John Casson on



As early as 1803, J. C. Reil (who coined the term ‘psychiatry’) connected

the phenomenon of dissociated personalities with a similar occurrence that

is manifest in a certain type of normal dreams: “The actors appear, the roles

are distributed; of these, the dreamer takes only one that he connects with

his own personality. all the other actors are to him as foreign as strangers,

although they and all their actions are the creation of the dreamer’s own

fantasy. One hears of people speaking in foreign languages, admires the

talent of a great orator, is astounded by the profound wisdom of a teacher

who explains to us things of which we do not remember ever having heard.”

(Ellenberger 1994, 146-147) Reil proposed that therapeutic theatres be built

in hospitals for those who suffered mental distress and scenes reflecting

their delusions be played out for their benefit. In this he was influenced by


At the end of a century which began with the publication of Freud’s “The

Interpretation of Dreams” and Strindberg’s “A Dream Play” (Casson, 1997)

the World Congress for Psychotherapy in Vienna will this summer (1999)

be considering Myth, Dream and Reality. Dramatherapists and

psychodramatists will be contributing to the Congress and this article

reflects on the theory and practice of Dreamwork in these related creative

action methods of psychotherapy.

It is to Peter Slade, the founder of dramatherapy in the U.K., that the credit

for first using drama to work therapeutically with dream material must be

given. Between 1937 - 9 Slade worked with Dr. Kraemer, a Jungian

psychotherapist, using drama to complement therapy. He reports enabling a

client to make progress in his therapy with Kraemer by using “drama action

work” to “break the dream”, enabling the client to access significant,

forgotten material. (Slade, 1995, 262)

In 1954, Slade wrote:

“I have found that children who suffer from nightmares can be helped to

face their fears through play, and that the dreams may disappear

afterwards.” (Slade, 1980, 343)

J. L. Moreno, method of dreamwork but it was not until 1951 that he published

“Fragments from the Psychodrama of a Dream” a verbatim transcript of a

session. Commenting on the session Moreno likens the dream itself to an

inner theatre: in psychodrama the inner is externalised so it can be worked

on therapeutically. He writes: “He is encouraged to re-dream the dream, to

continue the dream on stage, and to end it in a fashion which appears more

adequate to him, or brings him to a better control of the latent dynamics

upsetting him.” (reprinted in Fox, 1987, 200; see end note on the date of this

material.) Moreno’s ideas had been developing since his early period in

Vienna: at some time between 1912 - 14 Moreno met Freud at one of his

lectures (about the analysis of a telepathic dream) and said to him, “Well,

Dr. Freud, I start where you leave off....You analysed their dreams, I try to

give them courage to dream again.”

(Marineau, 1989, 30) Zerka Moreno

“Instead of telling the dream, the patient re-enacts it. He takes his position

in bed, warming up to the sleep situation. When he is able to reconstruct the

dream, he rises from the bed and represents the dream in action, using

auxiliary egos to enact the role of the dream characters. This technique

further makes use of retraining the patient, giving him the opportunity to

“change” his dream and re-direct his dream pattern.”

(Moreno Z., 1975, 7)


Dreams can inspire creative living: in 1964 it was a dream of drama in a

hospital that led Marian Lindkvist to establish the Sesame training in

drama/movement therapy in London, developing the work of Slade and informed by Laban and

Jung’s ideas and practices. (Pearson, 1996, 52)

C. G. Jung dreams.

“For Jung (1968), the dream embodies archetypes of the collective unconscious. Through an analysis of these archetypes, one comes to know the central issues in his own life... In working with the dream, Jung focused upon the immediate context of the dreamer’s life, viewing the imagery, first through the short lens of the present, then through the longerone of the universal and timeless... Using the method of active imagination,he would often have patients express their imagery through drawing andmovement.”

(Landy, 1986, 156.)

Fritz Perls method.

 Perls conceived the dream as “the dramatic representation of the

 roles of self. In working with the dream, Perls shuns all analysis, moving

instead into the technique of dramatisation. The client in Gestalt therapy

acts out his dream in order to reclaim the separate, split off parts. For Perls,

every object in the dream is a part of the self that can be reintegrated

through a process of enactment.” (Landy, 1986, 157)



Robert Landy

“..we can conceive of the dreamworld as an altered state of consciousness

that contains repressed elements from an individual’s past, archetypes from

the collective past of mankind, and split-off parts of the self reflecting one’s

present state of being. Further, we can see the dream as pointing to the

future, to the hopes, wishes, and fantasies of the dreamer. Adding a more

theatrical notion, the dreamworld can be seen as a stage containing sets,

props, costumes, colors, and characters...In working with dreams the

dramatherapist can begin by asking the client to reconstruct his

dreamworld...with objects representing shapes, settings, characters in the

dream.” (Landy, 1986,157) This can be done on a table, in a sand tray or on

the floor. Landy then suggests, following Moreno, that members of the

group can play these roles and the dream be worked on through group


A dream can first be told and re-enacted by the group with the dreamer in

the audience, as in Playback Theatre, or the dreamer can enter her dream

and role reverse with each element of the dream thus enabling other

members of the group to take the roles more accurately (the psychodrama

procedure). The dreamer can then become producer/director and alter the

dream at will bringing in new characters or re-entering the action when she

wishes to make a change. Masks could also be used to represent elements of

the dream.

Sue Jennings

dramatic form, as though it were a small theatre that is personal to us,

playing and re-playing the dramas that, for whatever reason, we need to

see.” (Jennings, 1990, 17)

She states: “Dramatherapists work with dream material, making it possible

for the private dramas to be enacted and expanded rather than interpreted.”

(Jennings, 1990, 18)

Brenda Rawlinson

dramatherapy in her chapter in Dramatherapy Clinical Studies (Mitchell,

1996, 151 - 178). She describes her dreamwork with clients using sand play.

She confirms Jennings’ stance against interpretation:

“Staying with the not knowing would appear to be a powerful requirement

when working with the dream, since it would appear that the ego does not

initiate or control the dream. The quality of the dream moves us away from

the sole perspective of ego-consciousness, encouraging a creative and

playful approach. In order to do this we need to look at the dream with an

imaginal eye. In this manner we can suspend an over-dependence on only

one type of logic, that which has a tendency to over-control. Freud’s very

valuable work led us into an interpretive approach, while this has a place,

there can be a real danger of fixing the image. This does not allow the

imagination to shift, deepen or move the image on towards new


(Mitchell, 1996, 153)


I have written elsewhere about the significance of discoveries about the

differing functions of the right and left hemispheres of the brain and their

implications for dramatherapists. (Casson, 1998, 12-15)

“In his recent book “Emotional Intelligence” Daniel Goleman differentiates

two aspects of the mind: the rational and emotional. What he goes on to say

has important implications for dramatherapists:

“The logic of the emotional mind is associative; it takes elements that

symbolize a reality, or trigger a memory of it, to be the same as that reality.

That is why similes, metaphors, and images speak directly to the emotional

mind, as do the arts - novels, film, song, theatre, opera.....This logic of the

heart - of the emotional mind - is well-described by Freud in his concept of

“primary process” thought; it is the logic of religion and poetry, psychosis

and children, dream and myth (as Joseph Campbell put it, “Dreams are

private myths; myths are shared dreams”).

Cox/Theilgaard writes: “Metaphoric language has far greater

possibilities for influencing the unconscious than logical, informative

language.” (Cox and Theilgaard, 1994, 223). They go on to say “Images

are closer to the inner centre, whereas words are closer to the voice of the

ego.” (Cox and Theilgaard, 1994, 255.) Jung believed that images were

the way the self communicated with the ego and there is some evidence

that the right brain is more active during dream sleep.(Cox and

Theilgaard, 1994, 215)”

(Casson, 1998, 14)


Dramatherapists, while working to strengthen the ego in vulnerable clients,

draw on the archetypal energies and wisdom of the Self in the alchemical

dream theatre of the therapeutic container. Alida Gersie

“Small children constantly dream of monsters catching them or coming

towards them, with the child powerless to resist...it is very helpful for

children to invent endings to such fearful dreams which empower them. We

usually find a heroic character admired by the child, preferably one with the

capacity to fly or to paralyse the monster in some way. Through play or

story making we invent a powerful ending for the dream in which the

monster is somehow contained.


Case Example:

T, aged 5, dreamt of a green slimy monster who trundled toward her as she

was trapped against a wall. We decided that at the moment he got to her she

would turn into Super Ted and fly away to land on top of the wall where she

could shout rude things at the monster below. We talked about this fantasy,

drew the monster, enacted the new dream. Once she had been able to

incorporate this new ending into her dream, the dream stopped.

It is important never to kill such a dream monster because if the child again

dreams of the monster there is a sense of the all powerful nature of the

beast. The strategies are for containing the monster or escaping to fight

another day makes the beast’s re-appearance less fearful. The child has

strategies to cope.” (Gersie, 1996, 185)

Dramatherapists work in the chaotic flow of images and metaphors:

dramatherapy is a method of dreaming whilst awake. Dramatherapists do

not interpret dreams but empower the client to creatively continue and

resolve the dream. Should the client interpret the dream that is supported

and explored, as appropriate.


In the psychodrama literature there are surprisingly few references to work

with dreams. The classic Morenian technique is to start with the protagonist

settling down to sleep and to visualise the dream. (Fox, 1987, 139, 186)

Moreno and Kipper both suggest a procedure that seems very like hypnotic

induction: a guided fantasy led by the director, suggesting the person is

settling down to sleep and remembering the dream. I do not regard this as entirely

necessary. The client may simply relax and recall the dream.

Moreno stressed the value of setting the scene of the bedroom: such scene

setting may well reveal valuable material in context and enable the

protagonist to get into the role of dreamer. (He even asks “What are you

wearing in bed? Is this how you lie? Are you alone in the bed?”) Once the

dream is recalled it is then re-enacted, the protagonist role reversing with

each element of the dream so that auxiliaries are enabled to take the roles

and re-create the dream which may then be viewed as if in a mirror or with

the protagonist actively involved. The dream can then be extended or

reworked. Moreno also offered analysis and interpretation (see Fox, 1987,

196, 199) though he stressed that these were best achieved through action,

the insights emerging through the re-enactment.Goldman and Morrison

“...the individual enacts the nightmare as it is dreamed and then re-enacts it

in a new and more positive way. We have had success in re-training

recurring nightmares of Vietnam veterans who previously were unable to

divest themselves of the horrors of their wartime experiences.”

(Goldman and Morrison 1984, 25)

In my own practice working with a psychotic patient who complained of a

recurring nightmare we re-enacted the nightmare and then gave him the

power to change it, satisfying his act hunger which he had been powerless

to fulfil in the paralysed, petrified dream role. He rescued his dog from the

fire and confronted his father. The nightmare did not recur.

Kipper states that the main purpose of psychodramatic dreamwork is “to

train the dreamer to dream better.” (Kipper, 1986, 199) Through this dream

training the person is “taught to positively change the ending or the nature

of his or her disturbing dreams.” (Kipper, 1986, 200)


Blatner states the aim of dream work is to increase “self awareness or

insight...to bring to the surface as many of the hidden assumptions as

possible without intellectualising about it and then to open the protagonist’s

mind to co-creating alternative options.” (Blatner, 1988, 3-4)

The largest section in the recent literature on dreamwork is in Chapter 10 of

Psychodrama Since Moreno (Holmes, Karp and Watson, 1994, 239 - 256).

Leif Dag Blomkvist and Thomas Rutzel

perspective, reflecting on the value of “surplus reality” and the surrealists’

ideas. They point out that, as in our dreams, Moreno’s concept of

psychodramatic surplus reality is a place where opposites meet, ignoring the

“logic of our daily ego and its divisions and controls.” (Holmes et al., 1994,

240) They also differentiate Moreno’s ideas about dreaming from Freud

and dream analysis/interpretation: “Since the unconscious was never an

important issue for Moreno, he certainly did not consider dreams as being

the via regia to our unconscious, or that dreams were something that must

be decoded from their manifest dream context to understand the latent

dream thought. Moreno regarded this as wrong, or as a resistance towards

the here and now. Moreno considered dreams as something man and his ego

had to relate to from the dream’s point of view. Since the creator of the

dream is the unknown, something out of the ego’s control according to

Moreno, we should experience the unknown rather than try to force it under

the control of the ego. This unknown is related to the deepest root of

nature....The Surrealist movement...was also sceptical about the analytic

interpretation of symbols since this watered down the symbol. A symbol

contains a certain energy that will always be unknown to man. However this

energy can be experienced, but will not be explained by any logical thinking

and rationalisation....The surrealists were more focused on the experience of

the dream and the participation in the irrational....Dream psychodrama is a

way to encourage and train the ego to relate to the absurd rather than find a

latent meaning....By following the dream and the unreasonable wisdom we

hope to make the ego more flexible, tolerant and spontaneous.” (Holmes et

al, 1994, 240-242)

They go on to tell of their research and practice of dream psychodrama and

the expansion of symbols or aspects of a dream by encouraging spontaneous

group drama. They recognise that dream material connects us with the counconscious

(or the collective unconscious, world soul) and so such psychodramas may provide meaningful

experience for the group as a whole, not just the protagonist. This idea is taken up in an important

innovation in dream work by Barbara Tregear.  Following the usual psychodrama

practice she has developed the work further, from a protagonist centred to a

group method; she wishes to focus on the process flowing between the

individual and group that is explored and highlighted by the Foulksian

method of group-analysis; her work has also been influenced by

dramatherapy and sociodrama.

After a warm-up that enables the participants to experience

themselves as both separate individuals and as members of a group (perhaps

using a metaphor such as “Where or what would you choose to be in a

public park?”) she begins the dreamwork by inviting the group members to

settle in a comfortable, safe place and return in their imagination to the

privacy of sleep. Now they are asked to visualise a dream of their choice.

Next in pairs they tell each other their dreams and are advised they will be

asked to tell their partner’s dream to the group. The dreams are then told to

the group by the partner using a less personal style: “The dreamer saw....

(ending with)... the dreamer woke up.”

The group decide on a title for the dream as if it were a play or film (with

the agreement of the dreamer). This is the first element of group ownership

of the individual dreams. The titles are then written on pieces of coloured

paper, the dreamer choosing the colour appropriate and group members vote

by marking the papers with their choice of which dream they want to

explore. The usual psychodrama procedure then applies: the

protagonist/dreamer explores the dream in action with the aid of group

members playing roles in the dream: it is dramatised and the dreamer

enabled to dream the dream further: to explore each role and element, to

develop the story or change the outcome. However then instead of the

group sharing and the session closing as usual when the protagonist’s work

is complete the group members are invited to choose what element of the

dream they wish to explore for themselves: the dream and its symbols and

archetypes have become group property and the play of images will have

engaged group members interest. They also have the opportunity to become

the dreamer of that dream and explore what the dream means to them. This

is akin to dramatherapy where a myth is enacted: the metaphors have

multiple meanings and can enable members to explore, express, discover.

After as many people who wish have played with the dream material there is

the usual sharing and closure. This procedure is remarkably rich for the

group and uses the co-unconscious of the group. It recognises that dreams

touch collective symbols and therefore any dream potentially has meaning

not only for the dreamer but for all.Concluding Reflections:

This survey of the history, literature and practice of dreamwork by

dramatherapists and psychodramatists shows that essentially their

techniques are the same and mostly originate from Moreno’s insights and

action method, although Slade, influenced by the Jungian Dr. Kraemer,

independently began using drama in the 1930s to unlock the secrets of

dreams without knowing of Moreno’s method.

Each night we enter the theatre of our dreams. We discover within an

endless, inexhaustible creativity and spontaneity that may baffle, terrify,

amaze, inspire. Dramatherapy and Psychodrama enable us to dream whilst

awake and become our own creator. But in the face of the mystery a certain

humility is required: the ego on stage cannot claim all the theatre for its

play; waiting in the wings are surprises and the unknown Self.

If the therapist dreams of the client then such a dream is best taken to

supervision or therapy before being shared with the client!



I am grateful to the following for their contributions to this paper:

Zerka Moreno, Psychodramatist, Beacon, New York.

Barbara Tregear M.A., C.Q.S.W., Psychodrama Psychotherapist and

Trainer, Group Analytic and Marital Therapist, Cambridge.References:

Blatner A. & Blatner A, 1988, Foundations of Psychodrama, New York,


Casson J., 1997, Dramatherapy History in Headlines: Who did What, When,

Where? Journal of the British Association for Dramatherapists Vol 19 No. 2


Casson J., 1998, Right/Left Brain and Dramatherapy, article in the Journal

of the British Association for Dramatherapists, Vol 20, No. 1, Spring.

Cox M., & Theilgaard A., 1994, Shakespeare as Prompter, London, Jessica


Fox J, 1987, The Essential Moreno, New York, Springer Publishing.

Gersie, A., 1996, Dramatic Approaches to Brief Therapy, London, Jessica


Goldman E.E. & Morrison D.S., 1984, Psychodrama: Experience and

Process, Dubuque, Iowa, Kendall/Hunt.

Goleman D., 1996, Emotional Intelligence, London, Bloomsbury


Holmes P., Karp M. & Watson M., 1994, Psychodrama Since Moreno,

London, Routledge.

Jennings, S., 1990, Dramatherapy with Families, Groups and Individuals,

London, Jessica Kingsley.

Kipper D., 1986, Psychotherapy Through Clinical Role Playing, New York,


Landy, R., 1986, Drama Therapy Concepts and Practices, Springfield,

Illinois, Charles Thomas Publisher.

Marineau, R., 1989, Jacob Levy Moreno 1889 -1974, London, Tavistock


Mitchell, S., 1996, Dramatherapy Clinical Studies, London, Jessica


Moreno Z., 1975, A Survey of Psychodramatic Techniques, Psychodrama

and Group Psychotherapy Monographs No. 44, Beacon House.

Moreno Z., 1999, personal communication on the date of Moreno’s paper

“Fragments from the Psychodrama of a Dream”.

Pearson J., 1996, Discovering the Self through Drama and Movement, The

Sesame Approach, London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Slade, P., 1980, Child Drama, London, Hodder and Stoughton.

Slade, P., 1995, Child Play, London, Jessica Kingsley.

Further reading:

Jung, C.G., 1964, Man and his Symbols, London, Aldus.

Kaplan-Williams, S., 1991, The Elements of Dreamwork, Shaftesbury,

Dorset, Element.


© John Casson 1999