The Ripple EffectRosemary Watts-Dreyer
A word spoken here
Dreams are finally listened to
The ripples begin.
Dream basics explained
Now I have their attention
Textured with humor.
Defenses are melting down
Techniques, exercises, tools
They can play with dreams.
If they will listen
Pay attention to the dreams
Expression is freed.
Abuse, neglect, pain
There is hope for the children
Delinquents are changed.
Plop, splash, radiate
One pebble makes a difference
It has an impact.
Originally, I was asked to do a morning workshop for a group of the Family Court social workers. When I arrived, the woman in charge of coordinating this training program was excited because the response had been so great and the variety of those attending covered such a wide representation of the Court System. Not only were social workers and case workers present, but also an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, other attorneys, police officers, and truant officers.
The workshop began with covering the basics: how, when and why we dream; a brief history of dreams and their cultural significance; the stages of sleep; and scientific understanding of the physiological responses during R.E.M. I discussed how to remember dreams; the three main styles of dreaming and how to recognize individual dream expressions; nightmares and recurring dreams. Then I gave an overview of very basic tools for working with common dream symbols. We explored a few other basic dream tools and exercises, such as puns, discovering the main issues, rewriting the dream from another character's point of view, and drawing the dream experience (the main essence, a scene, and/or a symbol).
The rest of the workshop consisted of hands-on tools and age appropriate exercises to draw out the children and their experiences. With the tools, I tried visually to demonstrate creative avenues for exploring dreams. The first was hand puppets. I showed them a variety of sock puppets I had made: snake, spider, dragon, dog, lion, and various people. Then I demonstrated ways to act out and explore the dynamics within the dream scenario, including play-acting various alternate experiences and endings. I think they got a kick out of me putting on my snake and dinosaur sock puppets and acting out a potential dream drama, complete with dialogue.
Next, I displayed a felt board with different structures (houses, schools, etc.), environments (trees, lakes, etc.), animals (both wild and domesticated), and people. I illustrated how they could have the children build their own felt board dream scenes. Then I demonstrated how they could actively participate in this process, making the child feel listened to, attended to, and validated. Felt is a wonderful medium that allows the dreamer to quickly change a scenario and see the visual result with corresponding emotional reactions. It is a tool that enables a child to feel they have some control over their environment and circumstances. It teaches them how to take a more positive, active role in their waking lives as well. By learning to take charge of their dream experiences and responses, they can learn in a safe environment how to do this in the real world.
Another powerful tool creating this same type of response, geared es-pecially for littler ones is the use of clay and play-dough. If the child has a scary dream, assist the child in molding the scary figure. Then have the child literally mush the dream enemy up, giving a small child the rare feeling of having physical con-trol over bigger things that scare them. Then help the child reform the clay into some-thing that is positive for them personally. This example generated one of the biggest audience reactions. I showed them the visual/kinesthetic example of taking my scary dream green monster and smashing it between my hands, and then how I reformed the green clay into a peaceful bunny rabbit. They were surprised and laughed heartily at the physical response of doing such an exercise, not only imagining this for themselves, but for the children with whom they work.
We discussed in detail the power of drawing a dream. I encouraged them to allow the dreamer to choose what to draw: the essence of the dream, a scene from the dream, or a main symbol. This exercise is particularly good for teenagers. I then gave examples of various ways of playing with the drawings, such as creating a fairy tale from the images, ways to analyze the content of the imagery, observations about the use of colors, and specifically noting what areas in the drawing are left blank or partly drawn. If there is great resistance to drawing, dream collages would be a great possibility for exploring dreams. For teenagers in particular, sharing dreams is a powerful way of validating them and their experiences. By allowing them to draw a dream, it further elicits involvement. It also creates an atmosphere where the parent or facilitator can ask non-threatening questions that often lead to deeper discussions and revelations.
In handout workbooks, I included other exercises they could utilize, such as dream incubations, a visualization and pre-sleep story to share with parents and the children directly, and other creative forms of expressing dreams. I shared with them the variety of ways of working with dreams, emphasizing that the process of exploring is what is important. I encouraged them to be creative with dreams, such as writing dream stories, poetry and haiku. I also discussed how they could share the physical expression through acting, singing, and/or dancing the dream. Information was given about the Senoi purposes for teaching children about their dreams and various guidelines to enhan-cethese. Children's books about dreams and ways to create a place of peace before sleeping, as well as pre-sleep dream sug-gestions were in-cluded in this booklet. A variety of won-derful articles and suggestions gleaned from previous Dream Network issues also enhanced the mater-ials. There was an extensive listing of recommended read-ing and resource books.
The response from this first workshop was overwhelmingly positive. The most frequently written comment was, "We need to have her back again, for longer, for more. What terrific information that we can immediately apply, both personally and professionally." This workshop then stimulated a series of workshops for different juvenile detention and children's centers within the St. Louis Court System.
At the other workshops, more time was given for sharing of specific case examples, questions and concerns, as well as personal dream sharing. I spent more time giving details about age appropriate exercises and examples of what has worked. We explored the different dynamics depending on circumstances. For example -- how to address the needs seen in a child's dream who is coming from an abused situation; symbols and images of neglect in a child's dreams; deeper issues and causes seen in dreams of juvenile delinquent teenagers; how to draw out the teenager in a safe, productive manner; and specific techniques and tools to help enhance communication to foster a sense of safety and openness. Not surprisingly, the energy of the groups always perked up when time was given for sharing of their personal dreams and examples of how they could utilize these creative tools for themselves.
In following up for this article, I spoke with my contact people about the responses and reactions since the workshops. The adults' reactions were very positive. Even within the groups of adult peers and friends, there is more dream sharing going on. "Instead of just laughing or saying, 'What a weird dream!', people are now really listening to each other's dreams." There is more awareness, insight, and looking for and finding meaning in dreams. The therapists and child care staff are now listening to and giving more significance to the kids' dreams. Before they might have been discounted or forgotten, but now there is definitely more sharing happening.
The adults can see and begin to understand how to put this information to use personally and professionally. One truant officer stated, "This is a great resource for my work with these kids' parents. I can now teach the parents how to better work with their kids, by listening to the dreams, to understand what's going on with their children." Another person emphasized that by listening to the child's dreams "it helps to normalize and give understanding for what can be incomprehensible situations." Another therapist said, "By reframing the dreams, I can create a stronger basis for treatment for both the kids and their parents." It helps to involve everyone more completely in the process. Another case worker stated that they used to be afraid to venture into dreams, but now they not only have a better understanding but some valuable tools with which to work.
My work within the Court System is just beginning. I have been a dream educator and dreamworker for a long time and this is one of the most exciting developments I've encountered. I feel such excitement and enthusiasm to be able to address crucial needs for the individual, their families, and the impact on the greater community. Dreams are the universal language and experience that can help unite and clear away misconceptions and troubles between people. By further exploring the dreams, both personally and professionally, I know this information will have a positive, powerful impact within the court systems. I feel very proud of St. Louis and its openness, progressiveness, and willingness to explore such a deep part of life that dreaming represents. I want to challenge and encourage other cities and communities to utilize dreams for the betterment of all. ZX