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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dreams and Embodied Imagination

NIP Annual Conference: "New Worlds of Psychoanalytic Dream Work"

Dreams and Embodied Imagination

I attended an intriguing annual conference at NIP (National Institute of Psychotherapies) called "New Worlds of Psychoanalytic Dream Work" here in NYC. 

Their first speaker was the world-renown Dutch Jungian psychoanalyst, Robert Bosnak. Mr. Bosnak has developed a very exciting and innovative way of working with dreams that he calls Embodied Imagination.

During the conference, Mr. Bosnak explained Embodied Imagination and then gave an amazing live presentation of his work. The woman who volunteered to present her dream was someone who Mr. Bosnak had worked with mostly through Skype, since she lives in NYC and he currently lives in California, for a short time, as preparation for the conference. He was not her primary therapist.

Borrowing from the early Greek healing arts involving healing incubation, where people who wanted healing went to the Temple of Aesklepius, prior to the conference, Mr. Bosnak asked this volunteer to focus every day on certain health symptoms that she was experiencing in order to "incubate" a healing dream.

As you may know, the early Greeks went to the Temple of Asklepius hoping that they would meet the healing god in their dreams so that they could be cured of their medical problems. In those days, people didn't think of their dreams as being symbolic--they believed that if they had a dream where they saw the healing god, Aesklepius, it was as real an experience as any waking experience.

During the conference, Mr. Bosnak demonstrated his phenomenological technique of Embodied Imagination while he induced a hypnogogic state in the dream volunteer. (The hypnogogic state is the state between waking and sleeping.) His work is a very big departure from traditional or even contemporary psychoanalytic traditions of doing dream work.

Dreams and Embodied Imagination

As he went over the dream with the dreamer, he asked her not only to embody her dream self in her imagination, but also to embody other people and inanimate objects in her dream. 

Rather than experience these people and objects as if they were parts of herself, as she might in parts work or in Gestalt therapy, Mr. Bosnak asked the dreamer to use her imagination to become each of these people and objects in the dream and related their experiences, including inanimate objects like a car.

Notwithstanding the fact that there were at least 300 psychoanalysts and psychotherapists in the room, Mr. Bosnak and the dream volunteer did amazing work, which appeared to be healing for the particular type of medical problem that she was having. 

It is noteworthy that Mr. Bosnak didn't know anything about the dream beforehand. He was hearing it for the first time with the rest of us.

We could see how they both got to material in the dream that they probably would not have accessed if they approached the dream in the conventional manner. It was very exciting, to say the least, to observe this. For most of us in the room, it was a challenge and an invitation to consider how we work with dreams.

Mr. Bosnak has moved away from the conventional idea that dreams have a defensive structure. He also does not work with what is often described as manifest (what is obvious) and latent (what cannot be readily seen) content in his work with Embodied Imagination.

If you have been reading my blog, you are probably aware that I'm very interested in the mind-body connection in my work, so I'm always interested in hearing new techniques for working in this way. Some of Mr. Bosnak's methodology reminded me of Somatic Experiencing, which is a modality I already use in my psychotherapy private practice

Most people who are familiar with Jung's work know that he worked with what he called Active Imagination. He also used Active Imagination in his Red Book. However, Mr. Bosnak seems to have gone beyond Active Imagination.

Robert Bosnak has traveled all over the world, and he has witnessed many different ways of working with dreams phenomenologically, including working with dreams shamanically. He reminds us that how we perceive dreams is very much tied to our cultural understanding.

Just before going to sleep last night, I began to read Robert Bosnak's book, Embodiment - Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel. I got up to Page 5 when I dropped off to sleep and I had the following dream:

I'm talking to Mr. Bosnak about his method of working with dreams. We're sitting face-to-face at close range. I'm mostly listening to him very intensely and thinking about how I can use this method of doing dream work with my clients. As I take in this new way of working with dreams, I feel very excited and slightly frustrated. Then, I realize and think to myself, "Time is the key. He slows everything down and gives the work lots of time."

When I woke up, I wrote down this dream as well as several other dreams that I had last night.

After I wrote down my dreams, I picked up Mr. Bosnak's book, Embodiment, and began reading again. I was surprised and delighted to find that when I resumed reading and got to the next page, Page 6, he talks about time and the slowness of time when transitioning from the dreaming to the waking state. I felt as if Mr. Bosnak and I had an actual conversation about Embodied Imagination and the nature of time in this work, and here it was confirmed when I resumed reading his book.

It's a fallacy when some people say that they either don't dream or they rarely dream. Everyone dreams at least five dreams a night, but not everyone remembers their dreams.

Whether or not you remember your dreams has a lot to do with how you wake up. If you're someone who takes a while to transition from the sleep state to the waking state, transitioning slowly so that you still retain the feeling state that you were in while you were sleeping, you're more likely to remember your dreams. However, if you tend to wake up suddenly without making that slow transition, you're less likely to remember your dreams.

If you're interested in learning more about your dreams, which are often a rich source of information, I recommend that you keep a pad and pen by your bed. Having a strong intention and telling yourself that you want to remember your dreams before you go to sleep helps to give your unconscious the message that dreams are important to you.

When you wake up, rather than jumping out of bed, take a few moments to stay immersed in the dream state. Especially, do not change your position. So, for example, if you're lying on your left side, don't turn around right away. Remain like that for a few moments and allow the details of the dream to emerge.

Then, write down your dreams in the present tense as if you're still in the dream. Even if it's a fragment of a dream, write down whatever you remember. Usually, you'll find that, as you begin to remember your dreams from the night before, you'll remember them in reverse order, with the last dream first (the dream closest to waking up) and then the next to the last dream, and so on.

Dreams and Embodied Imagination

Very often, if you write down your dreams, over time, you begin to see interesting synchronicities between your dreaming and waking states. I believe that this isn't as unusual as most people think and that, over time, most people can tap into this inner resource. I believe it's a natural ability that most of us have if we're willing to develop it.

Several years ago, when I was working on my dreams every day, I saw very interesting synchronicities. I also had precognitive dreams where I dreamt about certain things happening before they actually happened. I didn't have any earth-shattering premonitions about world events--they were mostly personal incidents in my life. My point is that I saw a connection between paying attention to my dreams and the ability to tap into an inner precognitive resource.

If you want to find out more about Robert Bosnak's method of Embodied Imagination and his way of working with dreams, you can visit the website for the Embodied Imagination Institute: You can also read his book, Embodiment, which is written in an accessible way.

Mr. Bosnak also heads up the Santa Barbara Healing Sanctuary, and you can visit their website at:

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and coupls.

I have been fascinated by dreams since I was a teenager and I enjoy doing dream work with my clients. Dream work often helps clients to gain a perspective of themselves and others that they wouldn't ordinarily otherwise have access to in other ways. 

I also enjoy using clinical hypnosis to re-enter the dream state, and I have found this to be very useful to clients.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.