Evelyn Duesbury, a counselor educator from Wisconsin who teaches online, as well as a researcher and author, began a career in counseling after a dream; appropriately, she now spends her time teaching counselors how to interpret dreams to help their clients solve real-life problems, reconcile feelings and make decisions. Duesbury, a member of the American Counseling Association, developed a process called the Personalized Method for Interpretation of Dreams (PMID) during her thesis research in 2000. She has since expanded the process to help clients gain a clearer connection between their dreams and “waking life.” She has also written a book, The Counselor’s Guide for Facilitating the Interpretation of Dreams published by Routledge in 2010. Duesbury believes that exploring dreams can help clients better connect with themselves and also help counselors better understand their clients. For more information, visit yourguidingdreams.com.

Describe your journey from teaching to counseling.

Nighttime dreams changed my life: my profession, my passion and my purpose. Though for several years I was passionate about teaching accounting, my nighttime dreams began to surprise me with suggestions to leave the accounting classroom. In dreams, my students were no longer attentive and no longer filled my classroom. In waking life, my classroom was most always full of attentive students.

I dreamed that Chapter 23 was the next chapter in our accounting textbook. However, there were no problems at the end of Chapter 23; accounting textbook chapters conclude with problems. I also dreamed that a Dr. Conway took my place in my accounting classroom. Finally, I realized that my “con way” was to teach about dreams, and there would be spiritual guidance. Chapter 23 stems from my familiarity with Psalm 23 [in the Bible].

When I visited with a colleague about my interest in dreams, he suggested a nearby college – Loras of Dubuque, Iowa – where I could enroll in a psychology program. After I began the course work, I had dream confirmation that Loras was the right choice. After I had completed preliminary courses, my nighttime counselors (my dreams) led me in state to a counseling program at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. My psychology course grades transferred to UW-Whitewater and were valuable additions to my master of counselor education degree. During thesis research I, with thesis committee guidance, developed PMID. The thesis was chosen UW-Whitewater’s thesis of the year for 2000.

Describe a typical session with your clients.

The overall procedure is for the counselor to guide the client’s use of the PMID model by providing feedback and posing questions as the client interprets his or her dream. The PMID model steps, in brief, are:

Step 1: Connect your previous-day (often the day before) events to the dream to discover the theme of this dream. The events may appear in either symbolic or literal terms in your dream to determine an overall theme of your dream.

Step 2: Connect your previous-day (often the day before) thoughts to your dream to detect which thoughts may have prompted this dream’s responses.

Step 3: Select and define major dream phrases and symbols from your write-up of this dream to discover the dream’s personalized meanings.

Step 4: Compare your emotions in your dream with your pre-dream, waking-life emotions to discover whether your waking-life emotions accurately reflect how you feel about the issue in this dream.

Step 5: Explore your dream for possible solutions to problems, including changing (or affirming) your thoughts, attitudes or behaviors.

Step 6: Explore your dream for family and other relationship systems perspectives, which are influences arising from reactions to family and other major relationships, both past and current. Use these perspectives to discover whether this dream reflects your reactions during experiences with family members or other important people in your life.

My typical work with clients has been by way of facilitating research and exploring participants’ use of the PMID model. Those sessions are intensive with interchanges as I facilitate their use of the PMID model for a minimum of five of their dreams over at least a three-month period.

For preschool-aged children, why is it important to include their parents in the sessions?

From my experiences of working with adults whose dreams about childhood experiences repeat into adulthood, I consider it important for caring parents to be included in their children’s counseling sessions.

The dreams of preschoolers are often terribly frightening. Young children are painfully aware of how small and weak they are in a world filled with tall grown-ups, complex machines and ferocious animals. Nightmares are a very natural, very normal response to these feelings of vulnerability. Through their nightmares, young children work at developing the inner resources necessary to fend off the various threats and dangers that frighten them in waking life. Paradoxical as it may sound, frightening dreams are often a sign of healthy adaptation for children. So … parents should not worry too much if their children have occasional nightmares.

Outside the counseling session, the most important help parents can give when their children awake from dreams, whether happy or scary, is to patiently listen as their children relate their dreams. In this way, the children’s feelings and reactions are valued. It is also possible that waking-life activities that might have prompted the dreams may be revealed as the children talk about their dreams.

Why do you think it’s important that counselors put more of a focus on their clients’ dreams and subconscious than they currently do?

Dreams reach to the peripheries of the mind, further than most waking-life thoughts go. That occurs because some structures that somewhat confine thinking in waking life to directed thought and voluntary control are shut down during dreaming. Consequently, during the dreamers’ work of connecting their waking-life events, thoughts, personal experiences, emotions and reactions to their dreams, they have potential to discover and share personal information they may not otherwise have known or thought to share with their counselors.

Inherent in the counseling profession’s mission is to enhance the individual’s quality of life. The facilitation of clients’ work with dreams is a positive resource for counselors to enhance the quality of life for their clients. Even so, work with dreams is an aspect of people’s lives that is yet to be emphasized by the counseling profession.

Research shows that all people dream, whether practiced techniques are used to remember their dreams or not. All that activity done during this “night shift” – what a waste to ignore it! Let’s recognize that dreams are significant resources for the counseling profession.

The Counselor’s Guide for Facilitating the Interpretation of Dreams was written with ACA counselors in mind. As a counselor education student, I often felt a gap because dreams were not included as resources for understanding and alleviating stress. A major reason dreams weren’t considered was the lack of textbooks by ACA members on how to facilitate clients’ use of dreams. In ACA, we facilitate clients as they find their own answers. A unique feature of the PMID model is that the counselor facilitates clients’ use of the PMID model as they interpret their own dreams.

Are there techniques used in this kind of therapy that all counselors can use with their clients?

Yes. For instance, exploration of the client’s current thoughts can help all counselors understand what issues are primary in the client’s life. When clients can connect waking-life thoughts to their dreams, there is potential to discover which thoughts are at the root of stressors. Comparison of waking-life emotions with the client’s report of dreaming emotions has potential to reveal when the client has inaccurately appraised his or her current emotions about an issue at hand.

Research shows that dreaming emotions, rightly understood, are more accurate than people’s waking-life appraisal of their emotions. Further, exploration of clients’ early-life experiences can be enhanced by searching dreams for clues about current unresolved issues. Such information is often important for dealing with the issue that brought the client to counseling.

Are there any misconceptions about PMID?

Though a great benefit of using the PMID model is the ability to find solutions to waking-life issues in dreams, competence in using the PMID can take more persistence, patience and dedication than the counselor or the client is willing to give. The PMID model is not a quick-fix model.

In my view, one reason that the Western world places little emphasis on dreams is because people have become accustomed to quick fixes. Ironically, in our culture of highly skilled people in the arts, sciences, entertainment and athletics who dedicate themselves every day of their lives to developing skills in their specialized fields, it seems amazing that so many people look for quick fixes for something as vital as understanding themselves.

The good news is my projects (which I collaborate on with my colleagues at UW-Whitewater) show a significant number of participants experience positive outcomes by eight weeks of receiving facilitation by a knowledgeable counselor for a minimum of five dreams. One measure to evaluate each participant’s progress in changing emotions is our Emotional Change Instrument (ECI). For instance, during a research project with participants from a general population sector, at three and one-half months, six of the eight participants reported a positive change in their emotions about one or more relationship. At six months, seven of the eight participants reported a positive change in dreaming emotions about one or more relationship. As the facilitator, I compared participants’ dreams with their ECI reports. Only one dream by one participant was different from the participant’s report.

A common misconception is it is dangerous to work with dreams. Counselors’ experiences with their clients is a first criteria [for] each client’s emotional stability to work with dreams. We use a screening application to evaluate applicants’ emotional stability to work with their dreams. E.B. Bynum, clinical psychologist, wrote a “Caveat on Bad or Worrisome Dreams” that is included in The Counselor’s Guide for Facilitating the Interpretation of Dreams.

An obvious limitation of dream interpretations is the possibility of misinterpretation. Studying more than one dream about critical issues, reviewing dreams and interpretations before acting, and consulting with a professional counselor trained in dream work all help dreamers forestall misinterpretation. Another obvious limitation of all dream interpretation models is that people must have dream recall. Though all people dream as a biological necessity, some have little or no dream recall.

What sorts of counselors might benefit from trying this kind of approach?

Those who use a cognitive behavior-type therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy focuses on the individual’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors; nighttime dreams connect to the dreamer’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

Those who use a family systems therapy. Family systems methods focus on the family group’s influences and reactions to each member of the family; nighttime dreams reveal the dreamer’s reactions to earlier and current experiences with family and other major relationships.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The history of dream use across the globe from ancient times is strong support for the value of dreams. For instance, an ancient authority on dreams — Synesius of Cyrene, circa. 373-414 — taught that people should explore the personal meanings of their dream symbols instead of consulting dream books for interpretations. Yet, dream guidance practices were uprooted and fell into disuse for many centuries. Dreams found their way back to common usage in contemporary times when 20th-century pioneers Freud and Jung championed dreams for overcoming stress. Counselors, think about this: The most universally experienced nighttime activity is dreaming. We counselors need to wake up and consider the intrinsic value of dreams.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Contact her at hrudow@counseling.org.