NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Psychotherapy Blog: Embodied Imagination Dreamwork

In my prior blog post, Dream Incubation: Planting Seeds, I discussed Robert Bosnak's Embodied Imagination dream incubation technique. As I mentioned, Embodied Imagination dream incubations are performed by psychotherapists or dreamworkers who have been trained in this technique as a way of helping to "plant seeds" in the dreamer's unconscious mind to work on areas that are important to the dreamer.

Embodied Imagination Dreamwork

These areas might include: health issues, creative blocks, relationship issues, career decisions, or any other areas of a person's life that are meaningful to him or her. Dream incubations have also been used to help actors with their roles.

In the fictionalized account from the last blog post, Donna's therapist assisted her to come up with a composite of the images, physical sensations, and emotions associated with her desire to overcome her creative block and increase her motivation to do her artwork. This composite consisted of the various trigger points in her body, and her therapist used these trigger points to help incubate a dream for Donna to overcome her creative block.

The following scenario is a continuation of the fictionalized account about Donna's incubation:

Donna spent a few minutes focusing on the trigger points related to her dream incubation every night, as her therapist suggested. Although Donna was aware that everyone has, on average, 4-6 dreams every night, during the first three days, Donna couldn't remember any dreams.

Embodied Imagination Dreamwork

But on the fourth day, she had a dream that she wrote down immediately upon waking up so she wouldn't forget it. She remembered that her therapist told her that it was very important to write the dream in the present tense. When she saw her therapist again, she recounted the following dream:

I'm in a coffee shop seated by myself. I notice an old friend, Nina, that I haven't seen in at least 10 years. I walk over to where she is. She's delighed to see me. We chat and get caught up with each other. The scene changes: Later on, I'm standing in the corridor of an apartment building. Somehow, I can see through the wall into Nina's apartment. I see her getting ready to go out to see an old boyfriend. Somehow, I know that she wants to get him back again. She's sitting in front of her dresser mirror and putting on makeup. I can only see her in the dresser mirror because she has her back to me. I notice how determined she looks. Her eyes are very intense. She is very focused on looking "just so" because she wants her date to go well.

According to the Embodied Imagination technique, Donna's therapist listened carefully to the dream and tuned into what resonated for her in the dream. Then, she asked Donna to tell the dream a second time in the present tense. Then, the therapist asked Donna for any associations to the dream. Donna responded by saying that she has always admired Nina for being someone who is very determined to get what she wants. Donna said that, in reality, Nina isn't as manipulative or as calculating as she came across in the dream. The dream presented Nina's determination in an exaggerated way.

Donna's therapist helped Donna to get into a waking hypnogagic state so that she could reenter the dream state. As previously mentioned in prior blog posts, Embodied Imagination is not about dream interpretation or dream analysis. The therapist started by helping Donna to feel the physical environment in the coffee shop. Once Donna resonated with the physical environment, she told her therapist what she noticed in the dream when she saw Nina, what emotions she felt, and where she felt them in the body. All the while, Donna was able to maintain a dual awareness of the here-and-now as well as the dream state.

Then, the therapist helped Donna to "transit" into the Nina character from the dream. She did this by, at first, having Donna descrbe how she felt about Nina and what she noticed in detail. As Donna got closer and closer to Nina's experience, at a certain point, the therapist asked Donna to allow herself to be "embodied" by the Nina character. She asked her to look through Nina's eyes, while, at the same time, maintaining an awareness of herself in the dream.

Donna was amazed at how much she was able to get from taking on the dream character, Nina's perspective. She felt Nina's determination through the energy in the eyes and the torso. She experienced it as an energy that started from just below her navel and came up through her body and out through the top of her head. She even felt the warmth of the energy as it circulated through her body.

Towards the end of the dreamwork, the therapist helped Donna to feel a composite of all the trigger points from her own dream character as well as Nina's trigger points. Donna had a strong felt sense of the images, physical sensations, and emotions from the dream. Her therapist helped her to blend together all of these trigger points to give Donna an integrated experience of the dream.

After they worked the dream, the therapist suggested that Donna use the composite, including the energy and determination of the Nina dream character, to overcome her creative block. She encouraged Donna to spend at least a few minutes every day practicing experiencing the composite of the trigger points in her body.

Over the next few weeks, Donna practiced experiencing the trigger points in her body.

Embodied Imagination Dreamwork

Whereas before, she had problems motivating herself to do her artwork, when she immersed herself in the trigger points from the dream, she felt renewed energy and vitality. Soon, she was able to return to her artwork with the passion that she had felt before.

Embodied Imagination dreamwork is not magic. It works best if you're working on something that is really meaningful to you.

To find out more about Embodied Imagination, visit their website:

I am a New York City licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR therapist, and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I also enjoy using Embodied Imagination incubations and dreamwork.

I work with individual adults and couples.

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.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dream Incubation - Planting Seeds

During a recent dream intensive training with Dutch Jungian analyst, Robert Bosnak, I learned an extraordinary technique, which is part of Mr. Bosnak's Embodied Imagination technique, called dream incubation. In a prior blog post Dreams and Embodied Imagination, I wrote about his Embodied Imagination mind-body psychotherapy.

Dream Incubation - Planting Seeds

What is Dream Incubation?
Dream incubation has been used for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks visited the Temple of Asklepius in Epidauros, Greece to have a healing dream to cure themselves or loved ones from illness. 

Asklepius was the god of healing. The cult of Asklepius was very popular around 350 BC. Many people came to the Temple of Asklepius in hopes of incubating a healing dream, which they believed to be sent to them from the god Asklepius. If they had dreams, temple priests helped them the next day to understand the dreams and the healing messages from the dream so they could cure their illnesses.

Embodied Imagination Dream Incubation:
In Robert Bosnak's Embodied Imagination, if you want to incubate a dream, you work with a dreamworker who has been taught this technique. 

The purpose of incubation is to have dreams about something that you really want and use what you learn from those dreams to attain your goal. You are more likely to have dreams related to your incubation if it's something that you really desire. 

In his private practice in California, Mr. Bosnak works with clients who have chronic illnesses (cancer, AIDS, and other chronic medical problems). But dream incubation can be used for problems related to your relationships, career, creative endeavors, or any other areas where you might feel stuck and need help or inspiration.

Embodied Imagination and the Mind-Body Connection
There are many different types of dream incubation techniques. Most rely solely on the power of suggestion using cognitive methods. What I really like about Embodied Imagination dream incubation is that, like its name suggests, it incorporates the mind-body connection.

As previously mentioned, to use the Embodied Imagination mind-body technique of dream incubation, you need to work with at least one person or a group of people who know the method and can help you to "plant the seed" for the dream incubation. Even if you know the technique, it's hard to do for yourself. To start, the dreamworker asks you to remember a time when you really desired and were most in touch with the thing that you're trying to incubate.

The following fictionalized vignette will give you an idea of how Embodied Imagination dream incubation works:

Donna is an artist in her mid-30s. Up until a year ago, Donna was passionate about her artwork. Her paintings had been shown in NYC galleries, she has received very favorable reviews, and she has been able to support herself through her art. But during the last year, following a very successful art show, she has felt "stuck" and uninspired. Whenever she has tried to paint, she found herself staring at the empty canvass for long periods of time feeling anxious and frustrated. At first, she was not overly concerned, but as time went on and she was unable to overcome her creative block, she began to wonder if she would ever be able to paint again.

When a year had gone by without her being able to paint a thing, she decided to see a psychotherapist in NYC who was familiar with Embodied Imagination dream incubation technique. Since she had always been a very visual person with vivid dreams, Donna decided to see if she could overcome this unconscious creative block through Embodied Imagination dream incubation after hearing from a close friend about how well it worked for her to overcome issues in her relationship.

After getting Donna's history, the psychotherapist asked Donna about the last time that Donna felt most in touch with her desire to paint. Donna had to think about this for a few minutes, and then she remembered a specific memory of a day when she was immersed in her art work, feeling passionate and creative. At that point, the work flowed for Donna. She felt that it was almost effortless.

As Donna described this memory, the psychotherapist helped her to slow down so Donna could enter into a waking hypnogagic state. Hypnogagic states are states that we all experience just before falling asleep or waking up. We might not always be aware of it at the time, but the hypnogagic state is that in-between state between being asleep and awake. People have often described the hypnogagic state as a feeling of floating. (Lucid dreams, which are dreams where you know you are dreaming, occur most often in the hypnogagic state. But that's a topic for another blog post.)

The therapist helped Donna to experience the time and place of this memory, which happened to be in an art studio that Donna shared with several others artists. As part of this memory, Donna remembered that another artist, Susan, who shared the space, stopped by to see what Donna was working on. Donna talked about how she had always admired Susan and her work. She also liked how passionate Susan was about the creative process. Susan was 10 years older than Donna. Donna considered her to be a mentor of sorts. Donna knew that Susan had gone through her own creative slumps, but Susan seemed to always find a way out of them. In Donna's eyes, Susan was very energetic and she had a positive attitude most of the time.

Using Embodied Imagination techniques, first, the therapist helped Donna to bring herself back to the art studio and sense what that felt like in her body. She helped Donna to really feel her emotions from that memory of doing her art work that day (the passion, happiness, excitement, and creativity) and feel into where she felt those emotions in her body. As Donna closed her eyes and felt into her body, she felt the happiness and excitement in her chest, and she felt the passion in an area just below her navel. The therapist worked with Donna to help her to deepen and amplify these feelings. She also helped Donna to anchor these feelings as trigger points in her chest and lower abdomen.

Once these feelings were anchored in Donna's body, the therapist directed Donna back to the memory and asked her to observe Susan in her mind's eye. When Donna had a clear picture of Susan, the therapist asked Donna to describe what she saw starting with a basic description of Susan (what she looked like, what she was wearing, how she was standing, etc). Then, she asked Donna to sense into Susan emotionally. At first, Donna began telling the therapist what she thought, but the therapist redirected her away from her thoughts and more into her sense impression.

Embodied Imagination is not about your thoughts--it's about your sense impressions or sense memories from your body. This is similar to what actors do when they use sense memories to embody a certain character or role. (As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Embodied Imagination is used with actors, including the actors of the Royal Shakespeare Co.)

When we're asked to sense something, we tend to go to our thoughts, since that's how we usually relate to the world. But in Embodied Imagination, going with your thoughts can lead to unintentional fabrication (just making it up or making up what you think it should be). This defeats the purpose of Embodied Imagination.

So, Donna took a few moments to go back to her sense impressions and she felt into her experience of Susan from the memory of that particular day. As she looked at Susan in her mind's eye, she sensed Susan's enthusiasm, excitement, happiness, and her inspiration. Now that they were back on track, the therapist helped Donna to get closer and closer to Donna's experience.

At a certain point, the therapist helped Donna to "transit" into Susan's experience. In Embodied Imagination, transiting into another person's experience is sensing into that experience until you feel embodied by it. All the while, Donna maintains a sense of dual awareness, much in the same way that a person maintains dual awareness in hypnosis. In both methods, the person maintains a sense of the here-and-now as well as the there-and-then.

According to Robert Bosnak, who describes himself as a phenomenologist, transiting in Embodied Imagination is very different from Gestalt therapy. In Gestalt therapy, Donna's sense of Susan's experience would be considered to be a part of Donna. In Embodied Imagination, we do not consider Susan's experience to be a part of Donna. In fact, we have no preconceived ideas about this phenomenon. We just experience it.

Once the transit is complete and Donna feels embodied by her experience of Susan, while maintaining dual awareness of the here-and-now, Donna describes her experience of "Susan-ness." With the therapist's help, she is able to sense into the experience and identify Susan's various emotions and where she feels these emotions in her body.

All the while, the therapist is helping Donna to deepen and immerse herself in this experience. Generally, the waking hypnogagic state is a relaxed state. Accessing the hypnogagic state deepens and strengthens the experience more than just "thinking about" the memory.

The therapist assists Donna to anchor the embodied emotions that she senses from Susan. Combining Donna's anchored embodied emotions with Susan's, the therapist helps Donna to form a composite of this experience in her body so she can hold all of these experiences together. Robert Bosnak, who is a Jungian, uses the metaphor of the alchemist who combines and stirs all the alchemical ingredients to bring about a transformation.

Once Donna has all of these experiences anchored in her body, she returns to ordinary consciousness and the therapist gives her a diagram that she has made for Donna that represents the composite. The diagram is a body map consisting of the general contours of a body with all of the anchor points labeled with the location and the corresponding emotions.

The therapist instructs Donna to meditate on the composite with all of the corresponding emotions and anchor points in the body every night for a week to incubate a dream to inspire Donna to overcome her creative block. Donna will need to do more than just think about it--she will need to feel the feelings from the dream incubation in her body. Since her creative blocks is a problem that Donna really wants to overcome, she is highly motivated and she uses the composite every night just before going to sleep to incubate dreams about her problem.

Once Donna has incubated one or more dreams, she brings them to her therapist, who uses Embodied Imagination techniques to assist Donna with the dreamwork. Very often, people who have dreams after an Embodied Imagination incubaton don't always recognize these dreams as being related to their incubation, which is why it is important to work with a therapist who knows Embodied Imagination.

About Me
I am a licensed psychotherapist in New York. 

I use clinical hypnosis, Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, psychodynamic psychotherapy, and other mind-body oriented psychotherapy modalities. 

I work with individuals and couples.

I also enjoy doing Embodied Imagination dreamwork, which is a creative method to help clients overcome problems where they feel stuck.

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.