Electric Dreams

The Socratic Approach
to Dreams

David Jenkins, PhD

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Jenkins, David, PhD (2007 March). DreamRePlay: The Socratic Approach to Dreams.
Electric Dreams 14(3).

As you listen to a dream, It is almost impossible not to be bubbling over with questions and interpretations. Part of the art of dream work is learning how to transform your own ideas into good questions about the dream. This column shows some ways to do that.

Framing Your Question

In some forms of dream work, you offer your thoughts to the dreamer. You might say "I wonder if the dream means that you are concerned about your work?" That was the thought that you had about the dream and therefore you asked that question. For many reasons, this is not a good idea. One problem is that the dream might mean something completely different to the dreamer and therefore your idea, honest and intelligent as it may be, is nonetheless intrusive and prevents the dreamer from thinking for herself.

Many dream workers would instead say, "If it were my dream, it would mean I was concerned about my work." That preface, "If it were my dream...," is powerfully effective in emphasizing that this is the listener's opinion and allows for the fact that it may not fit for the dreamer.

But, the problem is that it still takes the dreamer away from her dream and her thoughts and shifts the focus to the listener and his interpretation of the dream. If your opinion makes sense to the dreamer, your counsel will be highly valued. If it doesn't, you are breaking the flow of the dream work. There is a way of avoiding the dangers in offering your opinions.

The Jenkins Rules of Dream Work

Rule #1 - Every opinion can be converted into a neutral question.

Rule #2 - Deal with the problems within the dream. (Help the dream-self rather than fix their waking life)

Working Backwards

In these examples, you will see how to work from your "raw" thought to a question that stays with the dream.

Jane's Dream: I dreamed I was lost in a huge, empty building. I couldn't find the way out.

Let's suppose that you "know" that Jane hates her day job and really wants to be an artist.

You "know" that this huge building represents her impersonal downtown corporation. You also "know" that if only Jane would pluck up the courage to leave her job, she would get lots of work as a freelancer. Therefore all she has to do is to get out.

This dream is a gift from heaven for you. You are dying to say, "Look, Jane, the building represents your job. You have no friends there and that's why it's empty. The dream is telling you to leave your job."

Listener, beware! For one thing you might be wishing to leave your own job. Secondly, this conversation is not about you. Even if you are completely right, the task is for Jane to find her own way out - and that is your clue.

In the dream work, you need to focus on finding a solution to Jane's dream-problem. If you are right, that solution will apply - better than any well-meaning advice you can give her.

First of all you know that you want Jane to leave her job. You believe that is equivalent to leaving the building. Convert that into a question:

"Do you want to leave the dream-building or do you want to stay there?"

Now you have a perfect question. You have taken your prejudice and converted it into a neutral question that works for the dream-Jane and yourself. You've followed both Rule #1 and #2.

If Jane says, "I am happy in this building, I just want to find out where everyone else went," then you have some very important information. You know that this dream is nowhere close to your belief systems about Jane and her waking job.

If Jane says, "I hate this building, I want to get out of it but I can't find an exit," you have moved the dream work forward. Now you can start to focus on getting Jane out of the building. You might ask "What floor are you on?"

"Can you see any stairs or an escalator?" These are questions that orient Jane to the task of getting out of the building.

If you are right about your assessment of Jane's work situation, then, as you gradually work through the dream issues, Jane herself will link the dream to her job situation. Even if you are wrong, you are still helping Jane deal with whatever problems the dream is referring to.

Some Examples

I dream that there is a red pillow on my bed.

Listener thinks: The red represents anger.

Problem: It's too general to ask "Does red represent anger to you?" Some reds may be anger but not all. It also ignores both rules #1 and #2.

Instead ask: "In the context of the dream, what does the red suggest?"

You can also ask how the dream would be different if the pillow were some other color.

I dream I am with a group of people and there is a man who is rude to me.

Listener thinks: She is far too sensitive.

Problem: This may or may not be true and it may or may not be helpful.. Asking "Why are you so sensitive?" is too loaded (as well as breaking rules #1 and #2); the dreamer will have to defend her right to be sensitive.

Instead ask: "What do you really want to say to the man who is rude to you? In doing so, you will probably be given an insight into what triggers the dreamer's "sensitivity. "


Listening to a dream is a double process. If you are involved then the dream is stirring up your own mind. You need to catch these thoughts and bring them back to the dream. If you deliver them "raw." you are pushing the dreamer into your perspective and away from the dream.

Your dream work will go improve considerably when you learn to ask good questions. You are training yourself to follow. A fascinating new level of creativity comes through when you allow the dreamer to lead.

Dream Groups

Dial-In Dream Groups: Whether you live far away or close by, a phone group allows you to get a sense of dream work in a very convenient way. With this new work, I hope to communicate the pleasure and the excitement of dream work to many people.

The Saturday drop-in group ($20) is from 10 am to noon at 2315 Prince Street in Berkeley. The nearest major cross street is Ashby and Telegraph. Please let me know if you are coming.

DreamRePlay web site: http://dreamreplay.com