Dr. Mark Gundry is a pre-licensed psychotherapist in Portland, Oregon; here is a link to his website:
Q: What kind of educational and professional background do you have?
A: I went into graduate school a year after graduating from Wheaton College in Illinois, where I earned my BA in Philosophy, with a minor in Literature. Wheaton was a mixed experience, quite invigorating intellectually in some ways, with some lovely individuals as professors and friends, but also dominated by conservative Christian, evangelical literalism and dogmatism. After college I spent a year traveling through Turkey and both Western and Eastern Europe. Then came graduate studies in Systematic Theology, which is a sort of blend of philosophy and religious ideas, at Boston College, where I got my PhD. I wrote a dissertation for that degree on the theological and philosophical implications of psychologist Carl Jung’s practice of the symbolic life–that is, modern people paying a certain attention to dreams, imagination, and images, and working with these experiences in a kind of spiritual way. In so doing, we get linked up to mystery, quite apart from creeds and churches. This work later got published as a book, Beyond Psyche. Anyway, I thought I would eventually teach philosophy and religion at the college level, but instead found my vocation in clinical psychotherapy, and writing and photography and other creative pursuits. For my clinical training, I earned my MA in Counseling Psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute, near Santa Barbara, California. I had many life-changing experiences there and appreciated the emphasis on paying attention to your own inner life and development. Most academic psychology has lost any significant sense of the psyche and its reality. From that point on I’ve been in private practice as a therapist in Portland, Oregon.
Q: You have a very unique group therapy about dreams. What made you interested in dreams?
A: Isn’t everyone interested in dreams? Perhaps not. Or, more likely, we kill off our natural interest in the mysterious phenomenon of dreaming by brushing it off as meaningless nighttime chatter, by inundating ourselves with media, by stuffing back down the challenging gifts that our dreaming offers to our waking selves. As for my own personal history, I reached a critical point in my late 20s and ended up in the office of a psychotherapist who by chance was interested in dreams. Lo and behold my dreaming responded to his interest. I kept paper and pen on my nightstand. Page after page of rich dream imagery poured out, nearly every night for quite some time, and it was not random. It expressed my deepest feelings and difficulties more eloquently than the waking I ever could. From that time on, I’ve recorded my dreams and worked extensively with them. When you’ve had experiences like these, you need no convincing to be interested in dreams.
Q: What is the most interesting dream anyone has ever told you about?
A: It’s hard to make a judgment of most, and of course I can’t share dream material from my clients here. But let me think…. Well, once years ago a friend told me of a dream that foretold a terrible personal tragedy that actually took place the day after the dreamer dreamt it. This is interesting on many levels. It suggests (not proves) that the psyche may have a nonlinear relation to time. It was also a dreadful kind of numinosum for the dreamer. In other words, in the presence of such a dream, when the dreamer shares it with full emotion, we come in contact with something beyond our usual horizon of meaning. The hair stands up on your neck. That sort of dream is provocative. By and large, on the other hand, I think the not-so-big dreams are important to pay attention to. Our day-to-day emotional undercurrents get worked in dreams.
Q: Why do you think people always want to tell other people about their dreams?
A: We’re always dreaming, even when awake. It’s happening in the background. Images and affects are moving around and trying to give shape to all of the stuff that comes at us, either from within or without. When an actual night dream is recalled, the waking self feels connected to this ever-moving realm of the unconscious psyche. Something of great worth has been retrieved, and it’s natural to want to share this. Too bad we don’t have many venues in which to share our dreams; too bad lots of people don’t want or know how to hold a good space for a friend to share a dream.
Q: What do you think of vivid dreams; are they possible?
A: Yes, they do happen, though not often to me. A vivid or lucid dream is one in which the dream self becomes aware that he or she is dreaming, and is able to exert some agency within the dream. This is fascinating, because it shows that there are multiple ways of being aware as a human being. There is a wakeful dreaming, for instance. I haven’t tried to train myself to do this. I don’t really want my waking self to direct the flow of dreaming. I like the dream to be the voice of an other within, a mysterious dreamer who dreams the dream, to use psychoanalyst James Grotstein’s terms. I’m not interested in assigning more power to consciousness. Many of us these days have plenty of that already.
Q: To what theories of psychology do you ascribe?
A: I’ve focused my reading and training on a few streams of psychology. I’ve read a lot of Carl Jung and the contemporary Jungians. Also certain psychoanalytic thinkers such as Harry Stack Sullivan and his interpersonal psychiatry, or Donald Winnicott who linked psychopathology with an inability to play, or Wilfred Bion who developed the symbol O to indicate a mysterious, transcendent presence that accompanies psychic life, or Ronald Fairbairn who identified the inner saboteur that attacks us from inside. The upshot of all of it, clinically, brings focus and importance to the mysterious relationship between therapist and patient, and to the ways that this relationship stimulates psychological development, or as Jung put it, the individuation of the person. The therapeutic relationship becomes a kind of vessel in which things happen, over time, hopefully resulting in a more lively engagement of self, other, and cosmos.
Q: In your experience what is the most common repressed desire expressed in dreams?
A: Classically, these repressed desires were seen as forbidden sexual and aggressive wishes. Freud developed the notion that dreams simultaneously reveal and hide such wishes from the waking self. I don’t generally ascribe to this view, but have seen dreams that fit this pattern. On their seagoing voyage together to Clark University in Massachusetts for a conference, Freud and Jung shared their dreams and free associations. This caused tension, eventually, since according to Jung Freud felt his paternal authority threatened, and the tension presaged their infamous breakup later on. Here you see aggressive feelings playing out between father (Freud) and son (Jung).
Q: I am a chronic day dreamer how can I be helped?
A: Sorry, there is no known treatment for your condition. I am kidding. Actually, this reminds me that my second grade teacher wrote on my report card that I day-dreamed a lot and stared out the window. I think some people daydream a lot because so-called real life seems dull and uninspiring, and entry into the day dream promises some relief from endless hours sitting in a cubicle, staring at a screen in a job one hates, for instance. The day dream offers a release from the banality of life and offers entry into a limitless horizon. In this way, day-dreaming can promote more meaningful living. This only becomes a problem when a person can’t incarnate any of these waking fantasies. Work to bring a few of them into existence, and chronic day-dreaming becomes creative fantasy.
Q: Are there any sorts of dreams that indicate psychosis; if so what are they?
A: Well yes and no, or not exactly, or necessarily–no particular types or images. I find that dream images are very particular to the dreamer, to the setting in which the dream is told, and to the relationship with the person one tells the dream to. On the other hand, some dreams have a psychotic feel. When I sit with one of those dreams, the atmosphere changes, and there is a felt sense of what are called primitive anxieties in the psychoanalytic literature. These anxieties affect the basic structure and experience of being a person and may threaten to destroy the individual’s sense of going on existing as an intact person in the world.
It’s disturbing to sit with such dreams. One common theme is fragmentation. Blown to bits, in pieces, ripped apart, blanked out, dismembered. Awareness itself fragments in the presence of dreadful, psychotic fragmentation. It’s actually arduous simply to focus. It is the presence of the unthinkable–literally, what can’t be thought or what feels like if I think it, I will break apart. But it’s just then that a dream can become a gift. Say that therapist and client can sit together and feel the presence of these dreadful things together, maybe imagine them, circumambulate them together a few times, and then, the warmth of the human gets to come in, and maybe the person stuck in the psychotic sector of personality has a rope to hold onto, and maybe will decide to come back into life.
It’s important to note that normal people have a psychotic sector too, or so I speculate, along the lines laid out by thinkers such as Michael Eigen from the Wilfred Bion stream, or Nathan Schwartz-Salant from the Jungian stream. At certain developmental crises or traumas, for example, a reasonably adapted and sane character might be prone to going a bit mad for a time. Or certain relational conflicts will spark a mad part of the person’s psyche to step forward. The grappling with this chaos factor can help form an individual and also deform. It’s as though we orbit around the alchemical black sun and inevitably get hurt, or killed, sometimes at the very same time we come into being in transformed ways. Alchemically, we can speak of the Spirit of Mercury (Mercurius) and its destructive and creative operations. Symbolic systems such as alchemy or religions or spiritual practices are speaking in images about the unseen factors that animate the developmental processes of life. These factors constitute the psyche as an animated and animating force. In the older usage the psyche is psychotic, yet only some people develop psychotic types of pathologies, which likely grow out of biological vulnerability, trauma, and interpersonal disturbances.
Q: Let’s say it were possible to pick a favorite dream and live inside of it for the rest of one’s life. Do you think most people would choose their dream or their reality? Why?
A: Who knows? Maybe it depends on temperament. Some are more oriented to this world, the concrete, and others are oriented to a dreamtime reality of one sort or another. Like I’ve hinted, the point of depth psychology would be for the individual to hold the tension of the dream, on the one hand, and concrete reality with all its limitations, on the other. Out of holding this tension you can hope for a symbol to come and help you put bones and flesh on your dream. Collapse towards one pole or another, dreamtime or concrete reality, and you may escape suffering the anxiety of being a human being, but you also lose the chance to become a human being who mediates deeper energies in the course of his or her individuation as a person.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)