What Do Therapists Dream About?

I found myself in my office. A couple of men walked past, removing the metal file cabinets full of patient records.

Names, birthdates, and notes. All the descriptions and observations, what they said, the way they said it. Outsized lives crammed into tiny words, into pages crammed into files, into hardened enclosures requiring a key for the locks.

People of emotion and disappointment and heartbreak. Joy and progress, too. Jobs, romance, decisions errant and expert. Fathers and grandparents and lovers, hellos and goodbyes.

Precious, each one.

The laborers put the compacted, enclosed cases of cases on handcarts. My efficient and conscientious office manager stared.

“What’s happening, Lynette?” No words. The men worked on.

I was close to retirement. I knew I wouldn’t be in the clinic for long, nor seeing patients and taking notes. Not looking into their eyes and hearing their laughter. Not buying more tissues to catch their tears.

I stopped the men. I told them to retrieve the paper mountains and put them in place.

They did.

Interpretations anyone? Many possibilities. Here’s one.

These records were not the lives of my clients, but the material evidence of the caravan of humanity passing my way. If lives were lines on a graph, my time with them would be like the point of intersection between their lifeline and mine.

When our contact was productive, the trajectory of their path changed.

They’d touched me and, for some, vice versa. The sheaves were the remnants of my vocation to help, enlighten, and open them to a new life: rewrite the words to their story.

No one else had the same relationship with them when I did. Now, no one else could read their tale without their permission.

Why did I have this dream as the pandemic closed in?

Did the workmen represent a virus-like invasion? Was my defensive stance a symbol for the protection of my family, friends, and all the ones I loved?

Did I fear the virus sweeping them away, as the blue-collar workers intended with pushcarts and trucks?

An old teaching cliche applies to dream divination: there are no right or wrong answers. Someone else, perhaps, will compile a book of COVID-19 sleep-befogged meanings.

Dream interpretation is like listening to a recitation of religious scripture. No two people hear the same message, as if the words, their order, and the language change while floating in the air.

The viral moment persuades me that if we lived a life of infinite length, we would also live every possible life, dream all dreams, meet every person, and write all the books that shall ever be written and read.

The full moon woke me, seemingly summoned to dispel the nightmare and enchant the night. Better to conjure sweet silent dreams than my professional dystopia. No witches and warlocks and werewolves. No cabinets spirited away by strangers.

Let me craft what is possible on our now slumbering globe: dreams of action and improvement, agency and creation.

Join me.

Daniel Burnham said, “Make no small plans.”


The top image is described as Logistics of Watsons Distilled Water, 12 Bottles in Yau Ma Tei Nathan Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong. It is the work of Leideomangeos.

The second image is the Lorry of a Paper Shredding Company, 2006. It was taken on March 24, 2006 in Central London by Edward.

Both are sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

17 thoughts on “What Do Therapists Dream About?

  1. There is one definite benefit to the Covid-19 quarantine…you are back to posting weekly essays! Thank you, they are treasures and treasured.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. I try to envision how you felt as those file cabinets filled with records of all the patients you have treated, were wheeled out. It reminds me of my last day on the job, saying goodbye to patients whom I assisted in meeting their life’s goals, and the bewilderment and great emotion that struck me on that day. I dreamt for months that I was on the outside of the agency looking in, and I never could pass beyond the barrier. With this virus, I had a dream of a similar theme, but it regarded a place that we love but cannot visit and photograph, and may not be able to visit until there is a vaccine. We miss it, but we cannot complain when people are dying, the front line workers are risking their lives, and people have lost their jobs. At least we are safe at home.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Right on target, Nancy. The helplessness of it all evokes much emotion. We have no choice but to embrace what we can’t change and take charge of what we can. Glad you and your husband are safe.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. A virus, and a lockdown like this, signifies loss. And in particular, loss of control. Huge changes that nobody chooses. So that could have set the scene for the rest of the dream.
    Reading your notes, I felt the significance of them, and how that represents the careful respect, the love even, for each life penned on those sheets of paper in the filing cabinets. Maybe it’s like a cherished soft toy that represents a child’s caregiver at such a time as they’re parted – like at bedtime or to nursery. You’ve parted with all those lives and perhaps their notes are unconsciously a transferral object to you?
    It also reminded me of my assignments completed during my nursing training. They’re in a box in my loft because I remember completing every single one of them, the blood, sweat and tears! And I want to keep them. Are they of any practical use to me now? Of course not – they WERE, once upon a time, but their use has gone. However what is left is like an invisible medal to me; a type of monument. Perhaps the content of these filing cabinets are your monument too.
    Thus endeth the interpretation. 😂

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are a wonderful psychologist as well as a nurse, LovingSummer! I’d add to your masterful interpretation, that the act of stopping the removal of the files and the ending quotation can be understood as an effort to reestablish control. Thanks for taking on the challenge. A+

      Liked by 2 people

      • 😂 Thank you kind sir! It’s been a while since I was awarded top marks even if it is a virtual A+, maybe there’s life in the old dog yet, hey?!


      • You are welcome. Your own writing suggests much life and the possibility of delight in that life. Be well, LovingSummer.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You are very kind with your words. I hope you are right! 🤞🏼 Stay well too.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. gb fragmented gumdrops

    Dr. S, thank you so much for sharing your dream with us. I’ve had some strange dreams and nightmares and flashbacks and intrusive thoughts for the past few months, and I’ve done a lot of reflecting on those things with my therapist. It’s interesting how you interpreted your dream. First, it is important that you attempt to interpret your dream, to see what your first impression of that dream is. But second, it is also important to ask for feedback, like how you opened it up to our interpretations as well, because our defenses can (I’m guessing) be in our own interpretation of our dreams??!!

    The therapeutic process is such that there are these mounds of baggage that clients come into the room with. The therapist records, understand, and helps their clients deal with such baggage – in hopes that the baggage will one day be discarded by the client, though it would appear that the baggage has been reflected in those notes all those years. The discarding of those patient files – or their baggage – might be a good thing, insofar that you have once helped many clients discard their baggage, but their baggage nonetheless weighed on you, their listener, their teacher, their helper, and their healer, all these years. You helped some come to recovery, and you helped some get to certain places within their recovery. While your clients release such baggage, especially in crises moments like this pandemic, you were there to hold on to their baggage for them – in the form of notes, and treatments for them based on such active listening techniques. To see yourself letting go of that baggage may represent your own healing during your own crisis – a crisis that you now share with your former clients and the rest of this world – something that is rarely shared in therapeutic settings between a client and their therapist. Not only are you concerned about your clients, but you, along with your clients, are letting go of the added baggage, in hopes to deal with the present situation at hand – our needs to survive this pandemic – both physically and mentally.

    Your reaction to this dream – you said dream, not nightmare – appeared to be a strong yet humbled reaction – one that isn’t riddled with too much anxiety, but just enough anxiety to create pause. This shows your strength and your willingness to explore any defenses, any unconscious wishes or thoughts or fears holding you back from the next level of growth that you’ve yet to experience. You’ve spent a lifetime helping, giving, teaching, training, listening, caring, treating, and healing others, but now is your chance to also be helped along with others struggling the same, be given to, be taught, be trained, be heard, be cared for, be treated, and be healed. “We’re all in this together,” is a common statement heard among the masses in this pandemic, and after repeated priming and exposure, I can see how it gets filtered through our unconscious. I have no idea what Freud or Beck would say, as it has been a while since I’ve studied them. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on putting theory to your own dream interpretation.

    Indeed, there are many ways you can interpret your dream. Because you often look at the positive (and appreciate the stoic), I thought I’d try to do the same when interpreting what that dream must have meant for you – by being positive and somewhat stoic.

    On the other hand, it’s okay to cry, to fear, to deal with the stages of grief – the kind of “unconventional grief” that is felt when loss is not easily seen, but is nonetheless tangible enough. Change of any kind may mean loss, but it also may mean gain as well. Still, whenever change happens, there’s a grief process – I would imagine like the five stages of grief that people who are in bereavement go through.

    The questions to ask yourself is this: What changes have occurred in your life since this pandemic? How do you feel about the changes in your life? Do you see such changes as losses, gains, or both? How are you processing the perceived losses? Are you in denial? Are you angry? Are you depressed? Are you bargaining? Are you accepting? Are you a mixture of any and all, and in different orders? How do you typically deal with change? Is there a pattern that you see yourself when dealing with change in the past to this new crisis-like change in the present age of the pandemic? What emotions do you feel? What thoughts are connected with such emotions? What “triggers” are there that bring about the thoughts and related emotions? What adaptive coping skills can be utilized to deal with the thoughts and their related emotions? Is it okay to have a shoulder to cry on? Is it okay to fear, or show concern, in a meaningful way? How do we balance all that without going “off the deep end”?

    I don’t want anything to happen to anyone I know. I want us all to be safe. I don’t want to lose anyone. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to be retraumatized. I don’t want anyone to be traumatized. I don’t want to be victimized. I don’t want anyone to be victimized. I want us all to survive. I do not wish PTSD on anyone, though I have a feeling that there will be an increase in PTSD cases – especially among front-line workers comprising healthcare professionals, delivery professionals, grocery store professionals, truck drivers, law enforcement, fire and rescue, some members of the armed forces, some researchers working with biohazards, paramedics and EMT professionals, janitors, garbage collectors, those who have lost their jobs and homes, those who are incarcerated and feeling trapped, those who have lost a loved one to Covid-19, those who have dealt with racism during this pandemic, etc. I suffer enough with my own PTSD, but I cannot imagine the pain of those who have never had any mental illness until six months after a vaccine has been created – which is about the onset of PTSD *after* a trauma. I’m sure we’re all dealing with some levels of acute trauma or, if not considered traumatic, then acute stress. I’m sure some may feel betrayed, whereas others feel like this is just par for the course of life. It’s interesting how many different people experience and interpret the same phenomeon.

    I pray. That’s all I can do is pray. I self-quarantine. I clean. I watch some shows online. I read a little. I converse with some people by phone and online. I speak with my therapist weekly. I call the hotline number (sometimes multiple hotlines) when i’m in panic mode. But I’m dealing with this the best way I know how. I can’t remember my nightmares. I can recall bits and pieces. I can hear the inner people, and I can feel myself outside of myself when someone else takes over to help me with chores because my hands are so raw from overly washing them. But I pray and hold onto some hope while I’m living, and if anything should happen to me if I pass. I’m not yet ready to write my advance directive yet. I will eventually, but not this week. I just want to make sure that I am in a better place before doing that. I wasn’t ready for middle age, so I certainly wasn’t ready for any of this. I cannot escape the nightmare because it’s with me when I’m awake and when I sleep. My dream is constant.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Your gift of thoughtful consideration of this writer is gratefully accepted! Thank you, glb. You’ve offered anyone who reads this much food for thought on their own struggles, too.

      Liked by 2 people

      • gb fragmented gumdrops

        🙂 Thank you, Dr. S. My intention was to respond to you and to offer hope for the rest of us, as well. I am still struggling and having panic attacks with some intermittent dissociation. I can’t wait to speak to my therapist. She’s like my lifeline, though I’m trying to build my support network. It’s hard though.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You fulfilled your intention. Glad you are hard at work!

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Dr. Stein, thanks for sharing your dream and self-interpretation with us. I like the imagery of records of our special connections being carted away. A perfect analogy of what this virus is doing to us. Though we have been forced to self-isolate, we have the power to say “no” to cutting our connections with others–to “stopp[ing] the men,” as described in your dream.

    The virus reminds us that we are a social species, connected with each other across borders. We are all in this together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As you, in particular, will appreciate, even those who don’t acknowledge our shared humanity, are tied to us: a terrible irony. Thank you, Rosaliene

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s