Dream Group: A Model for a Residential Community
It was 2007. I had been using dreams in clinical practice for over ten years, and I had what I thought was a great idea about using the dreams in a halfway house for women. What I expected was that relapse dreams, family of origin issues, trauma, and archetypal themes would emerge and be recognizable. What I did not expect was that YANA was actually a Dream Temple all to itself, and that the women of YANA House would teach me much more than I would ever unveil to them.
There were several obvious lessons: First, my preconceived notions were more about my model of counseling than about what was truly up for them in their lives. Second, maybe most importantly, is that the women dreamt of each other and of staff in ways that conveyed the work of recovery they practiced in the day extended into night school – their dreams were helping them in ways neither they nor I might have predicted. And finally, the dreams were less an illustration of their problems, and more of a testimonial to their heroism and their progress.
According to my Jungian preparation and experience in practice, I would expect for a lot of the dreams to conjure up archetypal images of Mother, family roles and dynamics, shadow work, and mythological themes of all cultures. The original concept paper for this effort claimed,
The connection of this small group of women overcoming their individual struggles in a larger world is for me a template for a liberation psychology of the future in which people can use their own life experience and their own dream images and dream circles to hold onto a reality different that the realities posed by world leaders, media representation, and consumerism.
So good intentions met “what is really happening here.” Of course I could identify all the themes of “my model;” after all, isn’t it true that “All is jaundiced to the yellow eye?” And yes, women did seem to benefit from the family of origin stories that surface in dreams, the options of using and not using which are apparent to women practicing a recovery program, and the recognizable “Big Dream” themes from the Collective. One woman remembered a simple dream about a green snake and a brown snake ahead of her on a path. With so many directions to take this (be it recovery story, archetypal image, religious relic, healing symbols, and so much more) it was easier for me to get excited about this dream than the client! As I recall, she left against staff advice early in the project. I’m not sure this dream told me that. . . .
The Community Becomes a Dream Figure
Surprisingly, it was not just the staff and therapists the clients dream about. They each became role players in the dream of the community. So there is always an image of the way someone presents in the setting, and the way others act around her, then the third layer of how she is perceived in the dreamworld. Susan, Founding Director of the House, had spent nearly 25 years in the field of women’s recovery when this project began. She always appeared as a compassionate figure, though perceived somewhat as a stand-in for a Freudian superego.
If there is an “archetypal” YANA dream, in it, the resident relapses and “has to tell Susan.” One resident dreamed of a relapse, then in the dream lied to Susan and had to spend the entire dream-day running errands with her! The guilt was intense, as was the relief when she awakened to find she had not relapsed. But another resident acted as a stand-in. “Jill” had become a peer recovery figure. My notes from that time say, “Jill is dreamed by other residents as the boundary setter, the rule enforcer, the one who does it all by the book. Like Susan, she has grown into an archetypal presence in the dream temple of YANA.” Eventually, residents develop this quality internally; but to dream of someone else is a sign that the resident has turned from the ambivalence of recovery into the basis of conceding to their deepest sense of self that she is on a recovery path.
Dreams a Documenting Heroism in Personal Recovery
Prepared for all sorts of pathology – and not disappointed in that regard – I could not have predicted the seeds of health and of recovery that spiced the dreams of even the most “resistant” patient. One such patient had a dream of being in the Mall of America, and she found and destroyed a Xanax (her drug of choice) by dissolving it in a water fountain. Still others learn how to set boundaries with their over-involved families or assert themselves with family members or significant others who have marginalized them nearly out of existence. And while not everyone in this setting – and certainly not everyone who goes through any treatment program, makes it. But dreams seem to ring true with possibility and hope.
Dreams do not force sobriety on recovering people any more than they force wisdom upon the general populace of dreamers. Attended to, they seem to point out those things which, if heeded, would make the path clearer and the journey easier. Counseling through dreamtime is not a linear spray of knowledge from dreamlife to the decisions of the day. There seems to be a conversation in the night among the sleeping souls who dwell here. Seven years later, with many women and whole communities having turned over many times, it is still happening. Women take each other into the dream temple at night. One this property they all sleep, they dream of their families, they dream of each other. Something happens, and they all come back out – every night.
Those who relapse in dreams universally dread telling Susan. Not just for fear of consequence, but of confronting disappointing her. And the figure she assumes in dreams seems to enfold more around her, so that as YANA becomes and is what she is dreamt, she is continually dreamt and developed by YANA. When residents leave, they leave with their own “inner Susan,” an internalized moral compass, and a source of consistent wisdom.