Healing Dreamscapes involve both a PROCESS (Intake, Brainstorming with the client; Photo Search; Creation and Sharing) and a PRODUCT (a storytelling photomontage) for healing loss and regrets. I custom-create these fine art photomontages to visualize a “preferred story” or positive self-belief story that the client and I come up with together. The photomontage then becomes a tangible visualization of hope. For example, for those who are grieving a loss, I re-purpose photos – which at one time had happier associations but which are now calcified in sadness – into a visualization of a next step in achieving a once shared dream. The Healing Dreamscape narrates this brave next step, by depicting the deceased as a supportive presence instead of an absent supporter.
Filled with positive symbols, metaphors and sensory images which speak to their emotional brain, the Healing Dreamscape aims to shift our thinking, helping us look beyond our negative filter. Seeing it each day becomes an instrumental way for my client to practice being the new people they can be.
Making these custom-created, meaning-laden pieces of artwork is a 5-step process that depends upon provocative questions and consensus-building. The 5 steps are: Intake, Brainstorming, Photo Search, Creation and Sharing.
Step 1: Intake & Photo Review. The client flips through personal photographs, introducing the main characters of their preferred story and the circumstances of their loss or regrets, while also describing current challenges and hopes for the future. Throughout, I ask the client to elaborate on their sense-impressions, a process that provides rich visual detail. If appropriate, I inquire into any past trauma (either a “Big T” trauma or a “Little T” slight or negligence aimed at my client before they had developed the coping skills to deal with it). I’ll ask:
- “Tell me everything you loved about your mother. Tell me stories about how she changed you while she was alive.”
- “Describe where your Healing Dreamscape will sit in your house or in your office.”
- “Do you come from a particular ethnic or faith tradition?”
- “Did your child have a good sense of humor? What kind?”
- Was she devout, or not at all?
- “Where do you think your loved one is now?
- “Tell me about their favorite places, songs, things to wear or eat.”
Step 2: Brainstorming. After hearing the client’s story of loss/regrets, the client and I jointly determine whether the Dreamscape should represent a Preferred Future or Preferred Legacy. Using directed questions, I probe for the Dreamscape’s players, props and setting, and its intended audience. The overarching question that informs the selection of images is: what photos best portray the deceased as the client wants this person to be remembered?
Step 3: Photo Search. The aim is to engage the client in helping the memory artist to find additional images that will resolve some of the challenges identified in Step 2, the Brainstorming Phase. I typically ask the client to find me the most precious picture they have of the subject; the picture they always carry on them; the photo stuck on the refrigerator or in a nightable drawer. It can be a current photo or one taken years ago. The important part is that it captures the essence of our subject.
Step 4: Dreamscape Creation. After collecting key anecdotes as well as personal photos (ones that particularly resonate) and repurpose them, combining them with whimsical elements (new backdrops and meaningful objects) to transform them in a positive way. I use photo manipulation software to digitally alter the photographs. The memory artist’s task is now to produce a photomontage that reflects the positive themes that surfaced in previous steps by surveying the final photo selections and reviewing the key memories for which there are no photographs. The final assemblage of the beta product is done by me, with input from the client.
Check your email for the mock-up “I create a rough of the Dreamscape and email it to you.It will contain all the imagery we want to use but the cut out lines won’t be neat, the colors won’t be saturated and light and shadow won’t be in yet. This is the time to tell me which elements are working for you and which are not.”
Step 5: Sharing Phase. The griever now has ownership of the completed Dreamscape as well as a transcript of all recorded conversations (made by the memory artist) taking place during the Healing Dreamscape process. Sharing is often bi-directional – with the client sharing thoughts with the prescriptive artist, followed by the artist volunteering his or her own interpretations or intentions. Sharing also extends to the home and community, with the client sharing the piece with loved ones, friends, acquaintances, or family members, discussing its meaning, and in doing so, making some unexpected discoveries. Such sharing tends to open dialogue about the human being who was lost, rather than about the loss itself. It encourages others to ask the griever questions about the loved one and to share stories about the loved one’s legacy, which can be a key part of the grieving process (Walter, 1996). Above all, the client begins to view the Dreamscape as a way to find a new role for themselves which pays homage to their loved one.
Not only do these visualized stories feel attainable, but shared with family and friends they launch a second round of healing, and then a third round of healing as a client’s own profound words are read back to them from transcripts made throughout the Healing Dreamscape process.