In 1986, Gendlin introduced a new, embodied dreamwork method which he described in his book, Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams (Chiron). Gendlin said that dreams are an excellent vehicle for learning focusing because they bring with them a fully-formed felt sense. Conversely, focusing is a wonderful method for engaging with dreams because dreams truly lend themselves to embodied-experiential exploration.
The 16 Questions
The focusing method for working with dreams incorporates traditional methods, mainly from Freud and Jung, as well as the Gestalt practices by Perls. Gendlin condensed these approaches into 16 questions one can ask of a dream, but with this key difference: a focusing approach suggests the dreamer bring these questions into their body to get a felt sense of what the dream is bringing. The dream always brings something new, according to Gendlin, often a surprising, creative way to carry life forward.
Finding the Help
There are two additional innovations Gendlin brought to dreamwork: the steps of finding the help in a dream, and bias control. The process of finding help encourages the dreamer to locate and embody the life force contained in every dream. For Gendlin, this is far more important than coming up with an interpretation of the dream. In fact, embodying the dream’s helpful energy can be the main point of dreamwork; or it can bolster the dreamer so they are better able to then constructively engage with the more challenging parts of their dream.
The other new step Gendlin offers is bias control. This is essentially working with the aspects of the dream that the dreamer most strongly disagrees with. The point of bias control is to allow a dreamer to work with their own dream material while avoiding the tendency to view the dream in terms of what they already believe. Bias control asks the dreamer to try on the opposite of what they would normally be drawn to, to consider how they might benefit from a little bit of what they tend to avoid; this process brings growth and change.
Focusing Dreamwork Today
Since the publication of Gendlin’s dream book, there have been two more books written that feature focusing dreamwork. Andrea Koch wrote Dreams and the Person-Centered Approach: Cherishing Client Experiencing (2012, PCCS Books), and Leslie Ellis wrote A Clinician’s Guide to Dream Therapy (2019, Routledge). Ellis has also developed a new approach to nightmare treatment using focusing (Qualitative changes in recurrent PTSD nightmares after focusing-oriented dreamwork. Dreaming, 2016, Vol. 26, No. 3).
For More Information
The Gendlin on-line library hosts a number of articles on dreams by Gendlin that update his view since writing his dream book. There is also a CD-based course called Working With Dreams by Gendlin available from The International Focusing Institute.