Body Symptoms and Illness

Back in the 1970s when Arny Mindell was a Jungian analyst working with dreams he discovered that body experiences are mirrored in dreams. He called this the dreambody. Just as we dream about unconscious or lesser known parts of ourselves in night-time visions and symbols, somatic experiences also contain images and feelings which represent more of who we are. In his ground-breaking book, Working with the Dreaming Body, Mindell describes how he discovered the dream-body connection working with a man who had a stomach tumor. The man identified himself as a rather quiet person who did not express his feelings much. During their work together, as he amplified the energy he felt in the tumor, he described it as an explosion. He suddenly recalled a dream he had recently had, in which he had an incurable disease and the cure for it was a bomb. His physical experience of exploding was mirrored in the symbol of the bomb. Thus, the idea of the dreambody was born.

Process Work has a variety of methods to amplify and unfold painful and disturbing body symptoms, which reveal new experiences and useful information for the client. By connecting more directly with the energy of the symptom, the individual will often feel relief from the symptom itself, if not, surely a different relationship to her body experience or illness. The idea is that the body is dreaming and that our body experiences are being used as a way for us to explore more of who we are.

So, what does a session working with a body symptom look like? It will look as unique as the individual. But let's view a case example to get a sense of one person's experience.

Ann has come to me complaining about stomach cramps, a common symptom that can be related to a number of ailments. Clients should be encouraged to consult with a doctor about their symptoms and illnesses. From a process work perspective, in addition to exploring the medical causes and cures, we also want to understand the dreaming experience of her stomach cramps. Here is a snippet of our interaction.

D: How do you experience your cramps?
A: They feel like something is holding me from the inside.
She pushes her hand into her stomach and makes a grabbing, claw-like motion.

We then use movement to amplify the claw-like, grabbing motions. We take a pillow and she shows me how she creates the cramp on the pillow as if it were her body. Then she shows me how strong that hold is and grabs my arm. She is holding my arm pretty tightly.

D: That is a really strong grab.
A: Yeah, that's what it feels like.
D: Stay with that feeling and as you do see if you can also get into the mindset of that energy, the one who has that amazing claw and can grab so powerfully. (Ann's grip strengthens and her face is resolute, her eyes intent.)

D: I love your grip. You won't let go of anything will you?
A: Nope, I will never let go, never. You can try to go, but I won't let you go.

Suddenly, Ann tears up and says, "That's the problem, I always let go." She then reveals her relationship history of partners and friends whom she has left. Relationships get close and she fears she will be rejected, so she lets go. Her dreaming body is presenting a new pattern; a part of herself that holds on and expresses her need and love for people.

Process Work with illness does not replace medical intervention. Medical procedures, care, and medicine are incorporated into the general approach and care of the client.

Books on Process Work with the Body and Symptoms
Mindell, Arnold, Working with the Dreaming Body, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985.
Practical and accessible, describing a process work approach to body symptoms and dreams.

Mindell, Arnold, Dreambody: The Body's Role in Revealing the Self, Santa Monica, CA: Sigo Press, 1982.
Reprint, Portland, Oregon: Lao Tse Press, 1998. Connects somatic experiences to mythical material and dreams.

Mindell, Arnold, The Shaman's Body, San Francisco: Harper, 1993
Connects Process Work to shamanism and body experiences

Goodbread, Joe, The Dreambody Toolkit, Portland, OR: 1997
Offers basic tools to work with dreambody experiences.

Mindell, Arnold. The Quantum Mind and Healing: How to Listen and Respond to your Body's Symptoms. Charlottesville, Virginia: Hampton Roads, 2004.
Connecting psychology, biology and physics. Provides awareness training for all those interested in life sciences.

Morin, Pierre. Symptoms, Dreaming and Society: Process-oriented Symptom Work as a New Approach to Illness and Disease. The Journal of Process Oriented Psychology. Volume 8, 2001.
Discusses how the process work paradigm is supported by recent scientific research.

Select One of the Following:
Body Symptoms and Illness
Relationship and Couple's Work
Family Work
Extreme States of Consciousness (so-called Psychiatric diagnoses)
Comatose and Non-Verbal States of Consciousness
Working with Children and Teens
Group and Organizational Facilitation