Allan Frater is a psychotherapist, supervisor, trainer, author in private practice. In his book –
‘Waking Dreams – Imagination in Psychotherapy & Everyday Life’ 2021 TransPersonal Press, Glasgow, he shares this complex subject in a professional and accessible way.
He explained images held by clients in the present moment reflect elements of their personal stories past, present and future. ‘The images found in memories, relationships, and future fantasies are the raw material of therapeutic work’. We were reminded of difficulties we may experience, as therapists, in staying with the client’s imaginal space and so avoid the desire to analyse through assumptions what is shared and, therefore, miss the transformative potential of the imaginative experience itself.
Therapy needs to be experiential rather than a purely thinking process. It is dynamic informed by the sensations, feelings and thinking responses arising within therapy – I see, I hear, I feel. Allan felt sensitive, empathic therapy served by the immediacy of the experiential and underpinned by the Core Conditions aids the client in entering the imaginal space. Any transference or imaginal perceptions about the therapist, he said, needs be explored in the here and now of the client work.
Elements can be found in Gestalt, four-chair work, guided imagery, art therapies, family constelations and others. ‘Psyche’ is image – Carl Jung, said ‘every psychic process is an image or imagining’, a way of sensing the world as experienced through feelings, sight, smells, hearing and touch as a whole through all sensory, emotional, intuitive and cognitive faculties. Images are descirbed in the present moment – I see, I hear, I feel. Allan emphasised these waking dreams need to be approached experientially as images – focusing completely on the ‘meaningful experience rather than what it means’ and so avoid treating such images as representative of something rather than just is!
‘Imagination is the ‘bridge between self and the World, but we are always on the bridge’.
Stephen K. Levine. The precursor to change is imagination as it allows and empowers hopes and dreams to become physical actions and events in the real world. ‘Healing has to be understood as the restoration of a person’s imaginative capactiy .. This restoration takes place through the creation of an Imaginal Space between the therapist and patient’. Stephen K. Levine.
‘You won’t understand anything about imagination until you realize that it’s not about making things up – it’s about perception’. Phillip Pullman.
Imagination ‘does not simply represent the given … but creates or brings something new into being’ Mary Watkins, a Jungian therapist.
A picture of a painting encouraged us to ‘sense’ our feelings and imaginings not just by noticing that it was actually a flat, static picture, but sensing it as a ‘living presence’ – an imaginal space. Allan explained it shows the overlap of two realities – the physical and the imagined (a waking dream encompassing the current life and future possiblities).
Robert Bosnak states it is ‘as if you participate in two equally true realities simultaneously: the world that is imagined and the physical world’. A process that happens all the time in paintings, people and the things around us. It was fascinating to realise how much we could each sense from one painting.
The therapeutic work is always in the present tense informed by the collaboration between the client and therapist. Both are involved in noting the imagery which is not just a private perception only available to the client. The therapist is ‘imagining with’ rather than ‘thinking about’ the client’ (Frater 2021). The ‘entry point’ can be similar to those most relaxtion or meditation processes follow: sit comfortably, close your eyes, breathe slowly, deeply, and ‘imagine a familiar place and so find yourself in a landscape of imagination’. This ‘practical method’ is helpful for entering into the work through an established ‘safe entry point’ which then leads to the following steps .
Imaginal sensations of the client – sights, sounds, sensations, smells. Synthesis of the whole.
- Imaginal feelings of the client and their thinking responses – look around, what stands out?
Feeling and thinking responses and possibilities – activity, let’s try it. What is happening? .
- Is the synthesis of the above steps within the progressing work?
Stay in the present tense. Everything occurs, including transference, within the process of imagining.
Allan facilitated two exercises with one ‘client’ volunteer for each. Both ‘clients’ said afterwards that using the ‘waking dream’ process helped them understand a little more about their issues and needs. It was noticed, one had their eyes closed all the time and the other, open. Each journey was different and contained images which reflected their differing stories and ‘sensings’. Allan held them in the present allowing their waking dreams to bridge the practical and imagined. Breakout rooms followed each made up of an observer, a therapist and a client with the aim of following Allan’s steps.
I was the client and experienced my waking dream as powerful and moving. My ‘therapist’ contained
the process well. I was totally emmersed in the present of the image even though it was of the past.
Fractal imagination (any shape made of parts similar to the whole, such as Nesting Dolls) was another point raised. Patterning imagination shows the Psyche is fractal. A repeating pattern of Core Identity across disparate contexts. It is important to maintain the whole within the process of imagining so that it does not become an analysis into the differing parts.
This review is a snapshot of ‘ Waking Dreams’, a way of working clients may well find helpful. This topic seemed to leave all present with a desire to learn more about how to utilise it within their Practices. A fascinating workshop with so much information and experiential time shared. Thank you, Allan for sharing your knowledge and passion with us, it was much appreciated.
Reviewed by Jacqueline Holloway
Further suggested reading by Allan:
‘A Little Course in Dreams’; ‘Tracks in the Wilderness of Dreaming’ and ‘Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel’ Robert Bosnak.
‘Poiesis: The Language of Psychology and the Speech of the Soul’ Stephen K. Levine.
‘Letting Stories Breath’ Arthur W. Frank.
‘Healing Fiction’ James Hillman. ‘Becoming Animal’ and ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’ David Abram.
Other quotes and comments are contained in ‘Waking Dreams’ by Allan Frater.