When Anne Hill started a dream group with several of her friends—mothers who had kids in the same preschool—she never imagined how profound their connection would become. Twenty years later, the women still meet each week to explore the meaning of their nightly dramas.
“Somewhere along the way, we stopped thinking of dreams as our mind’s idle chatter and began to be deeply affected by what we found in them,” says Hill, 50, a consultant and author in Sebastopol, California. Dreams, she says, have helped members of the group write novels, deal with family crises, find jobs, decide where to move, and even avoid health emergencies.
More and more people like Hill are forgoing book clubs and game nights and choosing instead to bond over their dreams. Although there are no hard numbers, experts say there’s been a sharp rise in dream groups in the last few years as more people tap their inner resources to navigate challenging times.
“Dreams, like other kinds of intuitive thinking, are an underutilized resource,” says Deirdre Barrett, a professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use Dreams for Creative Problem-Solving—and How You Can Too. “They can help you find solutions to problems because you’re thinking outside of the box.”
Dream groups work on the principle that two heads—or four, five, or six heads—are better than one. The aim is to unravel the puzzling imagery of dreams and to get different perspectives that you may not have considered. By exploring the meaning of their dreams with the help of others, group participants get new insights into their fears and desires, which can help them live better waking lives. “The insights come in a way that is irrefutable, because they come from your own dreams,” Hill says.
In Mary Tribble’s four-year-running monthly dream group, members kept a nightly dream journal, then each member chose one that presented some sort of mystery or conundrum to discuss with other participants. “We became very adept at spotting stuff in each other’s dreams that we couldn’t always spot on our own,” says Tribble, 53, founder of an events-planning business in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Over a period of time, we learned each other’s metaphors,” she says.
The longer a group is together, the richer the insights. “After years together,” Hill says, “we can reference those early dreams.” One recurring theme in Hill’s dreams is a pile of jigsaw puzzle pieces lying on the floor. “In the past, I dreamed that I would never be able to pick them all up,” she says. “It’s associated with anxiety.” More recently, Hill says, she stands up in the dream and all the puzzle pieces magically come together in a box. “Over the last two years, my children have left home and my career is taking off,” she says. Her dream group helped her see that the dream meant she was learning to let go of her anxiety and trust that the other parts of her life were coming together. Says Hill, “By giving each other permission to look at each other’s dreams and offer feedback on our blind spots, our friendships—and lives—are richer.”
Sleep On It
- Try these tips when starting your own dream group:
- Gather a few good friends—enough to get a good discussion going, but not so many that it gets bogged down. “Five to nine people seems to be ideal,” advises Jeremy Taylor, whose primer, The Wisdom of Your Dreams: Using Dreams to Tap into Your Unconscious and Transform Your Life, has been the starting point for many groups.
- Decide if you want to hire a facilitator. A dream consultant or other expert can sit in regularly or on occasion to help guide the discussion or contribute new ideas or points of view.
- Bone up on different approaches to dream work, from Carl Jung to Joseph Campbell, suggests Diana McKendree, senior staff mentor at the Haden Institute in Flat Rock, North Carolina, which offers dream leader training based on a number of spiritual traditions. (The institute has a helpful DVD series called “Dream Workshop.”)
- Set a time frame for each participant to share dreams and receive feedback. Keep in mind that you will learn about yourself even from discussing other members’ dreams. “Everybody can relate to every dream in some way,” says Taylor. “People soon realize that they get as much from working on other people’s dreams as they do when working on their own.”
- Set a predetermined endpoint—say, four weeks—to check out the group’s dynamics, Taylor suggests. If things go well, members always can commit to a longer time frame.