Blog 10: Working with Dreams

Before I begin, I want to thank Ann Boyle for composing the artwork inspired by the words in this blog. 

I learned thirty years ago how to work with dreams.  Why dream and what is their purpose for happening every couple of hours in sleep time?

Sleep itself is very precious.  The brain takes these hours of downtime and chucks the regular ‘dirty laundry’ of the day into the nocturnal washing machine - the daily successes and disappointments like birthday celebrations and failed interviews.  Dreams and nightmares give an opinion or verdict on how these events affect us. 

As a therapist, I love any shortcut a person uses to access what is really going on inside our deepest self.  This is the subconscious zone, and the subconscious doesn’t lie.  When we are awake and our conscious self is merrily operating away, we know we bend and shift with prevailing pressures.  We can tell our own self and others what I myself or another might like to hear.  We colour and distort the ‘truth’.  However, when we dream, there is no one else around, just me.  I, the conscious part, is passive in sleep so no distortions is the label on the door. 

The dream works like this: it cunningly composes mini-novels with an array of characters, plots, landscapes.  It manipulates language using puns, symbols and even foreign languages we have never learned.  Incredible, and this is the gift available to us every night  - if we choose first to acknowledge what dreams are and then be curious as to how they want to inform and guide us.

What’s the difference between dreaming and other nocturnal events like nightmares and sleep-walking. When the subconscious tell its story in an ‘average’ dream, how it wants to help and guide you in making decisions and changing direction, it is extremely happy. There is a natural daily conversation which keeps the inner self grounded and in balance while living in our tricky world.  When the dream isn’t heard and worked with on a very crucial phase in your life, it gets annoyed.  It steps up the audio and visual effects - hence a nightmare.  The subconscious is like a best friend who at first hints or encourages you to look at something you may be walking into ‘deaf and blind’.  The friend deeply cares for you so switches strategy to perhaps offering you disturbing factual evidence about your ‘dream boyfriend’ or ‘genius business venture’.  We both love and hate our best friend for trying to help us become grounded and balanced.  One of our very best friends is the subconscious, and it converses with us every 24 hours.  What a pity and disappointment if we don’t work with our dreams and nightmares. 

So how to work with dreams.  First issue for everybody is remembering them.  I like the analogy that a dream is like a mouse that you suddenly become aware of on your kitchen floor.  There is that second when both you and the mouse are hyper-aware of each other. Your senses peak and the mouse reacts.  This is like when you wake immediately having had the dream.  Your conscious self is hyper-aware of the story in the dream.  But, like the mouse and you in the kitchen, everything happens very fast.  Imagine - as if! - you want to physically catch the mouse as it scurries to hide in its mouse-hole. You may not catch the whole mouse before it’s gone but you catch its tail.  Same with a dream: you wake, the dream is there and then fleeing, you remember the last few images or climax of the dream which was obviously dramatic enough to wake you up.  Those images or characters you have caught can lead you, like a film rewinding slide by slide, of previous characters and events in the dream.  Just like you caught the tail of the mouse and drag back the whole ‘quivering wee thing’ into the kitchen.  Apologies to all sufferers of rodent-phobia!

A few comments to reality-check here.  In my work as a therapist, only about one in every hundred either bother or are interested in dreamwork.  And that is fine.  I am talking to the ‘one in hundred’ who will use this tremendous resource.  As said previously, I’ve been working with dreams for thirty years and my way of working has changed over time.  At first, I would have a journal on the bed-locker and jot down what I could remember after each dream, go back to sleep, and interpret the dream-message in the morning.  Now, it’s simpler. I wake and remember all or a segment of the dream; I ask the key question ‘what does that dream, or character / event in the dream symbolise for me?’ Sometimes, I know what it symbolises or represents, other times not - and back to sleep.  I’m also aware that in the first hour when I get up in the morning, there is an interface or overlap when I’m still sleepy (subconscious) and growing more aware (conscious) as I shave and shower.  This can be a powerful time for insight - I get a sense of whether to call somebody that day, revisit my work-life balance etc. 

Dreams love to be played with, so PLAY, don’t get too serious about it.  For people who meditate, dreamwork is easier.  Why? Well, when we meditate, where are we?  Yes! Right down in the subconscious.  We leave aside our conscious busy-ness and cross the threshold from the conscious into the subconscious.  Later, I will be putting up a video showing how I actually worked with a dream that made me change direction in life. 

Presentations on the 4 zones are also available on video and podcast through the website – see

If you enjoy the material, please get the word out there among those you care for.  You can contact me with comment or suggestion via Facebook at Jim Sheehy Therapy and on Twitter @jimsheehy2017

Take care,

Clarifying Disclaimer:  While the material I am presenting is well-researched and suitable for the general population, I believe each person’s issues and needs are unique.  I encourage you to seek medical and/or therapeutic support if you struggle with an issue or condition that negatively and seriously impacts your life.





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Jim Sheehy M.Ed. MIACP
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