single image. In this situation, it generally proves easier to develop feelings about the image as one develops its metaphori­cal possibilities.

Another technique when time is short comes during the playback. One need not play the entire dream back scene by scene, but simply call images to the dreamer's attention that have not yet been sufficiently de­veloped.

Sometimes a dreamer may feel in good contact with the dream except for a single image. At any point in Stage 3 (the dreamer's re­sponse, search for context, playback and orchestration) the dreamer can ask the group to go back into the game mode (Stage 2) and offer further metaphorical pro­jections around that image. Having had the dreamer's response and perhaps part of the dialogue, these ensuing projections may strike closer to home. Should this be the case, there would be no ne­cessity to go further with the dialogue.

On occasion, a dreamer may have two dreams from the same night that feel pressing to present. If time is available, this wish should be respected. By the same token, a dreamer may feel that dreams from two different nights are related and wish to share them. That, too, is acceptable if they are reasonably short and time is available.