Red Balloon: Approaching Dreams as Self-Narratives

By Androutsopoulou, Athena | Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Red Balloon: Approaching Dreams as Self-Narratives


Androutsopoulou, Athena, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy


In this article, dreams are seen as stories within a self-narrative. Dream stories, like all other stories, are told in an effort to make sense of experiences. Here, dream content is linked to current concerns, some aspects of which are not given voice in waking. Dreams depict restricting themes but also openings in self-narratives. Several examples are provided of how dreams can be linked to early, middle, and late therapy phases associated with recognizing, challenging, revising, and maintaining a revising stance. It is further suggested that dream stories can be used to trace, facilitate, and evaluate the process of reconstructing self-narratives. Finally, a number of therapeutic interventions are briefly presented to facilitate the work of narrative-informed family therapists working with individuals, families, and groups.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

Father: Well-dreams are bits and pieces of the stuff of which we are made ... Or something like it.

Daughter: All right. But how are dreams put together?

(Bateson, 2000, p. 50)

Dreams in Systemic and Family Therapy Approaches

Early in her therapy, a young woman dreamed that she was holding on to the rope of a red balloon together with a group of other people, each holding on to a separate rope. She enjoyed the whole experience, but was thinking that she could not hold on to her rope anymore and would be the first to fall into the sea underneath. She fell and all the ropes appeared around her body in knots. She was trying to free herself. The unknotted edges of the ropes could be seen reaching far to the horizon.

Systemic and family therapy approaches have no theory of dreams and do not suggest their own ways of working with dream material. With the exception of psychoanalytic family therapists who apply dream analysis to couples and families (see Buchholz, 1990; Scharff, 1992), other therapists in the family therapy tradition unavoidably borrow ideas and techniques from various approaches. For instance, Feixas, Cunillera, and Mateu (1990) take the constructivist perspective of George Kelly as their theoretical background for the therapeutic use of dreams. Andrews, Clark, and Zinker (1988) use techniques from gestalt, and Sanders (1994) takes a pragmatic perspective that sees dream content in relation to family problems. Kaplan, Saayman, and Faber (1981) adopt a Jungian rationale for their empirical study associating the content of family dreams with the degree of functionality in families.

In this article, dreams are seen as stories within a self-narrative aiming, like all stories of the kind, to organize and make sense of personal experiences (see also Knudson, Adame, & Finocan, 2006). This view offers a theoretical background to the use of dreams that is compatible with the narrative turn in the field of family therapy (see Hoffman, 2002).

A Narrative Turn

As part of the narrative turn, some family therapists have embraced particular models such as White's "Narrative Therapy," and others, including the author of this article, have chosen to inform their work by a narrative metaphor while continuing to practice within the family therapy model in which they have been trained (see Androutsopoulou, 2005b). Zimmerman and Dickerson (1994) say the link between narrative therapies and family therapy is in relationships. They explain that using a narrative metaphor means a shift from people's relationships as the object of therapy to the stories about the relationships as the object of therapy. Parry (1991) points out that our stories are always connected to the stories of others and to larger stories, a factor that is central to family therapists' adopting a narrative metaphor but is sometimes overlooked by those who practice narrative therapy. Penn and Frankfurt (1994) give examples from their own family therapy practice of how changes in one individual can lead to changes in the rest of the family based on a narrative rationale.

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