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Dream Diagnostics
By Anne Downey '95G

At a recent dream workshop held by Dr. Judith Lutzhoff Scharff '78, '81G, a man raised his hand, identified himself as an alcoholic and told her about a disturbing dream. In his dream, he was told that his daughter had been in a car accident and someone--although not his daughter--had been killed. However, when he got to the hospital, he discovered that his daughter, in fact, was dead. How, the man wanted to know, should he interpret this dream?

Scharff, who studied cognitive psychology at UNH and who has taught it since 1984 (most recently at the University of New England), has spent 20 years developing her own theory of dream interpretation. She asked the man what one characteristic his daughter represented to him and then told him, "It sounds to me like your daughter is a positive revealer, and that she is showing you something that you've let die in yourself."

At the end of the workshop, the man came up to her with tears in his eyes. She had allayed his fears that the dream was a premonition or that he somehow wished his daughter was dead, he said. And that she had hit upon something that was, for him, true.

"For me, the purpose of interpreting dreams is individual growth," Scharff explains. "In dreams, the truth is being revealed to you about yourself. It can be enormously healing because so many people are afraid of their dreams. But once you understand them, you're not afraid of them anymore. And it changes you."

Asking her students to keep dream journals triggered the genesis of Scharff's theory. In her schema, people in your dreams who are the same sex as you are reflectors, either positive or negative, and show you something you already know about yourself and may need to get rid of. People of the opposite sex are revealers, again either positive or negative, and show you something you don't know and may need to incorporate.

"Over and over, too, I've been able to recognize a prejudice that occurs in people's dreams, a feeling that the dreamer has about someone, and the dream is showing them that's it's a wrong feeling," Scharff adds. "It's absolutely fascinating."

Her influences have been the psychologists Carl Jung and Fritz Perls and the philosopher Eugene Gendlin. "I liked Jung because he believed that dreams help you to grow. And Peter Fernald (professor of psychology at UNH) helped me understand Perls and the idea that everything in the dream is part of the dreamer." Gendlin developed a theory called focusing that Scharff uses as well. "It's learning how to use your body to check what it is you are feeling. It's very powerful in workshops because you're sitting in a group and you can see when someone has felt this kind of knowledge."

Scharff will retire this spring, and she began to give workshops as a post-retirement occupation. Her book, Know Your Dreams, Know Yourself, will come out this spring.

"What I really want to do is empower people to do this themselves, to get away from the idea that only therapists can analyze dreams. It's such a healing thing. On the days that I have a really good dream and can successfully interpret it, I don't have to meditate."

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