What happens when therapists dream about their clients?

We often dream about what we’ve been doing and who we’ve been with, so it should come as little surprise to discover many psychotherapists dream about their clients. In fact a new study reports that nearly 70 per cent of thirteen participating therapists said that they’d had such dreams.

Psychologist Clara Hill and her colleagues asked the 13 student psychotherapists to keep dream journals for the duration of the time they worked at a community clinic – either one or two years. The number of dreams recorded in the journals ranged from 6 to 150 per year, and the proportion that were about clients ranged from 0 to 0.19 (average 0.06). Also, at the end of a period of therapy with a client they’d dreamed about, the therapists took part in an interview with the researchers about their dream experiences and what they’d gained from them.

The student therapists described their dreams about clients as disturbing and directly related to the therapy, often depicting the struggles involved. “Dreams appeared to function as a means for therapists to process difficulties they were experiencing in the therapy with these clients,” the researchers said.

Although unpleasant, the dreams about clients appeared to be beneficial. Therapists described how the dreams of clients led to useful insights. To paraphrase one example, a female therapist dreamt of being in a circus and her client appearing on the back of an elephant, and remaining in the middle of the ring even as the other riders and their elephants left. The therapist said her client looked liked a mannequin and just sat their not interacting with the audience. The dream led the therapist to think about her client’s depression and the possibility she might have been forcing happiness and optimism on her. It also made the therapist realise that she cared for her client, that her client was willing to try new things, but that she (the therapist) needed to adjust her pacing and tone.

“In this rich qualitative examination of these therapists’ dreams, then, we learn that such dreams, though clearly distressing … nevertheless yielded helpful lessons that therapists then effectively applied to their continued clinical work,” said Hill and her colleagues.

There was little evidence that therapists discussed their dreams of clients with their supervisors. Given the apparent insights derived from client dreams, the researchers suggested that therapy training programmes incorporate more focus on working with dreams in supervision. They also suggested expanding this line of research to see whether therapists using other approaches (e.g. CBT, psychoanalysis) also dream of their clients, and whether they too find it beneficial.

The researchers acknowledged some limitations of their study including the small sample size and the fact that keeping dream journals may have encouraged a greater than usual focus on dreams among the participating therapists. However, the researchers didn’t show any scepticism towards the therapists’ claims that their dreams had been beneficial for therapy. Readers of a more scientific persuasion will no doubt demand more rigorous evidence before believing this is really true.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Hill CE, Knox S, Crook-Lyon RE, Hess SA, Miles J, Spangler PT, and Pudasaini S (2014). Dreaming of you: Client and therapist dreams about each other during psychodynamic psychotherapy. Psychotherapy research : journal of the Society for Psychotherapy Research PMID: 24387006

–further reading–
When therapists have the hots for their clients

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

One thought on “What happens when therapists dream about their clients?”

  1. “Person dream, what excite him”. And what usually excites people is very limited.

    What we need to get rid psychology to become a true science is exactly this kind of “Studies” and “Interpretation of them”.

    Specifically in this case, the factors “PURPOSEFUL LIE” – and “DISTORTIONS AND ADJUSTMENT OF TRUTH” by tested persons – make this “survey” in the rubbish which should be strongly digging that can earn something resembling true or real description of the real psychological process.

    SEX. Perhaps the dreams of most of them were in this direction. These are young people and the prevalence of such dreams with sexual themes should be a basic. Moreover, as a beginner therapists unusual situation for their experience where someone freely reveal his personal life would be connected on a subconscious level as an attempt to sexual relations and thus would be immediately integrated into their dreams – regardless of whether they have a conscious thought for such a connection or not.

    Of course, such a course of this “study” is not mentioned anywhere. This falls under the heading “UNETHICAL RELATIONS between therapist and the patient”. Like I said, probably a big part of the contents of their dreams is highly distorted, sexual part is removed and replaced by other “socially acceptable” completely fictional, and some are even attempt to show through the lies and fabrications that even in dreams they are “great” young therapists using dreams for analytical work on client problems.

    Clara Hill. Next time when you do a study of this kind – do it anonymously and explain to tested persons that what goes on in your head whether in dreams or waking no moral value – only real behavior can be assessed on the basis of this indicator.

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