‘Dreams, therapy and creativity are at the heart of my work’ – in conversation with Brenda Mallon

I met Brenda Mallon at a conference of children’s authors and she kindly agreed to read the MS of my book, ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ and to be interviewed for this blog.

Brenda has over thirty years experience of working with dreams as a researcher, teacher and therapist. She has written 18 books on the subject, presented a Channel Four series ‘In your Dreams’ and sat on the board of directors of the International Association for the Study of Dreams.

Brenda in her study
Brenda in her study

Could you tell us a bit about your own personal journey in dreams, Brenda? How and why did you start to remember them, and how has your relationship with dreams developed over the years?

I can recall dreams from my childhood that have stayed with me. I was probably influenced to some extent by my mother. She talked about her dreams and had dreams which were precognitive. She didn’t call them that but would say, ‘You watch, it will happen.’ I think she was psychic in many ways and dreams were just one aspect of that ability. So, over the years I was fascinated by dreams . When I was completing my  Diploma in Counselling I based my dissertation dreams. I  recorded and worked on my dreams over a sixth month period and was amazed by what  they revealed. After that I wanted to focus on working with and researching dreams and to find out what other people’s dreams meant to them, so when I wasn’t working in my full time job in the Child Guidance Centre, I was sending out questionnaires and interviewing woman about their dreams. Over 900 woman took part and the findings were covered in my first book ‘Women Dreaming’ which was published by Harper Collins.

I greatly enjoyed your Channel 4 series, ‘In your dreams.’ Could you talk about how you work with dreams as a therapist?

Thanks, I enjoyed working on the series and meeting such a variety of people who were not coming for therapy but to discuss their dream life in general.

As a therapist, my role, I believe, it to accompany people as they seek to find a way to resolve issues that are distressing and to help them find their own way forward. I generally ask clients to write down their dreams when they recall them and to bring them to the sessions. I should add here, that not all clients do remember their dreams so I work in other ways if that is the case. When a client talks about a dream I ask them if they can make a connections to their waking life and explore the emotional aspects of the dream as well as the symbolic significance of the content. Sometimes, I ask the client to draw their dream and use that as a basis for our work. These techniques, including recording your dreams, using metaphors and symbols, taking the dream forward and dream amplification are detailed in ‘The Dream Bible’ (Godsfield/Octopus)

I like working with dreams because they empower the client to work on their own dreams once they get used to the techniques. This can take just a few sessions and it is something they can  access on their own for the rest of their lives, if they wish to. Also, I have specialized in working with people who have been bereaved and, in many cases, dreams can bring great comfort. They form part of the continuing bond we have with those who have died. In ‘Dying, Death and Grief: Working with adult bereavement’ (SAGE) I show how valuable such dreams can be.

As a children’s author, I’m interested in your work with children’s dreams. What would you say are the main differences between talking with children about their dreams and talking with adults?

I think younger children are more open to talking about their dreams and less concerned about how others might view them. I remember, one four year old I spoke to told me that dreams were ‘pictures in my pillow’. His dreams were in his pillow which came into his head when he slept. (In fact, I later used it in ‘Children Dreaming: Pictures in my pillow’ (Penguin). So, small children feel they have little if any control over dreams and their content and are less defensive than adults sometimes are.

Children are usually happy to enter into the playful aspect of dream work. For example, a girl whose brother had died, had a distressing dream in which a lion came into her bedroom and wanted to eat her and her brother, who was alive in the dream, She talked about what frightened her and how she was sad that her brother no longer came into her room to play.  She drew the dream, including the fierce lion. I asked her what she would change in the dream if she could change it. She thought for a while and said, ‘The lion could turn out to be nice and then it could go away. I could play with my brother again and that would be lovely.’ So, we talked about what they would play and games they used to play. She then did another drawing of herself and her bother playing as they had done in the past. She knew her brother was dead and would not return to her home and family but talking about him and playing with him gave her comfort and a chance to recall happy times in the past, which is part of the grieving and healing process.

Working with adults is also a pleasure. Adults however may have more pre-conceived ideas about dream interpretation which may lead to being more guarded about what dreams they share. However, once they understand dreams are powerful tools to help them through their crisis or distress, they truly value them, even those nightmare ‘wake up’ calls.

This blog is mostly about using dreams as a creative resource. I know you also teach creativity and writing workshops – do dreams feature in that work as well?

Artists, writers, scientists, musicians and actors speak of the importance of dreams as a source of creativity. I use dreams in my own writing and many members of the creative writing courses I teach use dreams as the springboard for their writing. Sometimes an image will be so vivid that the  dreamer cannot get it out of their mind. This kernel of an idea then grows to encompass characters, plot, further imagery and a developed story line. In other cases, the whole story or song appears in the dream. Robin Gibb, of the Bee Gees, told me his song ‘Stayin’ Alive’ came in one of his dreams as did Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday’.

I include sections on creative writing and creative dreaming in ‘A Year of Creativity’ (MQ Publications) as I think dreams are central to our creativity.  The more we pay attention to our internal treasure trove of dreams the more enriched we are.

A Year of Creativity

Who is your favourite author on the subject of dreams?

I like the work of Kelly Bulkeley, Robert Van De Castle and Patricia Gardfield. All members of the International Association for the Study of Dreams who have made vitally important , accessible contributions to the understanding of dreams. Also, Carl Gustav Jung, who could leave him out!

And your favourite book?

This is a hard one to answer. Probably because it is one of the earliest books I read that introduced me to the significance of symbolism in dreams is ‘Man and His Symbols’ by C.G. Jung.

As an author yourself, which of your own books are you most glad to have written?

Another difficult question! As a therapist, I think ‘Dreams, Counselling and Healing’ was an important book because I was able to put down my experience of working with clients and to show how powerful working with dreams is and to share techniques so others could use them.  My latest dream book ‘The Dream Experience: Your complete dream workshop in a book ‘, which includes a CD featuring exercises and inspirational music, is interactive and is, I hope, a guide to deepen  awareness of the creative heart of dreaming.

 Dream experience 2

You can find out more about Brenda on her website http://www.brendamallon.com/

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10 thoughts on “‘Dreams, therapy and creativity are at the heart of my work’ – in conversation with Brenda Mallon”

  1. What an interesting interview. Thank you Jenny and Brenda. I’m becoming more aware of the value of dreams and their creative use, but I have to confess that I do find it difficult to remember dreams unless they were particularly vivid. So I was impressed at how you were able to record your dreams for 6 months and use the information so effectively.

  2. Thanks for this, Jenny. I really enjoyed it, though I don’t need convincing about the power of dreams. I had a repeated dream that was as pure a distillation of despair as I ever want to know.
    But I also had a very comforting dream a couple of days after my mother died six years ago, so I know how true it is that such dreams can comfort. I say ‘dream’ to be rational, but like many of my dreams it was indistinguishable from ‘reality’ while it lasted, and in another age I might say that I saw my mother’s ghost.
    I was lying awake in bed, reading. Everything seemed completely normal. Then my mother – who, in the dream, I knew was dead – walked into the room. She looked as she did when she was about 30, and was dressed in a favourite coat which I saw her wear often. She stopped in front of the mirror and preened and admired herself for a few minutes, while I exclaimed, “Mom!” in astonishment. Then she turned and gave me the biggest, widest, happiest smile you can imagine…And that was all. But when I woke my grief for her, which had been very sharp, had eased considerably. I felt, on some level, that she had come back to tell me that everything was okay with her.
    Telling this story reminds me that both my aunt and father had similar dreams/experiences about their father when he died.

    1. Hi Sue – thank you for sharing this experience. I had a similar one myself two years after my sister died, and being quite young, I totally understood it as having seen her ghost. I’ve subsequently had this kind of dream experience after the death of my father and, most recently, my mother-in-law, and all of them have brought a deep sense of resolution. Dreams can be so powerful, as you say.

  3. Hi Jenny, I’ve just re-read this post, because I enjoyed it so much the last time. An excellent interview and summary of such an inspiring and exciting topic. Well done 🙂

  4. I also found this article helpful. I have learned to journal I guess you could say recently. I was working through Thinking Anew: Harnessing the Power of belief by Richard Quis, and I learned to write from deep inside myself. At times I would write on what I had dreamed about knowing it was obviously something in my head or I wouldn’t have dreamt it. I tell you what, once you find a way to write about yourself, it really makes a huge difference. For anyone that wants to look at Quis’ book, helpthinkinganew.com. I tell you, it really made a difference in how I write, and then helped me see myself in a whole new light! This really was an excellent post!

  5. Hi Katy – thank you for commenting. It’s amazing how empowering learning to write from your deep self can be, both in your writing and also, as you say, in your whole life. Happy journaling!

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