This is a guest post by psychotherapist G. Scott Sparrow. Image by h.koppdelaney
I have spoken and written about how cocreative dream theory transforms the way we think of dreams, but I have devoted just as much time to developing a dreamwork methodology based on the theory, which is surprisingly easy to learn and to use. While I began developing this method over 35 years ago, only in the last decade has it has matured into a systematic dream work approach, which has been called the FiveStar Method (FSM).
Rather than presenting this method in great detail, I will only summarize the five basic steps. Copies of complete papers and articles can be found on the DreamStar Institute website. Please note that in contrast to Montague Ullman‘s or Gayle Delaney‘s efforts to insulate the dreamer from the dream helper’s projections, I believe that a more open dialogue represents a tolerable risk in a client-centered, one-on-one setting. Moreover, I have found that the FSM protects the dreamer from excessive projections by restricting the dream helper’s comments to descriptions of dream process, at least in the first three steps.
Step One: Sharing the Dream in the Present Tense and Sharing Feelings.
Rather than considering the imagery from the outset, the FSM takes some time developing the affective and relational context of the dream. First of all, the dreamers share the dream in the present tense (as Fritz Perls recommended), and then the dreamer and the dream helper share their respective feelings that arose in the course of retelling the dream. This is the first step (or “star”) in this method.
Step Two: Summarizing the Dream Theme (or Process Narrative)
The FSM’s second step is to analyze the dream theme, or process narrative. Unlike some dream experts who have come up with a list of “universal” dream themes, the FSM prescribes a phenomenological distillation of the dream’s observable process, and nothing more. So, an appropriate process narrative might be, “Someone is trying to get away from something and no matter what she tries, she does not succeed until she asks for someone’s help.” Once again, the FSM keeps the focus entirely on what is observable, and emphasizes action over static content. Indeed, any mention of nous (names, places, colors, etc.) are discouraged in the formulation of an effective process narrative.
Step Three: Identifying and Troubleshooting the Dreamer’s Responses
The first two steps establish the affective and process context of the dream experience. The third step is the “crown jewel” of the FSM. In this step, the dream work focuses on the dreamer’s responses to the dream, which includes assumptions, beliefs, thoughts, and behaviors. Since most dreamers are unfamiliar with this emphasis, these responses have to be accessed outside the original dream report. But as client/dreamers become familiar with the FSM, they begin to incorporate these dimensions into their initial dream recollections.
The third step also considers what the dreamer could have done differently, and would like to do differently if a similar dream should ever recur. By considering alternative responses to the dream scenario, the FSM promotes the view that the dreamer can alter the dream memory and its effects in the here and now, and can rehearse for future dreams of a similar nature. The assumption that the dreamer is free to change grows out of the lucid dream literature, but is strengthened by the belief that I have espoused earlier that all dreams evidence some degree of dreamer reflectiveness.
Step Four: Imagery Transformations and Associations
The fourth step of the FSM finally addresses the imagery, and may involve noninvasive imagery work such as Jungian amplification and Gestalt dialoguing. But rather than treating the imagery as static, the dream worker focuses on the ways that the imagery may have changed in the course of the dream, and raises the question of how these changes might mirror changes, or the lack thereof, in the dreamer’s responses to the dream.
So instead of asking, “What does a growling black dog mean to you?” the dream worker might ask, “How did the dog’s behavior relate to your response to it, and what do you think would have produced a more desirable response from the dog?”
In the context of this process-oriented analysis of the imagery, it is, of course, important to discuss the dimension of life to which the dog might be alluding (e.g instinctual urges, dependent people, etc.). But the FSM discourages a direct one-to-one bridge between the dream imagery and a waking situation, because such narrowing, however appealing, effectively locks the imagery into place, thus ignoring the possibility of transformation.
For example, I had a client who literally dreamt that he was floating above a growling black dog that was barking and jumping up at him. My client flapped his arms and continue to float just above the barking dog. By focusing on his responses in therapy, my client was able to see how he was remaining aloof from his feelings, for fear that they would overwhelm him. A month later, after trying to trust his feelings, he dreamt again of floating just above a beautiful woman, who playfully tried to grab his foot and bring him down to earth. While he again remained aloof throughout the dream, he awoke feeling playful and desirous of her affections. By focusing principally on his reactions to the dog, and avoiding a hard-and-fast connection between the static image and parallel waking concerns, my client was able to alter his relationship to the dream imagery, thus freeing it to transform and evolve alongside him.
The Fifth Step: Applying New Responses
The last step of the FiveStar Method involves having the dreamer identity a life context in which he or she can practice the new responses that were identified in the dream work. This commitment to change one’s response prepares the dreamer to transform his waking relationships as well as to prepare for future dreams of a similar theme. At this point, the client may or may not adopt a lucid dream induction strategy in order to leverage the therapeutic benefit of the dream work.
In the final analysis, the FSM treats dreamer awareness and imagery analysis as equally valuable components in a larger framework that values the evolving relationship between dreamer and dream as the centerpiece of a dynamic and relational approach to the dream experience.
About the Author
G. Scott Sparrow, EdD is a psychotherapist and Associate Professor at University of Texas – Pan American, and the author of many books including the classic Lucid Dreaming: Dawning of the Clear Light. His website for dream mentorship is the DreamStar Institute.