Imagine that you are standing on the shores of consciousness. There is a bridge that extends from morning to the end of cosmic night and from consciousness to the bottomless depths of unconsciousness. You begin the trek on this bridge, this royal road. You notice Freud and Jung, as well as others. You reach a mysterious gap, as if the bridge suddenly ended and you were left only to imagine….

Dreams shroud the waking world, dazzling and disturbing it with mystery, terror and possibility. Anthony Blake, an English intellectual, has described dreams as “something unbidden that come out of darkness with an intelligence beyond our waking intelligence to grasp.” Not surprisingly, there are many approaches to dream work, most building on the work of Freud and Jung.

What Is Dream Analysis?

Freud’s work is foundational to dream analysis. The publication of his seminal book The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900 initiated a seismic cultural shift in understanding psychological phenomena and recognizing the importance of dreams. The keyword in the title of his book and the central principle of dream analysis is interpretation. The dream is viewed as a riddle emanating from the individual’s unconscious, holding a hidden meaning that needs to be deciphered. The knowledge and expertise of the analyst grounded in theoretical framework directs the interpretive action of dream analysis. While much has changed in psychoanalysis since the time of Freud, the role of interpretation is still the predominant tool in dream analysis.

What Is Dream Tending?

Dream Tending is a way of working with dreams developed by Stephen Aizenstat. While it builds on the work of Freud and Jung, it is much more than a methodology. Influenced by James Hillman, founder of archetypal psychology, two qualities distinguish Dream Tending from dream analysis: first, how it views the dream worker; and second, how it views the dream image. The term “dream tending” was intentionally chosen to emphasize a relationship to the dream characterized by caring and open-mindedness. This sensibility grounded in a spirit of not knowing distinguishes it from dream analysis in which the analyst occupies a position of authority constituted by his or her expertise.

How Does Dream Tending Understand Dreams?

Aizenstat views the dream image not merely as a symbol that has meaning, but as a “living image,” in the words of James Hillman, or as “persons of the soul.”  Night after night, the dreaming psyche receives these images from a source greater than the individual. Aizenstat states, “Dream images are not representations of our personal nature only, but are also informed by the subjective inner natures of the things and creatures in the world. The imaginal field beyond the inter-subjective is the extra-subjective that I am equating with the autonomy of the image.”

The Art of Dream Tending

Since dreams are not the product of a logical mind, you need to bypass the rational ego to access their deeper significance. To the extent that you interpret a dream, you are limited by the parameters of an interpretive system.  In contrast to dream analysis, the ego is seen as an obstacle. It will prematurely foreclose inquiry and too quickly try to make sense of the dream. Hillman states, Dreams call from the imagination to the imagination and can be answered only by the imagination.”

The dream image is like a boat moored to a dock. The image reveals itself and individuates when it is unmoored and allowed to drift. Rather than interpret a dream, the dream tender animates the image. Animation is the heart and soul of Dream Tending. It is quintessentially improvisation, a playing with images guided by an attentiveness to affect and the nuances of a dream, along with an overarching curiosity and vigilance to the ever-present intrusive presence of ego.

The dream tender meets the dream with curiosity as if a tourist in a foreign country, gathers associations, asks the dreamer what parts of the dream generates curiosity, attraction, fright or repulsion. The answers to these questions lead to finding an emotionally resonant image with which to work.  When the image is identified, the dreamer is asked to imagine the image in the room in order to interact with it. The dream tender is attentive to how the dreamer is telling the dream with words and gestures, and how the dreamer experiences the dream in the present.

Dreams, on occasion, evoke strong feelings in individuals, such as fear, repulsion and shame. The dream tender helps the dreamer tolerate these difficult feelings and facilitates curiosity about the images in order to understand their deeper nature. As the dreamer moves through fear and repugnance to a relationship with the image, the images evolves, and something of value can be learned.

Written by Larry Brooks

Larry Brooks, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who has been in full-time private practice for 25+ years. In addition to his psychotherapy practice, he provides consultation to post licensed mental health professionals and has written for the Cultural Weekly, an online publication critically examining cultural issues of the day.


  1. Blake, A.
  2. Freud, S., The Interpretation of Dreams, Tr. By James Strachey, Standard Edition   of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol IV & V, Hogarth Press, 1953.
  3. Hillman, J. Archetypal Psychology: A Brief Account, Spring publications, 1983.

Stephen Aizenstat

Stephen Aizenstat, Ph.D., is the founder of Dream Tending, Pacifica Graduate Institute, and the Academy of Imaginal Arts and Sciences. He is a world-renowned professor of depth psychology, an imagination specialist, and an innovator. He has served as an organizational consultant to major companies and institutions, and as a depth psychological content advisor to Hollywood film makers. He has lectured extensively in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. He is affiliated with the Earth Charter International project through the United Nations, where he has spoken. Professor Aizenstat is the Chancellor Emeritus and Founding President of Pacifica Graduate Institute. He has collaborated with many notable masters in the field including Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, Marion Woodman, and Robert Johnson.

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