Depth Psychology Blog

Working with Dreams: Depth Psychology Techniques of Carl Gustav Jung and James Hillman

19 Apr 2013 1:16 AM | Bonnie Bright (Administrator)

Working with Dreams: Depth Psychology Techniques of Carl Gustav Jung and James Hillman

Dream work is ancient, it’s long tradition evidenced in the temples of Asclepius in Greece where individuals went to be healed through their dreams. Dreams have been an important aspect of many spiritual traditions, and even Freud considered the study of dreams to be his most important work. There are many methods of dream analysis. When working with dreams, it can be helpful to intentionally assess them from various aspects, including mythical, archetypal, alchemical, and collective, and to pay attention to which resonate most strongly emotionally and elicit even a physical response in order to begin to understand what insights are being gifted through your unconscious.

In The Dream and the Underworld, James Hillman prefers to allow the dream and dream symbols to remain what they are, and not to analyze and interpret them but to simply interact with them and see what comes about. However, Hillman’s method of seeing focuses far more on an artistic view than from a therapeutic or results-oriented standpoint. As such, when it comes to dreams and symbols, he stays with the process and activity itself instead of seeking an outcome or solution. He values the description over interpretation, the animating and making a thing come alive rather than suffocating it with a contrived explanation from outside the dream. He thrives on visiting the dream in its own realm of power, the underworld, and in honoring it by allowing it to be its own entity there instead of trying to make it come alive in our ordinary world of thinking.

Hillman’s goal, as was Jung’s, is to get ever closer to the characters and activity in the dream realm, but as opposed to Jung who then turned to amplification in order to find meaning and interpretation at the level of the waking ego, Hillman chooses not to bring the dream element back into waking life and force it to match up with symbols or meanings we already hold. In fact, Hillman claims that to bring the dream out of the underworld actually betrays the dream. Hillman advocates finding wordplays, asking questions of the objects themselves, and then allowing them to live out their own soul-like existence without comparison or contrast to external references. He chides us in our desire to analyze, our wish to know, and speaks of “letting our desire die away into its images (p. 201).

I find Hillman’s technique enjoyable and rewarding as an activity, like reading a good book or watching a movie with a plot and characters that take place in front of your eyes. It is mentally stimulating, interesting, creative, and even insightful on its own terms. However, as a thinking/intuitive type, analysis and interpretation come as naturally as breathing to me, and I simply can’t conceive of doing dream work without some aspect of interpretation. If I truly believe that the unconscious is trying to communicate through dreams, and that there is a message in store that can help lead to my individuation, I must also adopt some of Jung’s (and many others) methods, in order to draw some conclusions. Otherwise, I simply recognize events or aspects of my life much later and don’t benefit from the learning aspect of my dreams as Jung purported.

Jung stresses the value of compensation in dreams, describing it as a means of “balancing and comparing different data or points of view so as to produce an adjustment or a rectification” (1960, p. 75). Robert Sardello (1995) sums up Hillman’s approach as metaphorical as contrasted to Jung’s approach, which is symbolic. However, he reminds us, “dreams are not metaphors for something else, but a different reality, a metaphorical reality” (p. 110). Robert Hoss (2005) claims compensation appears “in order to reveal misconceptions and inappropriate myths that have bound us in conflict, to provide an alternative path or reversal in our thinking about the dream, and to lead us in the direction of transformation and release” (p. 115). 

Though Jung believed virtually every dream was compensatory, Hillman dismisses the compensation theory because, according to him, dreams are made partial, one-sided and imbalanced and therefore require the dreamer to turn to the dayworld aspects of ego to find the missing elements in order to find meaning (1979).

Jung asserts, “A dream…is a product of the total psyche. Hence, we may expect to find in dreams everything that has ever been of significance in the life of humanity” (1960, p. 65). Here, Jung refers to the archetypal quality of dreams, the idea that universal patterns, which are the building blocks of the collective unconscious, also make up our dreams. Robert Johnson insists “we incarnate the archetypes with our physical lives” (p. 62) and that we must research mythology and seek to understand the characteristics of the archetype, once identified, in order to understand its role in our lives. The archetypal aspect must be connected to a personal perspective or it is pointless, Johnson goes on, because “every symbol in your dream has a special, individual connotation that belongs to you alone…even when a symbol has a collective or universal meaning, it still has a personal coloration for you and can be fully explained only from within you” (p. 63).

Regardless of which dream method you adopt, there is usually not one “right” translation. Dreams hold knowledge and insight for us on many levelsundefinedoften at the same time. If you’re interested in dreams, be sure to check out a free upcoming teleseminar on dreams by Jungian analyst Dr. Michael Conforti, whose methods adhere closely to Jung’s and who has been working with dreams for more than three decades. Details for the upcoming/archived teleseminar can be found here undefinedand don’t hesitate to look for depth practitioners here on DepthPsychologyList.com who offer dreamwork as well.


Bonnie Bright is the founder of Depth Psychology Alliance, the world's first comprehensive online community for depth psychology, and hosts a podcast, Depth Insights, as well as editing the semi-annual scholarly e-zine of the same name. She recently founded www.DepthPsychologyList.com, a free online database to find or list depth psychology oriented therapists and practitioners. She holds Masters degrees in Psychology and Depth Psychology, and is a Ph.D. candidate at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA. Follow her on Twitter @bonniebright5 or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BonnieBright.DepthPsych

 

Some References

Hillman, J. (1979). The dream and the underworld. New York: Harper & Row.

Hoss, R. J. (2005). Dream language: Self-understanding through image and color. Ashland, OR: Innersource.net.

Johnson, R. A. (1986). Inner work: Using dreams & active imagination for personal growth. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

Jung, C. G. (1960). Dreams (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). New York: Routledge.

Sardello, R. (1995). Love and the soul: Creating a future for earth. New York: HarperCollins.

Comments

  • 02 May 2013 7:24 AM | Shawn Nygaard
    My understanding of what Hillman was up to in "The Dream and the Underworld" is that dreams connect us to the eternal/timeless realm of life (and death) because the Underworld is the world of soul, and the soul is eternal. The soul's connection to eternity is much bigger than our mortal lives and far, far more mysterious. And, as Rilke said, "What is extraordinary and eternal does not *want* to be bent by us." To bring the dream to light, to "dayworld" consciousness (which is always more limited than Underworld consciousness), diminishes the dream and the soul. I don't think Hillman avoided interpretation entirely; rather, the avoidance of immediate interpretation is to avoid too quick a jump out of the dream. Modern interpretation is virtually always based on dayworld consciousness, and too quick an interpretation based on that diminished consciousness pretty much misses the dream.

    Hillman's perspective is one that most of modern culture simply does not have the patience for, just as modern culture rarely has patience for the soul at all. The soul's complexity defies modern psychology's notion of understanding our individual "complexes" via dreams. It's far more mysterious than most are willing to imagine. The connection with the soul actually requires a different kind of consciousness, one connected to the eternal realm, the realm of darkness and mystery. That kind of consciousness is usually what modern psychology calls "the unconscious" and then modern psychology proceeds to shine light all over it. Hillman was not afraid of the dark and was in no hurry to "awaken" and turn the light on. Rather, he advocated letting one's open eyes adjust to the darkness and learning to see things in their own light, the light of the soul. The importance of allowing the soul to speak on its own terms is so vital, and something I wish more depth psychologists employed.
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