A synopsis by Robert A. Neimeyer on the process of Dreamscaping.

To cite:  Neimeyer, R. A. & Neimeyer, J.  (2019).  Dreamscaping as meaning reconstruction: Recovering a father from the shadow of suicide in Gershman, N. & Thompson, B. E.  (Authors & Eds.) Prescriptive memories in grief and loss: The art of dreamscaping.  New York: Routledge.

THE GOAL OF THE DREAMSCAPING INTERVIEW is to accept any negatively valenced account of the loss or the deceased without disputation or elaboration, simply noting any discomfort implicit or explicit in the story as a starting place for its reconstruction. Then, by prompting memories of the deceased person’s valued characteristics and highly charged positive stories of their relationship to the interviewee, the interviewer elicits vividly recalled episodes, anchored in imagery and sensory detail, which tend to trigger a chain of affirming associations. These images then serve as resources for the later construction of a photomontage that pulses with positive energy and anchors an emotional truth regarding what was unique and special in the loved one, and his or her life with the interviewee.

IN THE SECOND STEP OF THE DREAMSCAPING PROCESS, the memory artist and client brainstorm about the material elicited in the interview, which is recorded, transcribed and shared to permit review by both parties.  The goal of this phase is to identify what narrative therapists would refer to as a preferred story that resists the monolithic “colonizing” influence of the dominant story (White & Epston, 1990)… To work, the new story needs to be anchored in the client’s emotional truth, not constructed in a whole-cloth fashion from wishful thinking or mere “positive reframing” of a traumatic past.  However, the contributions of playful conjecture, fantasy and make-believe are invited to add action, symbolic elements and relational connections that might not have been literally juxtaposed in any actual memory, provided the scenario is coherent, with elements working together to create a teachable moment worth preserving.  The object is to construct consensus around a scene that has sufficient novelty, comedic intelligence and artful “mismatches” with the remembered reality to light up the emotional brain of the viewer, and particularly the client.”

IN THE CREATION AND FEEDBACK PHASE, the memory artist locates actors in a real or mythical environment; places people, pets and objects; and juxtaposes familiar elements in unfamiliar ways. The client then reviews the composition and subsequent revisions for positive emotional valence, and an absence of immediate negative associations.   Memory artist and client trouble-shoot, re-tool and fine-tune the image as modification is one of the most important parts of the process, where the dreamers really begin to own their prescriptive memory.’  The final dreamscape product then ‘restores what was lost,’ (or never found), ‘creating a tangible “new memory” and creating a “good news script” one is eager to share.”

IN SUMMARY, “as often happens with a dreamscape initially crafted to facilitate meaning reconstruction for an individual,” the process  in a larger family system can broaden and deepen the work, “fostering healing dialogues between living persons as well as recovery of a cherished connection with the dead. Moreover … although positive emotion [is] clearly consolidated in the initial interview and resulting imagery, a deconstructive reading of the resulting images [is] also accessible, which acknowledges the darker as well as brighter moments in a substantially shared history. Like chiaroscuro in the art of drawing and painting, this balancing of light and shade adds further dimensionality and realism to the work, and invites a more subtle appreciation of its layers of meaning.
“IN SHORT, DREAMSCAPING helps correct the imbalance that arises in psychotherapy when it is seen simply as the “talking cure.”  As therapists we often have a hugely developed left hemispheric focus on language, and arguably conventional therapies play heavily to that, while ignoring the healing possibilities of the right, more visual and emotional hemisphere.  I think of dreamscaping as the corpus callosum of psychotherapy:  It joins the brain’s hemispheres to make more integrated reconstruction of memories in bereavement possible.  As a therapeutic method dreamscapes evoke a powerful visual intelligence that complements the power of spoken narrative in the service of building and consolidating reliable resources to promote healing from trauma and loss.”
Credit: Robert A. Neimeyer's dreamscape photomontage by Nancy Gershman