Turn Dreamwork into Dream-Play with Carl Jung

The dream shows the inner truth and reality of the patient as it really is: not as I conjecture it to be, and not as he would like it to be, but as it is.
~Jung, C.G. “The Practical Use of Dream Analysis” (1934). In CW 16: The Practice of Psychotherapy. pg. 304

Joan (pseudonym) discovered that she had a large rash on her left thigh. Standing up in the shower a thought came to her, you are being too rash! Joan started to laugh realizing that psyche was telling her to slow down and take her time while sorting through some important decisions. By the time Joan finished her shower and was drying herself off the rash was gone.

Many people in our culture have heard the words introvert and extrovert, persona, unconscious, anima, animus, complexes, shadow, even collective unconscious. C.G. Jung’s words have infiltrated their way into our cultural language and attitudes. Jung’s work led him to believe that the unconscious is the source for all human consciousness. Our dreams contain symbolic language and provide us with all we need to know about the meaning of our lives and our unique paths to individuation. Our imagination also takes advantage of symbols to provide us with information from the unconscious.

To create the life we want and embrace our own unique nature we must move from the unlived life to realizing our full potential as human beings. To do this we have to face dangers and painful changes as we learn to work with and understand the symbolic language of our dreams.

There are many approaches to dreamwork[play]. A good starting point is to purchase a journal for your dreamwork[play] and put it by your bedside. When you awake in the middle of the night and remember a dream, write it down in your journal. Follow through and write down every association you have to each of the images in your dream.
What words or phrases emerge as I read each image in the dream? What feelings emerge? In other words, what do you associate with each image in your dream?

Next, can you relate these images to any events in your life? Where do you find meaning in the dreamscape? Dreams are not linear or logical. What seems off the mark or silly might be the key to what the dream is trying to communicate. Dreams reveal what we need to know to grow and mature. Dreams are also multi-layered and can be worked[played] with over time so keeping dream journals and going back to specific dreams for more information even a few years later can be helpful.

When we honor our dreams by paying attention to their symbolic communication, we receive a flow of meaningful imagery. Another step in accessing the unconscious is Active Imagination. Active Imagination is a participatory dialogue with the figures that present themselves in our imaginal world. This dialogue can take place through writing, dance, painting, singing, ritual, and many other methods chosen by the dreamer. In our culture, people say things like, “You are only imagining things”, “You are just being silly, that’s only fantasy” or “Play is only for children, its time to get on with reality.” Since our culture thinks of imagination as fictional and that, play is for children, many people react to the suggestion that one can talk to dream figures by saying that such dialogue would be meaningless. I wonder if Joan in the earlier story felt that her rash and its sudden disappearance after she laughed at the folly of her ways were fictional.

Dreams are trying to communicate meaning to the dreamer. Spending time in dialogue with the figures that visit in our dreams allows deep connection to the unconscious and new meaning emerges. Quick interpretations of the meaning of any one dream by use of dream interpretation manuals does not allow for an in-depth approach to dreamwork[play]. Spending time in nature, reading mythological stories and fairytales, bodywork, and exploring new subjects while actively working[playing] with your dreams as they emerge can add to the associations you connect with your dream figures.
Lastly, a dialogue with the unconscious calls us to an embodied approach to dreamwork[play]. Dance, ritual, or ceremony adds another dimension. Intellectual ideas need to enter into our physical experience. Dream images that “are cut off” at the neck are not able to enter into the deepest level of the psyche.

© Copyright 2010 by Mary Alice Long, PhD, therapist in Langley, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment


    September 8th, 2010 at 10:14 AM



  • bonnie


    September 8th, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    I have never really bought into the dream stuff that much but maybe the reading here has made me take a whole new look at it. Small steps but it does make me appreciate the opposing point of view a little better.

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    Mary Alice Long, PhD

    September 8th, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    Not sure what you mean by crazy dreams. Psyche trying to get your attention? Dreams are gifts that offer each of us what we can’t see “on your backside” (Dr. Von Franz). Dreams help us realize our potential. Dreams provide us with information that we need to live a full, playful life. Dreams give us information about the state of our health.

    Dreams also help us make good decisions by increasing our awareness and helping us face our “dragons”. Some say that we are “dreaming a dream” and that reality is a dreamscape. I encourage you to explore a local Jungian library or bookstore and explore one of many resources on dream work. Marion Woodman & Robert Johnson are both elder analysts who offer insight into dreamwork[play].

    I have been recording my own dreams for many years and honor my psyche by playing in active imagination with my dream figures. Almost all of the important decisions in my adult life have been influenced by my dreams & the I Ching which are both playful paths that help me lead a full life full of ease and play.

  • M.Edwards


    September 8th, 2010 at 9:12 PM

    Yes, I agree that dreams originate from our sub conscious. But recording the same and then making use of it for a beneficial cause in our lives is no easy task as that would require a lot of practice, wouldn’t it? And is there any help that I can get in doing the same?

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    Mary Alice Long, PhD

    September 9th, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    As Bonnie comments it takes small steps to make incremental change. I would recommend exploring resources at Jungian institute or society libraries if one is available in your area, if not you can access library material online that can be sent to you by becoming a member of a Jungian institute in a number of cases, for instance Chicago Institute offers this service to members. There are also many events offered nationally and internationally and online that you might want to take part in. Asheville Jung Center offers online events as an example. Our local Jung Society is offering an event this weekend on the Red Book, Mandalas, and Active Imagination.
    Each of us is called to a profound journey that is not easy but rewarding. That journey if embraced consciously can feel dangerous at times. Dreams delight, expose, confuse, validate, play with, and champion who we are. and much more.

    In “Way of the Dream” film series there people where asked about their dreams. Do you pay attention to your dreams? The answers were often, no, why would anyone pay attention to their dreams. You have to be crazy to create a film on dreams.

    So it seems that many do not think much of their dreams and do not see value in a conversation with the unconscious. For me, there is no other way. I have found too much richness in playing with what Jung calls “the tension of the opposites”.

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