What Do Your Dreams Mean?
Dreams, says Philippa Perry, are an important way of understanding ourselves. They are a metaphor for our psyches and a way of unpeeling our unconscious to reveal what we are truly thinking.
Philippa’s dream workshop was the first co-production between welldoing.org and the how to: Academy; it was held at the beautiful Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design in Soho, London on October 28. I joined a capacity crowd to hear Philippa, a (non-practising) psychotherapist, teach us how to gather meaning from our nighttime adventures.
She doesn't agree with Freud that dreams are wish fulfilment; she sides with Fritz Perls, the German psychiatrist, founder of Gestalt therapy, who believed dreams were the route to integration; a way of finding out more about yourself.
Philippa used Perl’s method when she sat with one of the attendees and asked her first to describe a dream from her own perspective, in the continuous present. The dream started in a large, Gothic mansion where her parents’ sitting room suddenly appeared. Through open French doors she could see lions in the garden and as she went to close the doors, they started moving towards her. “Sometimes when I dream it, I close the door in time, other times I don’t and the lions come into the room”.
Then she was asked to describe the dream from the perspective of something else in the dream; she chose one of the lions. This time the danger was not obvious; the lion was curious not bloodthirsty. As Philippa said, every perspective is us; it is our dream and everyone in it is us.
She invited the other attendees to comment: “If I had that dream I would think …” and the answers were as myriad as our dreams. For some the lions were protective, for others endangering her parents; for one woman it evoked Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast: “I thought the lion would turn into a prince and marry me!”
In small groups we took it in turn to tell a dream from our own perspective and then from the perspective of another in the same dream - which could be a kettle, a door, the policeman chasing your down the road. It was remarkably effective - “doh! suddenly I could see what it was about” was the most common response.
Making us feel relaxed, a room full of strangers, by getting us to stand up and shake ourselves about, Philippa then ran through other ways we could work with our dreams - from keeping dream diaries to reliving them in our imagination to gain more insight.
And if we don’t engage with our dreams? Well that, declared Philippa, won’t work at all: “If you don’t listen to your dreams they will keep at you until they make you ill”.