A Book Review by Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D., L.P.C.
Have you ever fantasized about being someone else, or wondered who you might be, if you were living at another time and in another place? Do you ever dream that you are living a life other than your own? In The Hypnotic Use of Waking Dreams psychotherapist Paul W. Schenk explores the therapeutic and spiritual implications of imagined alternative lives. Through "waking dreams" Schenk invites his clients to imagine themselves as another person, living another life, as a "dream character." The dream life provides the client's medium for working through current life issues and problems from another perspective.
Schenk hypnotically guides his clients to imagine being the main character in a fictional life---one made up entirely by the client. The client describes significant events in this imagined life and then narrates the dream character's death and after-life experiences. Schenk believes that the true power of the waking dream begins in the after-life episode, a time of philosophical reflection and spiritual exploration.
The author draws from the work of Raymond A. Moody Jr. M.D., who, in the 1970s wrote an astonishing bestseller, Life after Life, in which he documented interviews with people who recounted their near-death-experiences (NDEs). Moody found that NDEs contain common features: awareness of death, feelings of peace, a sense of bodily separation, entering a dark region, seeing or being enveloped in light, encountering spirit entities or deceased loved ones, and a return to the physical body.
Schenk tells his readers that when his clients describe the death of the dream character, they report experiences similar to those of an NDE. Schenk's tenet is that by imagining the after-life experience of an imaginary self, the client can reflect upon the deeper meanings and purposes of his or her own life. He asks, "What did you learn from this life?"
The waking dream is reminiscent of Dorothy's adventure in the Wizard of Oz. Waking dreams serve many purposes for clients:
- Clients discover previously unrecognized faulty assumptions about a problem.
- They can safely try out new solutions in a virtual reality.
- They can develop abilities and relationships they lack.
- They see their problems from another perspective.
- They establish a cue to remind them to carry their insights forward into their real lives.
- They develop insights into the dynamics of their current relationships.
- They use the waking dream to address metaphysical, existential, and spiritual issues.
Schenk asks his clients to dialog with the dream character, to see parallels between the dream life and the client's real life, and to discuss the implications of dream content. He also asks his clients to identify and converse with "spirit guides" representing intuitive parts of the client's own personality.
The book contains several case examples of waking dream work, with transcripts of the client-therapist conversation (often across multiple sessions). These case examples illustrate methods of trance induction, the use of guided imagery, and hypnotic language patterns. Dr. Milton H. Erickson's influence is evident in the use of metaphor, anchoring resourceful states, ambiguity, a permissive approach, open-ended questions, reflective listening, utilization, and client-initiated discovery. Each waking dream unfolds spontaneously as a teaching tale, created by the client. Throughout, the therapist facilitates the process by asking questions, encouraging exploration and curiosity, and suggesting choices and possibilities. Clients choose their own dreamscapes, work through dilemmas in their own way, answer their own questions, find their own meanings and interpretations, and draw their own conclusions.
The case examples include presenting problems such as trauma and grief, forgiveness, belief change, life transitions, phobias, and undesirable personality traits. These examples illustrate what Schenk calls "the overlap between psychotherapy and spirituality." He also reflects on the profound effect that 20 years of this work has had on his own life, reporting that it has led him to examine his thinking on past lives and reincarnation, the existence of spirit guides, one's after-life, out-of-body experiences, and multiple personalities. Indeed, in reading the case transcripts, it is often hard to tell what, in each client's story, is imagined and what might be true "paranormal" phenomena. Or is it the case that all "paranormal" phenomena are simply figments of the imagination and a game played by a creative subconscious?
Hypnotherapists, especially those who work with metaphor and guided imagery, will likely be drawn to working with waking dreams, and will enjoy this book. Like one viewing a Rorschach test, each reader will find something uniquely intriguing about this book, depending on one's model of what constitutes the human personality and mind. Some will find in this book much evidence of the subconscious mind at play. Others will see this work as highly spiritual, giving a glimpse into the latent supernatural abilities in each individual. Some readers will see in this book evidence of various therapeutic approaches and theories of personality, such as psychodynamics, ego state theory, Rogers' client-centered approach, Gestalt Therapy, and of course, Erickson's language patterns.
In The Hypnotic Use of Waking Dreams the line between reality and fantasy becomes slightly blurred, and entices us to ask questions about the mind and soul, about life and after-life. The answers are elusive, but the questions are sheer delight!
Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. is a licensed mental health counselor, psychotherapist and life coach practicing in Springfield, Virginia. She is Executive Director of the National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists at www.NatBoard.com. She has recently published The Weight, Hypnotherapy and You Weight Reduction Program: An NLP and Hypnotherapy Practitioner Manual with Crown House. Her website is www.EngageThePower.com