THE STUFF OF DREAMS: FROM DREAM IMAGE TO PSYCHODRAMATIC IMAGE
1) The Theater of Dreams
2) Dream and Evocation
3) Dream as a Metaphor of the Group
4) Dream as a Metaphor of the Present Situation of the Dreamer
5) The Evolution and Aim of Dream Images
6) About Interpretation — work on dreams and some reflections of our colleagues’ work
7) Restitution through Observations
1) The Theater of Dreams
Cyclically over the course of the night, sleep alternates between deeper and lighter cycles. Dream activity is evidenced in the lighter cycles (REM sleep). REM sleep always follows periods of deeper sleep according to a systematic rhythm that is preceded by some physiological changes. The entire organism plays a role in this cyclical process by making some significant changes. The first condition is evidenced in the relaxation of muscular tone, a phenomenon detected by electromyographic monitors. It almost seems as if the organism is preparing to take in the dream was if it were a spectator who is sitting in a seat in the audience just before a play is about to start. A more rapid heart beat follows. Breathing becomes more irregular and frequent. The pupils make rapid movements behind closed and semi-closed eyelids. The EEG evidences a different pattern that shows activity prevalently in some cerebral areas, such as those connected with vision in the occipital cortex.
It is then that the magic shop of the soul comes alive. The nutcracker prince takes on different guises and appearances, borrows costumes, faces and attitudes from the inexhaustible storehouse of the traces of our memory. He takes the field with his following and takes up his heroic battle against the mouse king. The variations are infinite. There are the everyday battles, the hopes, illusions, frustrations and wounds, stories without heads or tails, banal images, or solemn revelations. The characters are none other than the iridescent range of our feelings and emotions, which in a psychological setting C.G. Jung termed “autonomous complexes.” These are kinds of psychic entities that we can define as more or less welcome guests of our conscious ego whose accompanying strong emotional charge can potentially catalyze our attention, emotion, and intense sentiments. The conscious ego is explicitly called on to measure itself up against these expressions of the more or less deep layers of the unconscious in dreams. When the logical and rational language that the conscious ego is used to dialoguing with comes into contact with these autonomous complexes, this language becomes a confusing and often meaningless blathering. The ego can be swept away by this and can seem to be forced to find new means of communication adapting itself to the symbolic language of images through which the unconscious expresses itself, where things are never exactly what they seem and can constantly transform themselves in some kind of game where the rules are continuously being changed.
This is a little bit like the croquet ground in the story where Alice finds herself playing croquet with the Queen of Hearts. The arches are living cards that move around all the time. The mallets are flamingos and the balls are curled-up hedgehogs that can get back upon their legs and walk away. The questions that are not answered or not even formulated throughout the day are represented in the dream space. Here they ceaselessly reformulate the eternal problems and offer new solutions that are sometimes clear and, instead, sometimes enigmatic and contradictory.
The feature that brings Jung’s thought closest to Moreno’s is without a doubt his work on dreams. In fact, Jung has an interpretation of the dream that he calls “objective” — that is, relating to what the dream communicates in metaphorical language in relation to the “objective” reality of the dreamer’s life. He further recognizes another reading, which he identifies as “subjective.” These two aspects are not in opposition to each other. They do not exclude each other in turn. Rather, they are complementary and they add strength to each other as they add new nuances of meaning. In the reading on the “subjective” level, every character in the dream is a part of the dreamer him- or herself. This character uses or borrows the identities of others under the guise of known or totally unknown people. They are a little like the gods or heroes who present themselves in fables and myths — in borrowed plumes. Thereby they express important messages, do deeds that they could not do in their normal identities, or simply permit themselves to be neutral onlookers to what is happening around them, which could not be shown or revealed directly to them.
The plot of the dream is nothing other than the unfolding of the interactions among the various parts of the dreamer himself — of the “autonomous complexes,” to put it exactly. These are the more or less desired or desirable guests who constantly dialogue in our internal world, who argue, coalesce, divide, show, and hide themselves. As Jung points out, the happenings they go through in dream life follow the patterns of theatrical sequence, along whose lines they express themselves in their infinite variations. There is a preceding action, a setting, and a presentation of the characters. Then the beginning of the action follows along with the accident, the crisis, and finally the slow resolution, which manifests the newly achieved order.
Thus dramatizing and converting the dream images into psychodramatic images cannot help but be the chief instrument for gaining access to the heart of the dream and, at the same time, the heart of the group itself. Through role changes, the “other” roles are given back to the dreamer and simultaneously shared with the group, who experience them personally and reflect them. At the same time, just as in dream narration, the recollected images take shape and are structured in different ways according to the settings, the circumstances, and the people who are narrated to. As the dream is told to the group, it takes on the particular characteristics of the group itself and takes shape even more differently as psychodramatic images are created and arranged in time.
2) THE DREAM AND ITS EVOCATIVE POWER
There is a common theme that I have often found in the writings of my FEPTO colleagues (above all, those of Jaime, Grete, Dag, Giovanni, and Peter) and in my work experience with them. This is the acknowledgement of the evocative power of psychodrama. In fact, while I was working on my book, I was also working on the concept of psychodramatic space as a temenos, or sacred shelter in which some kind of hierophany is celebrated where the group leaders and members themselves act as the celebrants. All of this is very close to the description that Jaime gives to this phenomenon. The feature of “sacredness” — the importance given to what is undertaken in the encounter — is what makes it a ritual and strengthens its powers to evoke. All the chapters in my book dedicated to psychodramatic space delve into this theme through the dream images that the group members’ dreams provide.
As I said, the scenic space where images gradually materialize becomes the dramatic stage for feelings, emotions, and “psychic forces” that animate the whole world of the protagonist and of the group. The images that belonged to the dreams, memories, and emotions experienced at the moment had first been locked inside the inner world of the each group member. Now these images can get in touch with their own communicative ability inside the evocative space that has been created. Even those sitting in their seats who are not participating directly in the scene — as is known in psychodrama — are literally “inundated” by feelings, memories, emotions, and fantasies. The temenos space takes on a strong “catalytic’ function, working to evoke dream images and subsequently or eventually construct psychodramatic images. This space manifests the capacity to awaken and channel an infinity of memories that long have been dulled or entirely forgotten and dig them up from the hidden labyrinths of our long locked-up memories. The image of the earth opened up by bulldozers or plows, giving forth a great abundance of material, are a theme that I have often happened to run across in psychodrama group members’ dreams. This is no accident. It is this evocative function that makes it possible for three different times to coexist magically in the psychodrama temenos — dream time, present time, and past time. These times interweave continuously in the symbolic dimension of the psychodramatic images and of the context itself.
The circle is a mandalic image of wholeness, a symbol of completeness and of equidistance from the center. As has often been pointed out, the circle has always been a fencing in of space that harks back to remote cultures and to the ends of the earth. The border of the temenos separates an outer space from an inner space. The outer space is returned to when the rite stops being celebrated. The inner space hosts a kind of projection of the so-called “outside” that allows psychic energy to emerge and take shape. In Jaime’s groups the leader is on his or her feet at the beginning of the sessions. In my groups, however, the leader takes a different spatial position in that she sits with the others inside the mandalic circle. Nevertheless, there is a great affinity between the two approaches in their common displacement of energies and expectations from the leader to the group over various phases. As opposed to other psychodramatic techniques, I do not usually use “warming up” in the continuous groups that I usually conduct. In fact, the task of warming up is fulfilled by the circle itself: it marks the group off and signals various implications related to the periodical rhythm and repetition of the encounters. This ritual space is the place where the ghosts, thoughts, emotions and memories from the previous sessions have been stored and have sketched out a kind of “mythical” history of the group itself. The mere experience of going back to the same place over the same time period creates a kind of melting of the present time into a totally unique, extremely fluctuating, and elastic temporal dimension where dreams, memories and actions flow together constantly. The circle and the “here and now” temenos give shelter in a protected situation and allow the participants to give themselves up to passivity. Here there are the ghosts that are used to inhabiting the mind while being reined in by conscious activity. These ghosts find room for expressing themselves where even their most banal expectations can be enhanced by new meanings and their most disturbing expectations can be felt in a less threatening way. It is a pleasure for me to consider FEPTO as an evocative space and to associate memories, reminiscences and dreams linked to my groups and to fantasize about those of others’ groups.
3) DREAM AS METAPHOR FOR THE SITUATION OF THE GROUP
When group members have dreams about the group itself, they awaken everyone’s interest and catalyze their attention. These dreams are often chosen to be played out totally or partially, so that the dream images are transformed into psychodramatic images. When such a dream is chosen because it inspires attention and interest, it is usually a kind of metaphor that expresses the group itself through the single group member. This can be considered essential both for reading the dream and for the interactions that the dream inspires, which mostly move along the individual-group axis. It is in this way that the product of an individual’s unconscious manifests itself through images and then takes on other tones of resonance in other participants. This happens both on the conscious level as the members act to create images on the scene and on the unconscious level as other images emerge after both longer and shorter time intervals.
In our working psychodrama practice, the scene that is played out usually remains “faithful” to the protagonist’s narrative. (When I write “our,” I merely intend to point out a common feature shared among the members of our Turin group, where there nevertheless are significant differences among individuals.) This feature is also shared with Argentine psychodrama, as outlined in Graciela’s article in the FEPTO NEWSLETTER and in Jaime’s book.
In any case, subsequent individual responses and resonant tones of the dream often come out in the “sharing” and in later themes, enactments, or dreams. The dream-metaphor can underline obvious or hidden features of the group. Their nuances can be brought out through the construction of psychodramatic images. In this way the dream takes on a life of its own in the group as it materializes (in flesh-and-blood material) and as it discovers a new narrative potential.
In her work, Grete Leutz underlines how the “narration” of a dream takes its own shape in the group. The “narration” is a re-elaboration of the dream that changes as it is acted out and that makes new details emerge that were at first forgotten but then are evoked by the context. Grete contrasts this elaboration through action and dramatic play with a particular, specific type of that secondary elaboration of the dream that Freud defines as the passage from the recollection of images to the sequence of narration.
In Symbols of Transformation Jung defines “thinking through images” and “directed thought.” “Thinking through images” requires a kind of real passivity in listening. “Directed thought” is a movement in thought, a kind of active reorganization or re-elaboration (or transformation) into a story of what before had been received passively. Just as in analysis, in psychodrama there is a constant alternation of these two moments. However, psychodrama adds action. On the one hand, action is the object of “directed thought.” On the other hand, psychodramatic action feels the effects of the nuanced action of the unconscious through the image, which continues to speak from moment to moment, to melt in with the action itself, and to express aspects of the action that had not been hitherto recognized. The group takes an active part in all this. It may happen that a storyteller finds himself more or less consciously adding details, changing aspects and themes of the narrative in relation to the context or to what he or she feels about it. Likewise, the narrated dream takes on different shapes according to the conversation partners, and changes even more as dream images are reconstructed into psychodramatic images. The characters who have been chosen, the looks, the context, and the atmosphere of the group recreate its story, shed light, and cast shadows over different features through which the group tells the story of itself and expresses its images through the voice and images of the protagonist.
4) DREAM AS METAPHOR FOR THE SITUATION OF THE DREAMER
It is known that a dream reflects the existential situation of the dreamer him- or herself expressed in the form of a metaphor. Morenian technique calls for the sleeping protagonist to be put in the scene as the dream plot unfolds in front of him. In fact, the protagonist is then invited to exchange roles, playing both the roles of the ego of the dream and of the sleeping ego. The ego of the dream, the scene, and its atmosphere gradually send out messages, which sometimes are rather explicit, addressed by the auxiliary egos towards the protagonist. These messages allude to the present situation in a clearer and clearer way. It is in this context that the metaphor relating to the protagonist’s life and everyday reality interweaves with that of the group in an intricate and sometimes inextricable way .
Dream images have an apparently uncoordinated and unconnected way of going over the subtle plot lines of daily life and of creating endlessly new possibilities. Subliminal questions and perceptions, imaginary or impossible projects, images that have just been impressed on the eye cortex but are long from being revealed to the conscious mind are all represented; and all of them re-assemble images and situations that at first seem to have little to do with daily life. The condition of passivity and of waiting allows all these to bloom out again and re-compose in new forms. In all this, the dreamer moves about only partially aware of himself, as if moved by strings on a stage in a performance whose director is always escaping from him without a shadow of a doubt. What can be represented are movements, activities, thoughts, and projects connected with happenings that are troubling in daily life.
However, at the same time the dreamer feels and sees himself as a passive instrument in the dream moved about by others. Whoever is pulling the strings, whoever has written the script and whoever could perhaps make sense of it — that is the person who has hidden behind the curtains. He only shows himself fleetingly through what is happening. It is not an accident that many languages term a dream as something that one receives and not something that one does.
In this way the dream uses a metaphorical language to express the real situation that the protagonist finds himself in along with his personal history, which is reflected in the history of the group through its images. These images take on a life of their own as they flesh out and transform themselves through the creation of psychodramatic images, which, in turn, amuse, calm, scold, and comment; and these actions make the chorus of the dreamer’s internal voices reverberate. The dreamer thus sets forth on a journey along with the group to find out — through the creation of psychodramatic images — what metaphor from his life the dream images represent, what connections or allusions are kept from his daily life or open up to it, and what situation the dream is talking about. In fact, the psychodrama often enacts the everyday scene associated with the dream of the moment as if in a game of Chinese boxes.
5) EVOLUTION AND PURPOSE OF THE DREAM IMAGES — THE DREAM’S MESSAGE
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree….” It seems that S.T. Coleridge read these words and then fell asleep. Visions of precious mosaics, arcades, volts, arrases, and shining brocades danced in front of his eyes in the vivid images of a dream. When he woke up, he began putting down the story of Kubla Khan, which remained incomplete. In it he described his dream visions of a palace in minute detail. Curiously enough, Coleridge’s vision reveals a unique correspondence with the description of the palace that was found in several chronicles from the time that had not yet been translated into English. These tell the story of how Kubla Khan also dreamed his palace before having it built.
It also seems that Giuseppe Tartini, an early eighteenth-century musician, composed “the devil’s trill” after he woke up from a dream in which the devil himself played the violin seated at the foot of his bed and Tartini later recollected the notes he played. If there are very many examples of artistic creation linked or suggested by dreams, there are just as many that clear the road for genius-like intuitions in science.
In any case it is extraordinary that the themes, projects, and actions of an entire existence can be structured around dream images, at least at a conscious level, as is the case of the mailman Cheval. He was a person who led an ordinary life taken up in doing his everyday job and tackling the inconveniences and duties of routine life. Besides this, he worked on a project that lasted more than thirty years to give concrete form to a dream image that was the guide, goal, and purpose of his entire existence. There is a photograph from that time that shows him as he pushes a wheelbarrow full of stone blocks, wearing a wide work apron, a dignified turned-down moustache, and a determined expression on his face. His construction is a fantastic mixture that is chaotic and harmonious at the same time. It evoked features of a Hindu temple, a Muslim mosque, Chinese pagodas, Greek colonnades, and feudal castles. It is still to be found now in a little town in the French countryside near Valence, where it attracts crowds of tourists and curious visitors each year. The mailman Cheval used stones and material taken from the mineral world to construct the equivalent of what we construct out of dreams using flesh-and-blood protagonists in psychodramatic work. In effect, Cheval transformed dream images into concrete images that can be shared with others.
However, what I really wanted to deal with in relation to Cheval and the other dreamers I described is the dream’s message and purpose. On the one hand, we can assume that the dream is strictly related to the past. Dream images reconstruct traces of the memory, reveal something in them that was repressed or forgotten, and bring us back to our more or less distant childhood world. On the other hand, the dream has all the characteristics of two-faced Janus. It faces the future in the same way.
Along these lines, Moreno used questions that the dramatic action opened up to. Jung defined dreams as having a “purposeful” aspect. In these ways, both of them point out dream’s “perspective vision.” If we think about the influence dreams have on our daily lives, we might as well look at our everyday lives as the fruit, at least partially, of what our dreams show us and of what our dreams are able to influence. This is what Hillman maintains. How far our actions are, projects, and even thoughts themselves conditioned, suggested, and in some way even directed by our nocturnal “guests.” The creation of “psychodramatic” images on the stage can at least partially give us some answers. It can allow for that work of epistrophe — going backwards — that Hillman alludes to. It can give us the chance to return to the “source” of subterranean waters that refresh our daily lives through the enigmatic and changeable messages characteristic of every expression of the unconscious. In psychodrama the perspective vision of the dream assumes different aspects as the roles are exchanged. This allows us focus in on the potential evolution of points of conflict that are brought to light as well as to make out new possibilities for working on ourselves brought about as new energies are awakened.
Like every wise man, the unconscious sometimes takes the liberty of using dreams to lead us down the wrong roads, pass on only paradoxical messages, and show roads that momentarily seem clear. Instead, they turn out to be dead-end streets that lead the dreamer to make flagrant errors when he or she follows its messages too literally. In this way the dream is able to trick in a ludicrous way whoever blindly believes in it without exercising his own critical skills. The dream thus reminds the dreamer of its own ambiguous and fleeting nature and warns him or her not to allude himself that he can grasp it, pin it down as something static, and exploit it for the ends of a too rational consciousness, which would defuse the energy and fluidity of the emotions and feelings that belong to the world of the unconscious. The group, the creation of dramatic images, and the action that unfolds through these images all open the door to many phenomena. The group is thus enabled to make associations, to profit from continuous role exchange by creating and assimilating new ways of perceiving and of moving, and to correlate dream, everyday reality, and itself as a concrete entity. In dreams a dreamer may be surprised to find other rooms in his house. In the same way he or she may be shown other chambers of his own individuality that are entirely new and unexplored.
6) ABOUT INTERPRETATION: WORK ON DREAMS AND SOME REFLECTIONS ON MY COLLEAGUES’ WRITINGS
In “Dream Analysis” Helmut Barz very wisely points out how misleading it is to talk of the “interpretation of dreams.” He maintains that this term suggests the idea of an enigma whose seemingly univocal solution people would try to extrapolate. In effect, this term creates the idea of a work activity where the function “thought” predominates with the help of the intuition, but in which little or nothing remains as space for the functions of feelings and sensations. He thus proposes the term “work on dreams” as a substitute for “interpretation of dreams.” This term allows for more leeway. It is possible that the group and conductor give their all. When this is evidenced, they would be able to experiment and to take advantage of many potentialities. The dramatization of dream plots and the transformation of dream images into psychodramatic images is thus what can permit the analytic work to penetrate more deeply into the labyrinth of dreams and constantly discover new and windy pathways, new amplifications, and new nuances.
Grete Leutz underlines in her work how dream images and characters are sometimes based on the mechanisms of “condensation” and “displacement” that Freud describes in The Interpretation of Dreams. Above all, she points out how these features can be gone into more deeply in analytic work through experiencing the metaphor directly in order to intuit new possibilities for making connections. In this way “composite personalities” can be represented, even by more than one flesh-and-blood person, in order to shed light on the personalities’ most hidden features or they can be represented by one person so that one can experience what may come out of it.
Dag Blomkvist outlines what he calls “surplus reality” — that privileged work space in the context of psychodrama — and focuses on the important potential that that space offers through the representation of dreams. In fact, the suggestions that emerge from this space allow us to break with our usual logical patterns. The mind first must go through the effort of “deconditioning from what it is habitual.” So, in this way the mind finds itself forced to look for the entrance way — or better, entrance ways — to the reading of new “Gestalt” and new patterns both in the fields of perception and movement. These fields were being constantly blocked before by the mind’s usual method of reading. In this context the representation of the dream scenes leads to two simultaneous results. First, one may enter a paradoxical and parallel reality where everything is possible. Second, the reconstruction of the scene and the concreteness of the group helps bring about the opening of new, more changeable, and more flexible possibilities through the creation of patterns of reference that have never been tried out before.
I think that the work on dreams itself is what permits the skills of psychodramatists to be tried out. This is described well by Kellermann in his Focus on Psychodrama. It is important for the analyst to know how to gather in those messages that sometimes even the dreamer is unaware of. It may up to the conductor’s skill as a therapist to identify which areas of conflict the dreamer is capable of accepting at that moment and which are, instead, better to be revealed in other contexts that may prove to be more opportune. There are other areas of conflict that can only be left in the shadows during “support” work because the dreamer may be able neither to stand their impact nor to work on the tension involved with them. This is to say once more that it is a matter of “filtering” the material and entrusting to the conductor’s skills as a “director” the possibility of restoring to the protagonist the material that turns out to be useful in that context . This occurs through rearranging the material into the most appropriate psychodramatic images and through the action that comes about through these images.
In relation to this, it seems opportune to me to recall how important the conductor’s function of leadership as the “charismatic head of the group” is in Jaime’s work as well as in Peter’s earlier work. Even though they put it differently, I think that both of them underline the importance of a kind of “reversibility” towards the scenic space that holds throughout the duration of the dramatization of the scenes in psychodramatic work. I am referring to the importance of the “charisma” of the conductor. It is fundamental that the conductor knows how to catalyze the group’s energy, start up the construction of scenes, and guarantee that the temenos acts as ”containment.” However, as both authors underline, it is just as important that the conductor her – or himself be able to distance herself, almost to dissolve herself in the background when the group’s psychic energy gets moving and is expressed through the scenic representation. Obviously, she would be ready to re-appear and make her presence felt when this would help and not inhibit the group members’ self-expressions and when the protagonist and group would need the reassuring containment that a solid guide provides. In some way, her presence guarantees that the events re-acquire a sense and are placed back in their historical context and inside the frame represented by the psychodrama session. I am referring to the argument that Jaime makes about the structuring of space during the sessions and that Peter makes about charisma. I cannot help but agree with them. I would like to emphasize that the problem of leading a group well lies specifically in modulating one’s physical and emotional presence in the group through one’s direction, thus creating a space that is nevertheless left for others, and it lies in knowing how to hold oneself back at the right moment.
7) RESTITUTION THROUGH OBSERVATION
I like to think of the observations as a kind of putting stuff back together again after a show, stuff that had been tossed here and there. By this time the actors have already laid their theatrical costumes aside, put on their everyday clothes, and are preparing to re-enter the world.
The observations in the groups I conduct (and more generally in those using our school’s method) usually represent the completion of the temenos-frame that encloses the psychodrama session. The observer, who could be the conductor himself or a co-therapist, thus has the function of a theatrical wardrobe master, a careful sweeper who gathers things in, who throws away what is not useful, who carefully observes the objects found in the middle of the trash heap on the stage, and who gives them back to the owners enriched by some commentary.
(I am aware how much narcissism and a kind of bullying histrionic urge is always waiting in ambush as a threat to all of us as therapists and maybe also as group leaders. This is something we are all forced to take on repeatedly. Bearing this in mind, I think it is healthy to emphasize the importance of apparently humble roles. I use this metaphor exactly to recall to therapists and group leaders how much we need to store up a certain dose of humility when we are taking on this job.)
In the work of observation it may be useful to refer to a kind of pre-defined grid that would structure a kind of “written memory” of the session. The grid could serve to hold and underline many points of reference. Among these, Anne Schützenberger discusses content, theme, desires and needs of the group, individual attitudes in the group and in relation to the conductor, and hypotheses. Further, Jaime Bermudez mentions the use of space, the roles that the protagonist plays, participants’ entrances into the action as auxiliary egos, and the emotional reactions that individuals show. All these themes are often gone into more deeply and usefully through the search and reflection that takes place in training groups.
Taking all these elements into account, and returning to the observations in group sessions, the observer, who —as we have seen — could be the conductor herself, usually restores in this context many of the fragments belonging to the dream or psychodramatic scenes that had not been gathered in (or at least, they had not been gathered in immediately) during the unfolding of the session, the scenic actions, or the associations of the group. In this way the material that has remained “up in the air” or “on the ground” will be collected, reorganized into a sort of rough plot outline, and restored partially to the group and partially to the owners. Traces, pieces, and plots related to the contents of the session will return to the group. In relation to the dream images, one could observe what strikes the group and its individual members in the story of the dream (from the moment when we are here talking about dream images), what images catalyze their attention the most, and what emotions and feelings seem to be leaking out through the mime and physical posture of the participants. One could observe the passage between dream images and psychodramatic images for its immediate impact, for the things that change, and for the manner in which things change. One could underline the connections with the real-life experiences of the group and its members by seeking out one or more readings of the metaphors that seem to express the contents of the individuals or the group itself and that the dream images may be alluding to.
Obvious or subterranean chains of association may emerge in this way, themes that the group touched upon through the scenes that were played. One can observe which themes were delved into and which were put aside, and ask about why this happened. One can shed light on the evolution and metamorphosis of dream images as they were being transformed into dramatic images as well as on the feelings and emotions that came along with them. One could underline the inconsistencies between what has been expressed in words and what instead comes out through attitudes, bodily postures, and actions….
Another important aspect of the observations could be the emergence from the observer’s memory of remote scenes, dream images, recollections, pieces of plots and fragments that could reconstruct a kind of “history of the group.” All these could represent a kind of “historical memory,” in which the histories of the individuals steadily and gradually interweave (as said before) with the history of the group and then find their own individuality again. One day a group participant brought in a dream with the discovery of a pile of by-then yellowed and dusty notebooks with partially worn-out bindings and with the title “Deeds and Misdeeds of Psychodrama.”
I would like to conclude these reflections by presenting some work on a specific dream that I will try to re-examine in the light of the preceding working hypotheses. It would take a long time to digress — as happens in reality — on the amplifications of the many specific meanings of a dream. Some of these emerge over the course of the dramatization and others return in later sessions in the form of fragments or connections. To keep it short, I will dwell only on several themes in order to offer a sample and perspective on my way of working.
The dream to be cited belongs to A., who at the time was a 34-year-old woman teacher of artistic education who had been attending the group for about a year and a half. The dreamer herself authorized its publication:
“After walking down a long and tiring way, I meet B. and C. (two group members) at a crossroads. I exchange a few words with them, but I don’t know about what. They point out a way to go that takes me in front of the house where I grew up as a little kid. There is something very strong that attracts me inside, and maybe this was what I was looking for. I find myself in front of three rooms. The first is the play room of my childhood. There’s my sister inside, absorbed in her play with some stuffed puppets that we used to fight over when we were little. A little bit down from that there is my parents’ room, which I see from the window as they go away in the distance. The room has remained empty, but there is a table in the middle of it with two clay busts on it. I recognize the images of my parents, which I sculpted, and I feel that I have to finish them. The third is a room of a new-born baby. There is an empty cradle, but I feel that there is a presence behind the curtains. It is something ethereal and fleeting. I have the feeling that it has something to do with my maternity.”
The dream was staged focusing essentially on the final scene — the encounter with the clay busts and the empty cradle. This was where the story seemed to reach its highest emotional pitch, which could best unveil the presence of particularly acute issues in conflict. In any case, the other aspects of the dream — the road, the meetings, and the play room — were staged and visited in very short skits, so that eventual links with the climactic moments could emerge.
On the level of the real world, the dream again brought up the issues that the dreamer was confronting at that time — her maternity and presumed sterility, which was disproved several years later when she gave birth to a son. On the metaphorical level, the issue was also her search for new creative potential, something that the patient was looking for in the group in relation to both her personal and professional life. Her search could also be considered a metaphor of the group itself, which was committed to the same search. It was probably for this reason that the theme seemed to catalyze the group’s interest and attract their lively attention. The dream’s evocative potential was amplified by its transformation into psychodramatic images. While the scene was being constructed and dramatized, this potential — as always — permitted the most detailed memories to be evoked. These gradually shed light on new shades of meaning and particularities that had been long put aside or forgotten. At the same time, the theme of the “return to the origins” evoked many recollections in the minds of other group members, and these were brought up right after the dramatization of the scene or in the subsequent sessions.
The house had been talked about in previous sessions by A. as a place she could escape to in order to grow in every way and rediscover her own autonomy. In this dream, the house took on entirely unusual warmth and a sort of fascination. It was welcoming and at the same time turned out to be enigmatic and disquieting. In fact, a rather corpulent woman was chosen to play the role of the house. In the group she represented affective features — even though these were at times absorbing and at times evanescent. This had to do, above all, with the way she related to the others.
C. and D. were chosen by the dreamer to play the roles of the people who showed her the way, and this was the same choice that A.’s unconscious had suggested, i.e. the same characters as in the dream. Both of them — a man and a woman — were the representatives of a kind of “historical memory” of the group because they had been participating for a long time. They had also demonstrated — even though they had taken different paths — that they were rather determined in the choices they had made and that they were able to “offer themselves affectionately” without giving up their own autonomy and without being absorbed in or manipulated by their own personal and family relationships. At least this was the sensation that the dreamer put across in the discussion after the dramatization.
A young man who had entered the group recently and an adult woman who had not by then demonstrated any “maternal attitude” were chosen to play the dreamer’s parents as well as the clay busts in the parents’ room. It became clear to the dreamer only later, during the dramatization of the dream, that she had been looking for continuity between her parents in the dream and the clay busts that she had to re-mold. It became equally clear to her that it was through this kind of “rite” that she would become able to meet with her real parents again and accept their limits. (The dreamer experienced her mother as someone who was hardly affectionate even though she was absorbing. She experienced her father as someone who had shown many immature and unpredictable features in relation to the responsibility that his fatherly role required. He demonstrated this despite the fact that he was already very old even at the time when she was born.)
A female group member who had frequently demonstrated that she had problems with “becoming adult” was chosen to play the role of the sister. There was a brief flashback to the “play room” and an encounter with the sister in which the dreamer exchanged roles. Through this she realized that a part of herself was lingering in the “play room” and could remain imprisoned there. At the same time she realized that perhaps this fear was at the root of her even later problems with not being able to abandon herself in play.
In the end, what was the message of the dream? At the end of the dream the dreamer found herself in front of the empty cradle. In the dramatization she became aware that the cradle was waiting for a newly born child (perhaps the fleeting presence behind the curtains) and that the child was to take shape and become alive only when she will have finished re-molding the busts of her parents with the help of the group. This process would help enable her to encounter her real-life parents again. This seemed to be a kind of “necessary step” for making it possible for her to become a mother herself. Obviously all this was then put to the dreamer and the group as a sort of plot summary at the end of the session in the form of observations, which — as said before — function to yield some of the many possible messages hidden in the structure of the dream.
I would again like to thank our much appreciated hosts. By thus putting together several notes for the next encounter in Seville, I have here taken advantage of the chance to collect my ideas and reflect on what has changed in my way of working in psychodrama after this year’s meetings with my FEPTO colleagues. I have had the chance to go over several themes that are especially dear to me in the light of their writings, such as those having to do with dreams, with the world of images and its representation through psychodramatic images. However, above all, this paper has forced me to mold and second my idea and my wish that this work of ours can evolve more and more through our acquaintance with the work of others — the work that I do not yet know about or the work that I have not been able to read because of the language barriers. In the future we may embellish these writings with notes, comments, glosses, amplifications, revisions, and — why not? — with dreams and dramatizations done in the same way of working as we conduct with dreams, which we have discussed in this context. To conclude, thank you for your attention, your listening, and your reading.
Barz, Elynor. Selbstbegegnung im Spiel. Zurich: Kreuz, 1988.
Barz, Helmut. “Dream and Psychodrama.” Dreams in Analysis. Wilmette, Illinois: Chiron, 1990.
Blomkvist, Leif Dag. “Surplus Reality and Beyond.” Psychodrama Since Moreno. London: Routledge,1994.
Boria, Giovanni. Lo psicodrama classico. Milan: Franco Angeli, 1997.
Jung, C. G. “On the Nature of Dreams” and “General Aspects of Dream Psychology.”
Collected Works.Vol.8: Structure and Dynamics of the Psyche. Princeton: Princeton University Press- Bollingen.
Kellerman, Peter-Felix. Focus on Psychodrama. London and Bristol: J. Kingsley, 1992.
Rojas-Bermudez, Graciela. “Structures in Psychodrama.” FEPTO News. December, 1997.
Rojas-Bermudez, Jaime. Teoría y Tecnica Psicodramaticas. Barcelona: Paidos Ibericas, 1997.
Scategni, Wilma. Das Psychodrama Zwischen Alltäglicher und Archetypischer Erfahrungswelt. Solothurn und Dusseldorf: Walter, 1994. In Italian: Psicodramma e terapia di gruppo: Spazio e tempo dell’anima. Como: RED, 1996.
Schüzenberger, Anne. Lo Psicodramma. Florence: Martinelli, 1992. Original edition: Précis de Psychodrame. Paris: Editions Universitaires, 1970.
The Stuff of Dreams: From Dream Image to Psychodramatic Image
Preface Dedicated to Our Hosts
1) The Theater of Dreams
2) Dream and its Evocative Power
3) Dream as a Metaphor of the Group’s Situation
4) Dream as a Metaphor of the Dreamer’s Situation
5) The Evolution and Aim of Dream Images. The Message of the Dream.
6) About Interpretation — Work on Dreams and Some Reflections on Our Colleagues’ Writings
7) Restitution through Observations