Electric Dreams.
Career Paths in Dreamwork

Richard Wilkerson

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Wilkerson, Richard (2004 June). Career Paths in Dreamwork. Electric Dreams 11(6). 

This is a revised version of the article "So You Want a Career in the Field of Dreams?" which was originally published in Electric Dreams April 1999.

First the bad news.

There was more money made last weekend on the latest blockbuster movie than all the money made by all the dreamworkers since Freud wrote the Interpretation of Dreams a hundred years ago in 1900.

Gayle Delaney, one of the big and early movers in dreamwork, has said that no one yet has really made a living doing just dreamwork, they always have to combine this with financial support from other sectors. And having been on Oprah and Donahue, written tons of books and traveled with her dream show world wide, she should know! Dream science has always been done during the off hours of the labs. Aserinsky and Kleitmann, who brought REM or Rapid Eye Movement Sleep to public attention, did their work on dreams during their off time, late at night in the labs at the University of Chicago.

Without full time dreamwork professionals, how does the field evolve? People do other things. Here are some of the most popular dreamwork-combo professions:
1. Psychology. Especially Jungian psychology, which has a heavy dream focus. Most dreamworkers have lots of mental health training and many are psychotherapists.
2. Publishing and Lecturing and Workshops. Books are the main contact source for the dream worker and the more successful dreamworkers are also giving seminars, lectures, workshops, conference presentations and getting as much air time as possible. Most are still neglecting the Web, but some progress is being made. There are some writers who use dreams as rhetorical devices in their books and screenplays. There are a few scholars who write about dreams, but not many.
3. Science and Medicine. Sleep disorder clinics and clinicians are on the rise, though dream specific research is on the decline. The focus here is on problems with sleep and some work can then be done with dreams through the backdoor of nightmares and other dream related sleep issues.
4. Religion. As Ron L. Hubbard once said to the editor of Analog Magazine, "Heck, all the money is in religion!" There has yet to be a Church of Dreams, but I suspect we will see them in the 21stCentury. More often, pastors and priests and ministers take up dreamwork as an adjunct to pastoral counseling. Note for instance the success of Jeremy Taylor, who is a Unitarian minister and now has a full workshop and dream tours schedule. However, this came after 20 or more years in the trenches. Read what he has to say in the article below about becoming a non-traditional dreamworker. Non-denominational dreamwork is becoming more popular as self improvement often includes dreamwork an spirituality.
5. Lucid Dreams. This seems to be almost its own category of dreamwork. Stephen Laberge has done the most to make lucid dream technology, science and psychology a life's profession. The topic continues to draw lots of attention. Still, because the skill takes so much discipline to achieve, the seminars, workshops and technology associated with lucid dreaming remains somewhat esoteric and limited.
6. Anthropology. Many people in the dream field are anthropologists. They study not only what other cultures have to say about dreams and dreaming, but our own as well. They look at how the dream and dream interpretations function in the culture and what the mean to the individual in this context.

Educational Needs of a Dreamworker

Courses specifically. (Well, some of these you might have to get outside of most institutions):
1. Jungian psychology. Get a lot of this. Read all you can on your own. You might want to start with Jung's memoirs, Memories, Dreams and Reflections. But I also like the illustrated Man and his Symbols. I don't think there is a richer system of dreamwork on the earth., and most of what is used today in groups and by individuals stems from the work of the Jungians.
2. Other psychologies: Ask for the basics and history. Freud, Adler, Jung, Maslow, Sullivan, Erikson, even Skinner. But also look into alternative psychological practices as well, such as the gestalt school and Frederich Perls, the process theorists Arnold Mindel and Eugene Gendlin, the dreamwork of Montegue Ullman, and the critiques of dreamwork by James Hillman. Try to get as close to having a session with them as possible. That is, try to get hands-on knowledge of these practices. Obviously this isn't possible for many as they are dead, but move from the generalizations about them to finding out what an hour with them was actually like, what a weekend seminar transfers in skills, what a course with their students entails. If you can afford therapy, try out different kinds of therapy yourself. It is VERY important to get as close to first hand experience as possible. If you get deeply into psychotherapy already, but not getting enough dreamwork, I find the Object Relations therapies quite interesting and a way of bringing forward classical psychotherapy. Kohut and self-psychology forms a bridge between object relations and human potential and wholeness oriented therapies. 

I highly recommend Raymond J. Corsini's Current Psychotherapies for a quick journey into several types of therapies at the experiential level.. Fossage and Loew put together a comparison of dream therapies in Dream Interpretation, A comparative Study second ed 1987. Its a little dry, but interesting. A more exciting new comparison is Anthony Shafton's Dream Reader. Also, Gayle Delaney has a good comparison dream book called New Directions in Dream Interpretation.

3. Anthropology. Much of dreamwork has a cultural component. Exposure to alternative cultures allows for a wider grasp of individual issues and offers a unique way to find a context for dreams. On dreams & anthropology, read Barbara Tedlock's (1987). Dreaming: Anthropological and Psychological Interpretations. Cambridge University Press. Also, Devereux, George (1969). Reality and Dream: Psychotherapy of a Plains Indian. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books.
4. Literature. I feel that getting the sense of what writing and literature is about has helped me with dreams. Interpreting stories is something the fields share in common, and they enhance one another. Dreams are often interpreted using literary criticism's techniques, not only the simple dynamic structures of plot and character, but the more elaborate philosophies of criticism with investigate the psychological and political forces in all narratives. In Dreams, See Jones, Richard (1979). The Dream Poet. Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing Company and States, Bert O. (1988). Rhetoric of Dreams. London: Cornell University Press.
5. Religion and Mythology: This could be under anthropology or literature as well. Both religious studies and mythology look at stories that struggle with the creation or understanding of the meaning and value of life. Be sure to read Joseph Campbell's The Masks of God. There are several in the series, all great. I would read Mircea Eliade's The History of Religious Ideas as well, also a kind of mythologically based text. Push through on religious studies to the esoteric/ mystic side of the religion. We hear a lot of horror stories about Islam in the West, but we rarely hear about the fabulous Sufi traditions. Again, be sure to check out Carl Jung on his rendition of Christianity and Western religions.
6. Philosophy: while philosophy has done very little in its investigation of the world of ideas to explore dreams, I find it invaluable in the understanding of dream techniques and where they are coming from. All forms of interpretation are motivated by other ideas and powers. To the degree that we learn to be conscious and aware of these, we won't as often fall prey to being the victim of the idea. Also, being able to deeply question the assumptions and categories we live by is very similar to a lot of dreamwork which does the same.
7. Science. Understanding the functions of dreaming used to be clearly separated into those who wanted a clear biological answer and those who wanted a psycho-spiritual answer. Now the fields mix and blend and having a good background in biology, physiology, chemistry, and so on, can help in sorting out the psychological from the physical. We used to think about schizophrenia, for example, in moral terms. Something was wrong with the person in that they failed to use their will power to come up to snuff and therapy involved getting them back on the right road of consensus reality. Now we know that there are terrible chemical imbalances, many genetically informed. Therapy may still involve helping the person adapt to reality, but it no longer assumes the person is *trying* to be weird. In dreamwork, we may make use of a nightmare to investigate some deep soulful path, but its also important to check out the physiological components and influences. The more science we have, the better we can refer these clients to appropriate care.

Graduate Programs

Advanced degrees in dreaming are rare but available. JFKU has a Dream Certificate Program for its Consciousness Studies program and some non-accredited institutes like Haden offer advanced training. The Association for the Study of Dreams offers CEU Continuing Education Units at its conferences. Some graduate schools will allow for creatively designed advanced degrees in dreams. See for example John F. Kennedy University (JFKU) http://www.jfku.edu/site/?pg=holistic_is_dream as well as the Saybrook Institute. http://www.saybrook.edu/ and Pacifica Graduate Institute http://www.pacifica.edu/

For other organizations with graduate level courses, see the ASD Graduate Studies List and the DreamGate Library Education page. http://www.asdreams.org/subidxedugraduatestudies.htm

In summary, a career in dreamwork is usually attached to a career in another field. And yet, the well-rounded dreamworker will have some experience and knowledge in all of these fields.