By Jack Travis, MFT
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 55 seconds
This is about a dream and an image. The client, Lydia, is dreaming about her youth in Mexico and when she tries to talk, worms come out of her mouth instead of words. In the dream, Lydia’s father sits and chats with his mother, Lydia’s abuela. Mother and son have sought refuge from the implacable midday Jalisco sun by setting their chairs in the shade, close to the doors that open into the bedroom where Lydia, her brother, and her sister are having their siesta.
The girl’s bedroom doors have been left ajar and the snuffling, groaning sounds of incest leak out, suspended in the parched, salt-laced ocean of summer air. Lydia’s grandmother and her father shift slightly in their elaborately carved, ladder-back chairs. Their conversational hum rises in volume, seeming to absorb sounds produced by Lydia, her younger brother, and her older sister, as each is molested in turn by their uncle.
Grandma was charged with the task of raising Lydia and her siblings. Grandma was widowed. Her property was passed to her eldest son and she was dependent on him for food and shelter. Lydia’s mom died in childbirth. Her widowed dad established himself in California and started a new family and a new life. My client Lydia, her brother, her sister, and their grandmother lived deep in the Mexican countryside. They were forced to submit to their uncle until Lydia’s older sister was 18. At 18, she walked out of the house, made it to the border. Lydia followed her and established herself as a California resident. She had two children who were 12 and 15 at the time we started therapy.
Lydia was a client who created her own inductions and readily entered into a trance. In this session, Lydia is redreaming a recurring nightmare. I ask my client if I can accompany her into the dream locale and she agrees. We are in the remains of a formal garden in front of a great, stone house. Lydia dreams about the flight. We are fleeing an unknown malignant presence. We find a way to enter the deserted storerooms that make up the basement. We cannot find safety so we move deeper into the passageways under the house. We close and bar a succession of ancient gates. Lydia says, “We’re locked in…safe…no one can get in or out.” At that moment something stirred in the darkest corner. We move closer. As our eyes grow accustomed to the gloom, we are able to see the uncle, manacled and chained to a great iron ring set in the brick wall. Lydia and her uncle look at each other. My client does not flinch and the uncle looks away. I take Lydia’s hand. “No one can get in or out,” she whispers. “I know a way,” I reply. In moments we find ourselves standing in the meadow behind the house. “Remember,” I instruct the client, “the uncle is trapped. No one can get in or out.”
I was able to utilize Lydia’s narrative to get rid of a powerful remnant of early trauma. The image of the sadistic uncle was linked to many of my client’s symptoms, most particularly her migraine headaches and her panic disorder. He was now locked in an impregnable prison. His ability to move freely in the client’s unconscious mind had come to an end.
Before our encounter with her sadistic uncle, my client was unable to read for more than ten minutes at a time. By the next session, Lydia reported that she was able to read for extended periods without discomfort. Eventually, the image of the evil uncle returned to the client’s dreams, but without the power and dynamism, it once had. The uncle was reduced to a baleful presence, like a gargoyle on a medieval church. Lydia is now free of migraines. Her panic disorder is in remission. We have terminated our therapy.
By Eric Greenleaf, Ph.D.
What lovely and respectful work, and so effective. Many therapists do not know that Dr. Erickson had a special way with dreams, much like Jack’s. Erickson instructed his patient to “Dream the same dream with the same meaning, the same emotional significance, but with a different cast of characters. This time maybe it won’t be so dark. Maybe you can see a bit more clearly. It won’t be pleasant, but maybe it won’t hurt so much. So go ahead as soon as you can and have your dream.” Jack’s presence in the dream, like Erickson’s in February Man, heals through relationship.
Jack Travis, MFT, is still working as a therapist. His wife Carol works as a realtor. They enjoy passing the trance to each other, to friends, to clients, and to family.
This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 30, Issue No. 3 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.
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