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Is Dreamwork Like Therapy?

This week, I attended an annual writer’s conference, but instead of my writer self, I could tell it was my inner dreamworker who wanted to show up there. In a way, the writer’s conference was my dreamworker debut, if that’s a thing. 

A bit shyly, but not reluctantly, I added “dreamworker” to my response when people asked me what I did professionally. The feedback from strangers and friends alike was overwhelmingly positive, and even more inquisitive than I could have hoped. A common question I got from people was something along the lines of “What exactly is dreamwork?” followed by “Is it like therapy?”

I am not a clinical therapist, nor do I have licensure in any therapeutic model, so one answer to that question is always, “No, it’s not therapy.” However, another answer could be, “Well, dreamwork has certainly been therapeutic for me, and for others I know.”

I practiced dreamwork alone for many years, and so another response could be: Is it therapy when you are working therapeutically by and with yourself?

A question I’ve asked myself in one way or another many times across my adult life has been “Do I need the support of someone professional right now? Someone who has mental health training, a certification, a professional degree, or a license?”

These follow-up questions matter as we must make sure that when we are talking about therapy we are talking about the same thing. Often, we are not.

Someone made a joke in a panel discussion at the writer’s conference about literary agents being “part-therapist.” Half-way into the panel discussion, another panelist emphasized that literary agents were not in fact therapists. She added that she would not use her time on the panel to bemoan the state of healthcare in the U.S., but she felt it was important to make the distinction out loud between service professional (agent) and mental health professional (therapist).

I fully support this, and I too bemoan the state of mental healthcare in this country. For that reason, if no other, I do believe in the healing benefits of listening, coaching, guiding, and working dreams; whether it’s with a mental health care professional, a coach, a member of the clergy, a healthcare provider, or a really wise old friend.

We live in a time in which protecting ourselves from liabilities seems more important than ethics, values, intention, and personal integrity. In other words, I have had some really bad experiences with licensed healthcare providers, and wonderfully healing experiences with coaches and guides, neither of which are licensed professions. The latter is more likely to get sued for poor choices and behavior than the former. 

Perhaps, I am just talking around the original question: Is dreamwork like therapy?

No, dreamwork is not like therapy, if by therapy we mean the half an hour the psychiatrist spends with you making sure your meds are working. It’s not like talk therapy either; not the kind in which you talk and the therapist diagnoses.

Yes, dreamwork is like therapy, if by therapy we mean growth, introspection, and shadow work. It’s like therapy if we intend to use it to shift our thinking or our patterns or improve our quality of life and relationships.

Maybe, dreamwork is like therapy, if by therapy we are seeking a word to describe the experience when there may not actually be a word to describe the experience other than the word “dreamwork,” which in and of itself, anyway, may be one thing for you and another for me. As are our dreams. 

Asking “Is dreamwork like therapy?” is the perfect question, and it is also an imperfect question.

Dreams more than anything else I have ever experienced — along with sex and poetry, I suppose — are beyond language, in the way they are beyond time and space.

Dreamwork, too, is unlike anything I have experienced therapeutically. So, if that answer to the question intrigues or excites you, I would encourage you to consider dreamwork for yourself, either alone or with someone calling themselves a “dreamworker.” 

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