Work with dreams in gestalt therapy

Famous experts in psychology and psychiatry have always paid much attention at people’s
dreams. For example, Pearls used to say that any dream is “the direct path to harmonious
consciousness.” This theory was based on the fact that all dreams are important messages.
Moreover, fragments of a dream are often associated with the person’s character. However,
the dreamer is not always aware of these associations.

According to these conclusions, psychologists and psychotherapists state, by means of
studying the patient’s dreams, they can help the patient to accept rejected features of his
own “Self”. It is very important because the patient often projects these features onto other
people and objects and, as a result, he is not able to establish contact with them.

Work techniques

Psychotherapists have developed many techniques of working with dreams. Moreover,
dreams do not have to be completed, and this the advantage of such methods. It is possible
to work with a small fragment of a dream. Moreover, sometimes experts can even work with
the feelings experienced during a dream. Even the person’s memories just after the dream
can be regarded as unfinished gestalt.

Special attention is paid to dreams that repeat regularly. After all, in such dreams certain
messages are cyphered. Dreams in gestalt therapy are studied from different angles. For
this purpose, a whole complex of techniques is used

  • Phenomenological approach
  • Technique of present tense
  • Placing in a real life situation
  • Use of non-verbal means
  • Application of first-person narrative
  • Conducting a dream dialogue
  • Selection of alternative end
  • Dream as a message to the therapist

Each of these methods has its own peculiarities.

Phenomenological approach


Here, it is very important to track energy levels of a person – both rises and falls. In this case,
the specialist should monitor what is happening at the moment. Particular attention should
be paid to a variety of characters, images and metaphors that appear in a dream and occur
in reality.

It is necessary to be ready for the fact that psychotherapist’s interpretation of these images
may not coincide with the patient’s opinion.

Technique of present tense


Here, the patient must retell his dream from the point of view of “Self-statements”. It is
proved that this technique allows to sharpen human feelings maximally. Therefore, the
images will be clearer and brighter.

Placing in a real life situation


During the narration about a dream, the person himself enriches this narration with various
figures. At this time, a psychotherapist may notice external changes occurring with a person
— new intonations appear, involuntary body movements are observed, ways of interrupting
contact are seen. Experts advise to inform the patient about it.

Non-verbal methods

For a more complete assessment of the dream and its full-scale reconstruction, it is
recommended to reconstruct the dream not just verbally. Therefore, the patient during the
session can actively use his body – he may try different postures, move around the room,
make some noise or various movements.


Alternatively, other techniques can be used, such as artistic methods. It is possible to
reconstruct dreams with the help of modeling clay or paints, because these materials afford
to create pictures. Dream painting is an efficient way to study hidden symbols.


Application of a first-person narrative


It is possible to try working with a dream from the dreamer’s side. A person should retell his
dream, speaking from the third person, but not from the first one. For example, if another
person appeared in a dream, it is possible to play with his image. During this exercise, the
patient often understands who or what became the basis of his dream. In addition, the
patient understands more clearly the reason of his dream. In this case, hidden symbols are
easily revealed, and it contributes to more profound understanding of the dream.

This technique is especially good for working with disturbing dreams. From the position of
his own “Self”, the patient often cannot notice and estimate symbols that disturb a dream
and cause anxiety. Aggressive and disturbing elements of the dream are often connected
with features unconsciously rejected by the person in his own personality. Looking at the
disturbing event from other people’s position changes the perception of this event.
Projections, as psychotherapists say, stimulate the release of energy. It contributes to more
constructive perception of the situation.


Conducting a dream dialogue


It is possible to try working in pairs. Experts advise the patient to illustrate any dream he
liked. The patient can draw two or three objects. Another patient should draw the second
picture. Then, every patient, on behalf of his characters, must communicate with a character
from a partner’s dream. This dialogue should be mentally put into real life and practiced
Selection of alternative ends

This method works especially well when working with nightmares. If the patient is scared of
the dream’s end, he can imagine himself powerful and strong, in order to solve problems
conveniently. Alternatively, instead of working with his own “Self”, the patient can invent
alternative ending of the dream with another person. This person will act as a powerful figure
solving the problem.


Dream as a message to the therapist


Some psychotherapists believe that any dream can be interpreted as a message to the
specialist. A person cannot express some feelings and emotions, but the dream can inform
the doctor about the patient’s internal experiences. Moreover, it is done unconsciously. The
specialist should listen carefully and analyze the patient’s words, trying to understand the
person’s message.


Retelling a dream means that a person wants to create connection with his inner world.
Dreams are the body’s request for physical or psychological help. In addition, dreams can
help find and use the source of creation and energy. Therefore, it is necessary to learn the
rules of correct deciphering of these messages.

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