Electric Dreams

Safety in Dreamwork

Dennis Schmidt 

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Schmidt, Dennis (1996 August). Safety in Dreamwork. Electric Dreams 3(7). Retrieved July 26, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

(Originally a note to Richard Wilkerson as Electric Dreams Editor, some cut, reprinted here with permission - RCW)

I don't like the dream interpretation that goes on in Electric Dreams. I want to tell you briefly how I feel about it, and I would like to know how you feel about it.

I feel that people working with each other's dreams in groups and partnerships have learned, and some have articulated, certain requirements for safety in sharing dreams. Several of us feel that it is not possible to meet these requirements in group dream work over the Internet.

Sharing dreams person-to-person is dialogue. It is emotionally engaging. It requires sensitivity to the dreamer's reactions. Dream workers such as Monte Ullman, Will Phillips, and Dick McLeester agree that all must agree that the dreamer has authority over the sharing.

Such sensitivity and such authority are not possible over the Net. A person commenting on someone else's dream can not see the reaction, can not know when to stop or change tracks.

Interpreting without giving the dreamer the opportunity to interrupt -- and on the Web the dreamer has no opportunity to cut short an interpretation -- can expose the dreamer to serious dangers. I like Will Phillips's descriptions of them, so I will quote him.

"The first is what I call 'Trojan-Horsing.' This is when someone uses a dream as the vehicle by which to gain access to another's psyche, and then assaults them while their defenses are down. Trojan-Horsing is often unintentional, and so must be even more closely guarded against. It may even be motivated by good intentions, as in misguided attempts to subtly slip in 'good advice' in the guise of dreamwork....

"The second, more serious, hazard might be called 'dream rape.' This refers to the forced and insistent projection of meaning onto someone else's dream. ..."

Simply the dreamer's inability to interrupt an interpretation allows the interpreter to be "insistent," beyond the point at which the dreamer would interrupt.

I feel that the optional use of the prefatory clause, "If it were my dream," and recasting each reference to the dreamer as "I" instead of "you", offer almost no protection, introduce some additional risk, and manifest a dangerous misreading of the intention behind those practices in work such as Ullman's.

The lack of protection and the additional risk stem from the same cause: The commentator, feeling that he or she has offered sufficient protection to the dreamer, may then feel freer to project onto the dream than they would if they would keep in mind that they are speaking to someone else about their dream.

It is possible, and it can be injurious, to project recklessly.

So are Ullman and Jeremy Taylor wrong in counseling lifting your commentary from identification with the dreamer by thinking and saying, "If it were my dream, ..."? No (although I prefer a phrasing like, "When I imagine myself in a situation like that, I feel ..." or "When I associate on your dream, ..."). But it is not a magic incantation that neutralizes the danger in all following suggestions given to the dreamer. The intention is to increase sensitivity in the commentator, to curb the impulse to project onto the dreamer. I feel it is a dangerous error to take it as license to analyze and interpret.

Finally, I feel that interpreting someone else's dream (even when thinking about it as interpreting one's own) is almost always a bad idea. This is true even if they ask you to do it, and even if they thank you for it afterward. I quote Will Phillips again:

"I cannot overemphasize the need to resist the urge to tell a dreamer what you think their dream means. From experience, I can say that such projected interpretations are almost always either partially or completely inaccurate.

Even if your interpretation should happen to be one hundred percent correct, the dreamer still tends to feel invaded and 'ripped off'. It is always best to remain in the role of a guide or helper ... and draw the dream's meaning out through sensitive questioning. Every human being deserves to be granted the space for self-discovery."

I believe that opportunity for self-discovery, protected from suggestions that are usually misleading, is far more valuable than a harvest of ideas developed in an environment that can not guide and be guided through sensitive questions and responses.

I think you know that I am not opposed to technology. I think, and have thought for years, that we have something to gain by figuring out appropriate ways to use computers in support of our dream work. But, as you see, I think that dream interpretation is not one of them.

I am speaking for myself, and would like to understand how you see these issues. I know that I am representing, in general although not in detail, thoughts and concerns shared by many others. I know that this will become a public debate soon. I hope you understand that I respect you as a coworker who sees these issues differently than I do, and I hope we will both gain by discussing our views.


Dennis Schmidt