0/5/08, posted in IASD's PsiberDreaming Conference


The Stages of the Montague Ullman Group Dreamwork

by Gloria Sturzenacker
former Board Member, IASD

With humor and tolerance for human tendencies, Monte always warned us about how easy it is to slip into saying the words “If this were my dream” without remembering what’s behind them – which is to actually experience the dream as if it were one own, and to explore what that dream would mean if we were the one who had dreamt it. At his three-day trainings, Monte would talk about what he called “driveway orchestrations.” People might spend hours at his house working a dream and learning his method. At the end of the session, they’d walk out the door, heading home. An hour later, he might head out, himself, for some errand, and he would find a group of people standing in the driveway, gathered around the dreamer, telling the person what the dream ”really” meant. Regarding his method, one of my hopes for Monte’s legacy is that IASD will begin to convey the full power of Monte’s group dreamwork method by achieving and spreading clarity about what the Ullman Method is. A shorthand has developed of referring to “If this were my dream” as the Ullman (or Ullman-Taylor) Method. However, “If this were my dream” – as great a contribution as it’s been to dreamwork -- is one stage in the four-stage Ullman Method. Many people, even in IASD, aren’t aware of that. Monte talked about the “safety factor” of his method making possible the “discovery factor.” I find that the safety factor is not only in “If this were my dream” but in the structured stages, which help contain the group’s enthusiasm.

The stages of the Ullman Method of group dreamwork:

Stage 1

-- The dreamer tells the dream as fully as possible, but without further comment.

-- The group asks clarifying questions.

Stage 2

-- “The Game”: The group offers its projections onto the dream (first the feelings, then the metaphors), with the attitude of “If this were my dream.” (In this stage, group members may make any projections that occur to them.) When projecting in the Game, we’re not to look at the dreamer, but rather to address the other group members, so as not to put undue pressure on the dreamer to nod or agree or otherwise acknowledge us. The benefit of this stage is twofold: It creates a pool of ideas that the dreamer might not have thought of, and – because the projections are just that, it lets the dreamer know, “We’re all in this together. We all have ‘stuff.’”

Stage 3

-- The dreamer responds (or not) to the group however he or she wants, and makes whatever other comments the dreamer wants.

Then Dialogue:

-- Search for Context: The group assists the dreamer in recalling the waking context in which the dream occurred, with very non-leading questions (a tough thing to learn): for example, “When you consider the images in the dream and the feeling tone of the dream, and you think back on what was on your mind last night as you went to sleep, is there anything you’d like to say about that?”

-- Playback: Someone from the group reads back the dream to the dreamer in the second person (“You’re at a dance. You walk to the center of the room.”), stopping frequently to allow the dreamer to add any new ideas.

-- Orchestration: This is another round of projection by the group, but this time, the group is confined to commenting on the dream itself and anything the dreamer has said during the process. The purpose is to convey any connections the group may have noted between the dream and the dreamer’s waking associations. This time, unlike in the Game, the group addresses the dreamer directly.

Stage 4

Next time the group meets, the session starts with the dreamer having the opportunity to make any additional comments he or she wants to make.

At each point, the dreamer is asked whether he or she wants to continue. The dreamer always has the right to shut down the process. And the dreamer always has the right to reject or simply not acknowledge anything a group member says. Note that the Game and the Orchestration, and possibly Stage 4 with the dreamer’s permission, are the only places in this process where the group is allowed to project onto the dream.

From conversations I had with Monte when I asked him to present a lecture in Manhattan in 2005 (which IASD co-sponsored with Friends of the Noetic Sciences), I believe it was very important to him that dreamworkers understand the Ullman Method to be this entire process.

Lots of people prefer a less structured approach (although many of them may never have been exposed to the full Ullman Method). “If it were my dream” is certainly a benefit in all cases, I would think – but in those situations, it’s one important piece borrowed from the Ullman Method.

Gloria Sturzenacker