Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Spiritual and Nonspiritual Approaches to Dream Work: Effects on Clients' Well-Being

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Spiritual and Nonspiritual Approaches to Dream Work: Effects on Clients' Well-Being

Article excerpt

From antiquity to the present, some people have viewed dreams as possible links to spiritual realms and sacred forces (Van de Castle, 1994; Wollmering, 1997). Virtually every religious tradition throughout history has sought spiritual guidance, divine revelation, and creative inspiration from dreams (Bulkeley, 1999). This point is illustrated by the 98 specific references to dreams and dreaming in the Old Testament (Wollmering, 1997).

William James (1900/1958) philosophized that dreams may come from the nonrational part of our psyche that is the source of deep religious experience. Jung (1964) also believed that dreams were linked to spiritual life, even proposing the possibility that dreams are inspired by transcendental forces outside the dreamer, somnia a Dee missa (dreams sent by God):

   We are so captivated by and entangled in our subjective
   consciousness that we have forgotten the age-old fact that
   God speaks chiefly through dreams and visions.... If a
   theologian really believes in God, by what authority does
   he suggest that God is unable to speak through dreams?
   (Jung, 1964, pp. 92-93)

Jung elaborated on this assertion by explaining that prejudices, errors, and fantasies influence conscious life, but the unconscious is unencumbered by such distortions. This immunity to such "psychic noise" is perhaps the basis for the belief that the unconscious is receptive to spiritual communication. The unconscious, finding expression in dreams, may be the only part of the psyche pure enough to hear the voice of a transcendent power.

Bulkeley (1994) proposed that this potential for religious significance is present in all people's dreams, "we will discover that all people's dreams, not just the dreams of churchgoers and the formally 'religious' people, have this potential for religious meaning. We will find that a religious dimension is potentially present in all people's dreaming" (p. 21). According to Bulkeley (1999), looking at dreams from a purely psychological perspective or in purely religious terms artificially restricts dream interpretation. Rather, Bulkeley (1999) suggested that dream interpretation can be enhanced by exploring both emotional and spiritual aspects of dreams, thereby promoting psychological integration and fostering spiritual and religious well-being.

Although many theoreticians have proposed an association between spiritual phenomena and dreams, no research has been conducted on the effects of helping clients explore their dreams from a spiritual perspective. If dreams have the potential for spiritual guidance or revelation, then it is possible that helping clients explore their dreams from their own spiritual perspective could provide a therapeutically rich experience. This study investigated whether helping volunteer clients use their spiritual beliefs to explore and interpret their dreams is therapeutically beneficial.

To study a subject as abstract as spirituality, we first needed to define it. Several authors have conceptualized spirituality as being closely related to transcendence (extending beyond human or material existence) without making specific reference to formal religious doctrine. For example, Ellison (1983) defined it existentially as "the capacity to find purpose and meaning beyond one's self and the immediate" (p. 338). Miller and Martin (1988) described spirituality more traditionally as the inner experience of "acknowledging a transcendent being, power, or reality greater than ourselves" (p. 200). In a biography of Carl Jung, Jaffe (1970) described an overlap between spirituality and existentialism: "The experience of meaning depends on the awareness of a transcendental or spiritual reality that complements the empirical reality of life and together with it forms a whole" (p. 21).

It is difficult to define spirituality without also discussing its relationship to religiosity. Religiosity connotes allegiance to a particular system of faith and worship. …

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