What are Dreams and What do They Tell Us About Memory?

dreams memory
woman sleeping on a cloud and dreaming

Are there any resources that provide guidance on what to do with dreams pre or post ITR?

There isn’t anything that has been written specifically about dreams in the ITR Method but I can tell you how I address them. (This would be a good topic for a blog.)

I approach a dream being as one of several types:

  • Housekeeping dreams
  • Recurring dreams/nightmares
  • Dreams that occur during the course of treatment (especially during the intensive)

A housekeeping dream is usually one of a kind and happens only once. The dreamer can relate the elements in the dream to things that had happened in the recent past but it is an interesting jumble of people, objects, and processes. Often it is full of details but doesn’t have much of a plot. I liken it to a dustpan that your nonverbal brain is using to sweep up bits and pieces of your experience. So, when you wake you can remember details from real life that were not experienced together but they were together in the dream. People are recognizable but they don’t always look like themselves. The whole thing is more of a curiosity than a revelation. These dreams usually don’t have especially strong emotions attached.

A recurring dream or nightmare is often one of long standing and it happens almost exactly the same way every time. Often the dreamer wakes up before the end of the story and has a racing heart and a sense of dread. These often relate back to an experience of being about to die Sometimes the specific event is disguised (ex., sexual perpetrator trying to perform oral sex on a little girl > monster who is going to eat a little animal). I reframe the recurring dream/nightmare as “your nonverbal brain trying to finish the story.” The graphic narrative can be used to put an end to a terrifying dream even if there is no apparent “real” event.

Every morning of an intensive we would ask if the client had a dream the night before. Often, but not always, there would be some element of the dream that was significantly connected to the intensive work.

Freud likened free associations to pearls on a string. But some therapists want to be masters of interpretation and offer their ideas about the meaning of a dream before the dreamer has a chance to work out the connections for him/herself. Here’s where the silence you and I put such stock in plays a crucial role. Just set up the opportunity for a person to be curious about the dream and the pieces fall into place.

In the early days of art therapy (and psychology) there were a number of books that put the focus on interpreting drawings (H-T-P, kinetic family drawing, DAP). But they took a rather simplistic approach. What I learned from my art therapy professors was how to use the technique of helping people see what might be the covert material, not going after a 1:1 relationship (looking at signs) but understanding how symbols work (one > many meanings). I learned that one element in a drawing might have contradictory meanings and it was a travesty to use the dictionary approach. [Oops, about to get off on a tangent.]

With respect to the ITR method, dreams can be used like any other expressive “output” to understand oneself better but the core of the process is to finish the story. Until that is done there will be a lot of wasted time working on those upper stories of the house.

Anyway, let me know more about what you are curious about regarding dreams.

All the best,


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