|Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2002). International Dream Sharing
Online. Dream Time Cyberphile. Dream Time
Cyberphile - by Richard C. Wilkerson
This issue the Cyberphile looks at the
pioneering work with online dream groups by John Herbert, Ph.D.
John Herbert, Ph.D. : Online Dreamwork Pioneer
John Herbert's work became know to me in the early 1990's through the grassroots dream grapevine, but I hadn't been able to track him down for sometime. Search engines in those days were not what they are today. In 1994 he found me and I had a chance to go through two of his online groups, one as a commentator and the other using one of my dreams. It was immediately clear to me from John's work (at this time on AOL SeniorNet bulletin boards) that this was just the structure we needed in the Electric Dreams community for our own groups which had been using a round-robin approach that was less structured and very cumbersome to administer. John Herbert's approach provided a quick to learn, yet in-depth approach to online dreamwork.
Further, Herbert's research provided a background support for the emerging communities of concerned dreamers on the Net. Was it safe? Did people benefit from it? What were they getting out of it?
Herbert's research on CMC (computer mediated communications) vs. Face-to-Face dream groups suggested that many aspects of dreamwork work just as well with CMC and some aspects are even superior. [See references below to CyberDreamwork for some aspects of voice dreamwork that Robert Bosnak and Jill Fisher have found lacking in this textual approach to dreamwork] Herbert has a great deal of experience with face-to-face groups and highly values them as well, the issue was not one of competition, but of providing real data and empirical support for the dream movement to advance in this area online.
Herbert speaks about his early development:
Herbert then shifted his attention to online dreamwork:
Online Dreamwork Found To Be More Meaningful
Herbert's awareness of the usefulness of dreamwork in group settings offline led to a pilot study where he compared a FTF or Face-to-Face offline dream session with an online group (same dream and dreamer in both) and found the online group produced a greater number of meaningful responses. Integrated thoughts and feelings in the original dream text were assigned to meaning-units, and meaningful responses were then scored if a meaning-unit was used by the group which evoked a response from the dreamer. These pilot results led to more elaborate experiments with online dream sharing. (Herbert 2000)
Why more meaningful responses online? The speculations centered on the asynchronous nature of this online group. That is, with a delay in posting the dream, the questions, the replies and the comments spread out over a week or two, the participants had time to ~reflect~ and give more considered answers. The dreamer had time to sift through the comments of others without any emotional group pressure to pick or judge the comments.
Other dreamworkers working in real-time chats online, such as Fred Olsen and Jeremy Taylor, were reporting very meaningful dreamwork taking place in real time chat rooms. It was hypothesized that the anonymity also contributes to participants expressing their ideas more freely. Herbert also observed that the online groups elicited more new information from the dreamer. That is, the dreamers were more responsive in online venues. Again, this seems to be due to the extra time the dreamer has to reflect on the situation.
Ullman Method Developed For Online Use
John Herbert went on to develop several series of online dreamwork protocols and techniques, which he began using on the AOL SeniorNet Bulletin Boards. He favored the parts of Montague Ullman's method over other dreamwork techniques as the method allows a group to participate in the construction of meaningful metaphors and other reasons, but above all, because the technique allows the dreamer to be the final authority in picking the meaning and value of the dream, and that "…ultimately only the dreamer can take responsibility for which of the associations are meaningful." (JH 2000, pg 19)
Much has been written about the Ullman method, developed for peer groups to discuss dreams. (see Ullman, M. and Zimmerman, N. 1979, Working with Dreams. Los Angeles: Jeremy Tarcher, Inc and a very extensive website with many articles and back issue of Dream Appreciation newsletters http://www.pp.htv.fi/msiivola/monte/ ) The most famous line "If this were my dream…" comes from this process, though Ullmanites are quick to point out that its only a fraction of a whole process. John Herbert worked with his initial groups to deploy aspects of the process that would lead to meaningful extractions of metaphors in a reasonable amount of time. The process was simple; a dream from the group was posted, and during the first stage, questions could be asked of the dreamer who might or might not respond. Then the moderator asked for comments in the "If this were my dream" style and the dreamer could respond to them if they wished. The final Electric Dreams DreamWheels were (and still are) modeled closely around John Herbert's process, as are many other online dream groups internationally.
Herbert and Ullman both feel that the role of the moderator was important and that much can be achieved when we go past the "Oh, I had a dream like that too!" phase. In Herbert's process, the moderator presents the phase structure format and decides when to move from one stage to the next, keeping the structure of the group together. The moderator may also participate as a peer in asking questions about the dream and later making comments. Herbert felt that by extending a structure over time, more in-depth work could be done and noted that, "Intent, commitment, and sustained involvement are crucial elements. For thoughtful, contributing group members, the electronic medium may provide adequate communication to work with dream metaphors." (Herbert 2000, p 55)
In Herbert's doctoral dissertation, the element that fell out as the most
important was intent:
The Question Stage
In the question stage, the questions are limited to clarifications of the dream rather than questions that might call for interpretations beyond description. One might ask what color the coat was, or if anyone one else was in the large room, but not what a coat means to the dreamer or if the dreamer was agoraphobic in large rooms in waking life. This stage is an important learning stage for new dreamworkers and is the beginning of both an existential/phenomenological approach as well as the beginning of owning one's own projections. That is, if one is limited to asking descriptive questions about the dream, an attention to details in the dream texture become deeper, and the body of the dream image richer. Focus on the kind of leather in a coat adds substance to the dream and moves towards particulars, while asking what the leather in general means can lead to abstractions of the image. Further, by withholding questions about the meaning of the dream (or traditional meanings of the dream) the dreamworker learns to differentiate his/her own internal mechanisms that give the dream expression. Working with the clarification of descriptions is a distinctly different way to express the dream images than moving past them into their (other) meaning and values.
Herbert has noted (Herbert 1991) that too much emphasis on this clarification stage can freeze up and make later projection stage ["If this were my dream…"] and it's expressions of the dream stiffer and more difficult for the participants. That is, if the participants feel they have to include all the details of the clarification stage when they take the dream as their own, the sheer amount of material can restrict creative projections. If you know that my dream coat is crinkled black Gucci leather with Chantel buttons and Trufeau collars, then you have a larger task if you take this image on as your own than if you just know it’s a black leather jacket.
However, we have found on the Electric Dreams DreamWheels that this clarification stage vitalize dreamers who don't usually get attention for their dreams, or don't know how to give attention to a dream image on their own. In other words, the non-defensive questions of clarification are felt as an expression of care and attention, allowing the person sharing the dream to feel that others in the group are interested and that their dream is of value. Besides the inherent value in dream consciousness-raising, attention to details can also lead to better dream recall both after the dream and in later dreams. That is, the impact of caring attention can enter into the dreaming process itself and provide more colorful, detailed, emotionally deep dreams. We also know from Phenomenological/Existential dreamwork and James Hillman's Archetypal psychology of the power of simply attending to the details of dream images.
Is the trade-off worth it? Do the benefits to the dreamer offset the difficulties of providing a more elaborate dream image for the group to have to digest? There is no research at this time, but a study of the populations used in the two groups (Herbet's AOL SeniorNet and the younger DreamWheel) might indicate that the answer depends on the psychological sophistication of the group and perhaps the mean age of the group as well. Robust groups that are heavily invested in trying something new or have introspective skills may be better able to handle more elaborate imagery than other groups.
The Comment Stage
In Herbert's Comment stage, like the Ullman process, the participants
pretend that the dream is their own and imagine what the dream would mean
for them. These dream-stories are then posted for the dreamer to take or not
take as possible intuitions beyond what they may have themselves attributed
to the dream. By posting them as one's own dream, there is a reduction of
the feeling that the meaning or value of the dream is being imposed and the
dreamer may pick and choose those insights using an inner authority. Herbert
selected the "If this were my dream…" part of the Ullman/Zimmer process for
the format of the comment stage. To further the notion that the dreamer was
to take the dream on as his/her own, Herbert further suggested the people
taking the dream on preface the comments with "In my dream…."
Although the dreamer is not required to respond to the comments, the whole group is more cohesive and finds more of a sense of completion when this occurs. To allow the dreamer to be in control of the process, they can't be pushed to respond here, so it needs to be clear in the instructions that this is an option.
The moderator's final role is to give closure to the process and depending on the situation, begin the new stage one with another dream.
Besides bulletin boards, Herbert also worked extensively with Jeremy Taylor on the AOL DreamShow, a live chat venue that was highly moderated. Variations of this process were outlined a presentation at the Association for the Study of Dreams in 2001 by Herbert and reprinted with permission on Electric Dreams 8(12). These include a useful table where venues can be rated across the x axis as real time vs delayed, and across the y axis a public vs. private. This doesn't provide the full spectrum of options online, but begins to tease apart some of the important differentials. New venues that include CMC Virtual Reality are coming out of development and into the mainstream and the addition of having one's actions or pictures will add new dimensions to the research. Other emerging technologies include haptic (body sensations) and other sensory enhancements. Robert Bosnak and Jill Fischer demonstrated importance of voice and the possible importance of polygraph devices that allow us to see a wide range of reactions, even though the groups may be meeting from different spots around the world. (Bosnak and Fischer, 2000)
Herbert's work continues to inspire and produce new forms of dream
sharing, especially in text based venues. Full transcripts of sessions are
available online as is Herbert's full doctoral dissertation on this topic.
Bosnak, Robert and Fischer, Jill (2000) The Cyberdreamwork Movement. ASD
Dream Time 17(3).
Boss, Menard (1958). The Analysis of Dreams. New York: Philosophical Library,
Herbert, John.W. (2000). Group Dreamwork Utilizing Computer Mediated
Communication. A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of Saybrook Graduate
School in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor
of Philosophy in Psychology. Saybrook Graduate School. Copyright 2000 by
Herbert, John W.
Herbert, John.W. (1991) "Human Science Research Methods in Studying
Dreamwork: Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Face-to-Face and
Computer Dream Work Groups" Unpublished Manuscript, Saybrook Institute, San
Francisco. Available Online:
Herbert, John (2001 November). Reflections on Online Dream Groups. Electric Dreams 8(12). Retrieved December 28, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams
Hillman, James. (1979). The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper & Row.
Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1995 June 8). Dream Sharing Experiment: The E-mail Dream Circle. Electric Dreams 2(8). Retrieved July 31, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams
Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1997 August). Cyberdream - History Notes. Electric Dreams 4(7). Retrieved July 26, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams
Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1998 October). A Short History on the Rise of Dream Sharing in Cyberspace. Electric Dreams 5(9). Retrieved July 8, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams
Wilkerson, Richard Catlett ed. (1998 October). A Transcript from an Online Dream Group 'Coins of Life' An August 1998 DreamWheel. Electric Dreams 5(9). Retrieved July 8, 2000 on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams
Wilkerson, Richard Catlett and Branka (1999 August). Special Section: Dream Sharing with Serbia: A Special Report of a Dream Group Held During the Crisis in Kosovo: Transcripts and Notes by Richard Wilkerson & Branka. Electric Dreams 6(8). Retrieved July 14, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams
Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2000 April). "Mel", A full transcript of an Electric Dreams dream sharing group. Electric Dreams 7(4). Retrieved December 31, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams
Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2000 April) A Brief History of the Electric Dreams DreamWheel. Electric Dreams 7(4). Retrieved July 14, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams
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