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What Is Dreamwork?

You picked up a business card with the word “dreamwork,” but you didn’t know what that meant, so you searched up the web site listed and found yourself here. Or…

Someone you trust told you that there was a way to intentionally and purposefully work with your dreams for healing, and you found yourself here. Or…

You googled “why do I keep dreaming of an old boyfriend” and you found yourself here. Or…

Whatever led you to this blog post, welcome! I am a big believer in the power of synchronicity, so the fact that you’re here matters. Why does it matter? I don’t know. Do you? Neither of us needs to know for it to be true or to be curious about it.

I thought I might write a little today about what dreamwork is to me because my approach to dreamwork and my interactions with my own dreams both inform my writing about dreams, and my work with individual clients.

In the basic sense of the word, dreamwork simply is the act of remembering and reflecting upon your dreams in a way that’s meaningful and purposeful.

A Brief Overview of Dreamwork 

Dreamwork as a therapeutic process is most commonly associated with psychoanalysis. Broadly, dreamwork today is most commonly used in the context of psychotherapy to help people explore their subconscious thoughts and beliefs, or solve problems in waking life.

Here is a good resource for an overview of what modern dreamwork typically is referring to and its history. However, use of dreamwork is not limited to modern times, nor was it discovered by modern healthcare professionals. Indigenous cultures have intentionally engaged with dreams for spiritual and ritualistic purposes for thousands of years. In Ancient Egypt there were “sleep temples,” where dreams were often consulted and used for curing illness. Religious groups and some Eastern and Western mystical traditions include dreaming and the dream state as important spiritual practices.

What Dreamwork Is to Me

For years, I considered engaging with a dreamwork practitioner or psychotherapist who valued dreamwork, but there wasn’t a model that felt suited to the type of work I was doing independently; specifically, trying to understand the experience of precognition I would sometimes have as a result of dreams, and the feeling I had, too, that some dreams may be of past lives, or others’ lives.

My model for working my own dreams would need to be more expansive than analysis and interpretation; more cross-disciplinary. Some of my dreams felt viscerally real, and it wouldn’t satisfy me to place them simply in the realm of archetype or imagination. I value both archetypal work and dream analysis. Both inform my own dreamwork and practice with my clients. I am not formally trained, however, in either of those therapeutic models, nor am I a psychotherapist or licensed medical practitioner. 

My professional background is as a writer. I have a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. My experience with storytelling and my graduate work in literature greatly influence my personal dreamwork. When I say storytelling, I am including the technical aspects you may have learned in school at some point: imagery, metaphor, narrative, plot, purpose, characterization, etc. It’s my belief that storytelling plays a big role in how we live our lives, how we interact with others, how we feel about ourselves and our lives, how we suffer, how we heal, and of course, how we dream.

You don’t need to be a writer, reader, or lover of literature to notice these elements in your dreams–think about your day-to-day experiences and interactions. It’s filled with story, inner and outer dialogue, and images. These all contribute to and shape our experience, along with sensory input, perception, and sense-making.

My Current Model

A dreamwork model suited to me and my inquiry would need to examine how we tell ourselves stories in waking life, and provide a container to compare or contrast waking life narratives with the narratives inside my dreams. The dreamwork model I would need would necessitate a different way of understanding time, memory, and the afterlife. The dreamwork model I would need must be open to paranormal experiences, as I have had many over the course of my life, specifically during sleep, or meditative-type experiences.

I was not able to find a dreamwork model that addressed all those needs, so I decided to create one for myself, which I now use to guide others who are seeking to work more intentionally with their dream life and stories. It’s multi-disciplinary and unique to the individual I am working with, dependent on a variety of factors: for instance, how often they dream, what kind of healing they’re currently seeking, how good their overall health is, how well they sleep, whether or not they experience non-ordinary states (ie. psychic or out-of-body experiences), etc.

Over the last decade, I’ve independently researched dreams, memory, time, psi phenomena, and the paranormal; as well as formally studied writing, story, and poetry. Since 2012, I’ve also regularly  tracked and worked my own dreams. 

The combination of all that informs my specific answer to “What is dreamwork?”

Dreamwork is the intentional and purposeful interaction with our dreams.

Dreamwork is the decision to take our dreams seriously, but not too seriously.

Dreamwork is the acknowledgement that we have access to a whole other experience (many!) when we sleep, and that these experiences certainly impact our waking perceptions, meaning-making, and storytelling.

Dreamwork is knowing that our minds are active when we sleep, and that more conscious awareness in the dream and of the dream is to our benefit.

Dreamwork is healing.

Dreamwork allows for a deeper relationship with ourselves and great interconnectedness with others, both living and dead.

Dreamwork changes the past and alerts us to the future.

Dreamwork is both inside and outside time and space. It’s malleable. It changes the way we relate to time and space in our waking lives.

Dreamwork allows us access to unconditional love, unbound by time, space, trauma, wounding, anger, aversion, fear, or death.

Dreamwork opens us up to awe and wonder, both of which lead to a greater sense of belonging and well-being. 

Dreamwork also is sometimes challenging, tiring, and pushes us to consider thoughts and feelings that make us uncomfortable.

Dreamwork creates opportunities for healing with others we may not have access to in waking life, due to broken bonds, poor communication, or death.

Dreamwork heals me in a way other modalities (ie. personal development classes, therapy, books, coaching, spiritual practice etc.) have not. It also works extraordinarily well with all of the modalities that have offered me healing in the past. Dreamwork is complementary. It is non-invasive. Its only contraindication — sometimes — is more sleep or useful forgetting. (More here on why it’s sometimes temporarily useful to forget.)

We Change, and So, Too, the Model May Change

Of course, this is not the definitive answer to “What is dreamwork?” It’s not even the conclusive or absolute answer to what I think dreamwork is. Dreamwork is still an unfolding for me.

In 2021, I began working my own dreams with a Natural Dreamwork practitioner (Yes! I finally found a modality suited to what I need at this time in my own healing journey.) Consequentially, my own work with clients is starting to be informed in part by what Natural Dreamwork is guiding me toward and how it helps me heal. I eventually plan to become certified in Natural Dreamwork, as it is a modality that is complementary to the type of dreamwork I already practice.

If any of the above resonates with you, and you are curious to learn more about dreamwork for yourself–specifically, whether or not my work with clients is suited to your needs or your healing journey–I’d be happy to have a conversation to explore that. The best way to get started is to send me an email to jensonsteinmaidenberg@gmail.com

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