Can Your Dreams Cure What Ails You?
Psychotherapists use a lot of different tools, techniques and theoretical models to help their clients and their patients.
Some of the approaches we employ can be slow, cumbersome and sometimes ineffective.
With changing health care laws and rising health care costs, therapists need to be increasingly more efficient and more effective.
As part of my training and as result of many years of experience, I have been exposed to a number of different methods for helping people to change so that they can live more fulfilling lives.
I am always looking for easy to understand and easy to implement approaches that can help people to grow and to change more quickly,
Now, there is not a simple cure for every psychological, emotional and interpersonal problem. And many problems are quite complicated. Furthermore, some clients present with a multitude of problems simultaneously.
However, I have recently starting working with a simple model which a lot of people seem to be finding to be quite helpful.
This approach encourages people to use their dreams, daydreams and fantasies to facilitate positive changes in their lives.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
For many years, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, marriage and family therapists and mental health workers have utilized a triangle model which involves the person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These three elements impact each other and changing one variable can often facilitate changes in another. This model of treatment is known as cognitive behavioral therapy.
CBT, as it is known, focuses on changing a person’s dysfunctional thoughts, exaggerations or distortions so that they can then change their feelings and behaviors.
The idea behind this model is that it is not events that upset people, but rather their attitude and perceptions about the events which cause them to be upset. CBT helps a person to develop a healthier philosophy about living and about managing stress.
There is much research to support the value of this approach and it has been quite popular for the last twenty years.
It should be noted that some people change their behaviors or their feelings and then change their thoughts. For instance, a person who wants to lose weight might start a daily walking regime and this behavioral shift may cause this individual to the experience a change in the way they think and/or the way they feel about themselves and their body.
Since changes in thoughts, behaviors or feelings are quite important in the world of psychotherapy, it does not necessarily matter in what order these changes come about. The main thing is that people grow, learn and make modifications which allow them to feel better and function better.
Everything Worthwhile Begins With A Big Dream
One very important element that is missing from the cognitive-behavioral model is the person’s positive dreams, daydreams, fantasies related to the solution of the problem and changes in their life in general.
The new model that I have developed begins with an exploration of positive but realistic fantasies, because I believe that everything worthwhile often begins with a person’s dream.
For instance, a person who wants to open a restaurant may spend a lot of time dreaming about the name of the establishment, the décor and the menu. These elements form the person’s dream for his or her venture. The aforementioned elements are probably very important and meaningful for this entrepreneur. And the person probably has spent a lot of time visualizing what the restaurant will be like.
Also, some people need to make contact with their unconscious minds to make a significant change in their life. Our dreams are pathways to our unconscious minds.
Moreover, dreams allow people to get in touch with their innermost needs, hopes and desires and they encourage peopole to engage in expansive thoughts and in creative problem solving that their conscious minds often do not allow us to do.
For now, I am calling this approach Cognitive-Behavioral Dream Therapy.
The Magical Square Approach To Psychotherapy
To better understand this model, think of a square. The top left hand corner of the square begins with the person’s positive dreams, hopes, wishes and fantasies about how a solution to their problem would look and feel and how it would impact their life.
The remaining corners can devoted to thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
Since some people don’t recall their night time dreams, they can use a day dream or a fantasy they have experienced while driving in their car, while commuting to work, while running, while walking, while in the shower, while at work, while listening to music or while doing chores. Most of us have daydreams at various times during our daily activities and we can easily access these important experiences.
How Does This Approach To Therapy Work?
Two Case Histories
To illustrate how this model works, I am including two descriptions of meetings with clients of mine. This dialogue starts after a thorough history was taken from the client. (This intial history is not included here.)
Dr. Granat: What is the main problem that you want help with today?
Mary: My husband is having another affair. He has had many of them during the last five years of our marriage. In addition, he has been verbally abusive to me for quite some time. I am afraid to leave him because I am financially dependent on him. I should also tell you that he drinks a great deal every night and that he refuses to go for help for his drinking problem.
Dr. Granat: Sounds like you have been having a rough time for quite a while and that you are in a very tough emotional spot now.
Mary: Yes. It is pretty bad.
Dr. Granat: I am curious. Do you have any positive daydreams, fantasies, hopes or night time dreams about solving the problem, feeling empowered, being happy and solving your problem? You may find it useful to close your eyes, take a few breaths and try to recall some positive dreams you have had about ending your pain and solving your problem.
Mary: Well, sometimes I do have these kinds of daydreams.
Dr. Granat: Can you tell me about these experiences in great detail, if possible.
Mary: When I drive in my car, I do consider how much better I would feel if I got away from my husband. I have thought about this many times, to be honest. I could go back to work, make my own money and get back to a place where I felt good about myself.
I would also set a better example for my two daughters. It is not good for them to see me being treated this way.
Dr. Granat: So, your dreams give you a sense of what you need to do for yourself and for your children. (I show Mary the square diagram at this point in time.)
Mary: Yes. I guess they do.
Dr. Granat: Well, it sounds like you have a few interesting things to explore and consider.. What thought, feeling or behavior do you need to change to help to make you’re the dream you told me about into a reality for you and for your daughters?
Sometimes you can begin the change process with small changes or big changes.
Mary: First, I need to talk to an attorney. Then, I need to get my resume together. I learned that there is a job available at my old firm. Maybe they will take me back.
Dr. Granat: It sounds like you are already changing your attitude and initiating some actions to already.
Mary: I think that my dreams helped to look at things a bit differently.
Dr. Granat: Sometimes, we have to open up our minds to solve a problem like the one that is bothering you. How do you feel about your plan?
Mary: (Crying) I know I will feel better if I start to make these changes. In fact, I am feeling a little better already.
So, the inclusion of Mary’s dreams into her therapy early on helped her to modify her thoughts, behaviors and feelings.
Now it is possible that Mary would have developed this plan and insight without exploring her dreams. However, for Mary, and for many others like her, utilizing dreams often speeds up the therapeutic process.
In another case, a young man who was suffering from anxiety and depression came to see me. As I got to know him, I learned that he loved to play the guitar. However, he played exclusively by himself.
He dreamed about playing in a band and performing in a live show but was quite anxious and frightened of doing this.
I encouraged this fellow to share his desires and dreams about playing in a band with me.
He loved a wide range of music and could play almost any song after hearing it and practicing a bit.
I spent a few months encouraging him to talk about his love of music, his guitar and his favorite bands and favorite songs.
Recently, he made contact with some other musicians through the internet. Now he is in a band. He has made some new friends and he is talking about performing.
Not surprisingly, his mood has improved and his self-confidence has grown.
As with Mary, his fantasy drove the change in his attitude, behavior and feelings.
When he is stuck in other areas of his life, I remind him of how he used his dreams to make changes in this part of his life. My hope is that he can use the same approach to work out some of his other concerns.
Using Your Dreams To Solve Your Problems
In short, here is how this model works. Some of you will be able to use this approach on your own. Others may need someone to guide you through the process.
1. Describe your problem. Start with one issue at a time.
2. Then draw a square. In the upper left hand corner of your square, write the word “ my fantasy.”
3. In the next three corners write one of these words, my attitudes ,my behaviors, my feelings.
4. Now, start by carefully considering your most positive dream, daydream or fantasy which includes a solution to this problem. Imagine how your life will be different once the problem is gone, minimized, reduced or diminished. Spend some time enjoying this pleasant state of mind.
5. Consider what attitudes, behaviors and thoughts you need to change, modify or adapt to allow your dream to become a reality. And then simply move to the other corners of the square in any order that you like. Some of you will start with thoughts. Some of you will start with feelings and some of you will begin with behaviors. Try to come up with three changes. These changes can be large or small.
Revisit your square in a week and review how you are doing, how you are progressing and how you are feeling.
One of my clients, a dentist, carries his square around with him all the time. He says it keeps him focused on how to solve his problems and how to manage his life.
Give this approach a try and see if it helps you to problem solve more effectively and to feel better. I would love to know how you are progressing. Please drop me an email and let me know. And feel free to reach out to me with any questions anytime. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jay P. Granat, Ph.D. is a Psychotherapist and Licensed Marriage And Family Therapist in River Edge, NJ. He is also the Founder of www.StayInTheZone.com