By Gila Ofer

Social Dreaming Matrix

First posted 6/4/2017

A method for working with dreams invented by Gordon Lawrence (Lawrence, 1998).

Social Dreaming Matrix emphasizes the social aspect of dreams. Throughout history, people met to share their dreams and learn how to use them to guide and inform their lives. We dream about important initiatory experiences from birth to death, to make sense of waking.  Freud called them ‘the royal road to the unconscious’ (Freud, 1900).

The key evidence that led to the formulation of social dreaming matrix as invented by Gordon Laurence was gathered through a reading of Charlottte Beradt’s Third Reich of Dreams (1968).  Charlotte Beradt collected during the Third Reich dreams of Jewish citizens in Germany.  Through a network of doctors, whom she asked to elicit dreams in the course of their diagnoses of patients, she was able to piece together the dreams that they were dreaming but could not give voice to. What emerges is a horrific story. People dreamt of the fate that was to befall them. While in daily life they thought they could resist, their dreams told them otherwise.  This was clear example that dreaming and dreams can voice concerns of a social nature.  The dreamers dreamt dreams that were way beyond narcissistic concerns and were speaking to what was happening to them socially in the culture of the society.

Social dreaming matrix can be as much a part of contemporary life as it always was. In it, participants are invited to share the dreams they had in the previous nights or weeks while everyone is encouraged to provide associations for these dreams, to let them sail throughout the room seeking resonance, and to witness how dreams create images which reveal something about social processes. The idea is not to claim ownership of the dream, but to let it make its own way, meeting other dreams and the associations of the other participants (Lawrence, 1998). ‘Matrix’ is a place out of which something grows but is also referring to the network of ‘all individual mental processes’ (Foulkes and Anthony, 1965: 26).  There is a sense of the most primordial of communication including feelings and nonverbal cues.   Dreams in the matrix inevitably initiate conversations: one dream leading to another, creating associations, enabling participants to bring dreams from the infinite, recognizing them as a source of creativity and meaning available for their daily life. In a Social Dreaming Matrix the focus is on the dream and not the dreamer.

Dreaming and dreams are the currency of the matrix and not the relationships among participants. In this aspect, SDM is unlike the model of dream telling as thought by Friedman (Frideman, 2008). Issues of transference and countertransference are not meant to be part of the SDM.  The reasoning is that if transference issues are addressed directly in the ‘here and now, of the matrix, the dreaming would be robbed of this material.  In actuality, once transference issues are voiced in a dream any participant can point to them.  It is not the transference to the takers of the matrix that is important but rather to authority figures in-the-mind that are given flesh in the dreams.  (‘Takers’ are chosen as the name for the conveners of the matrix in preference to ‘consultants’.)

Social dreaming helps us understand the processes taking place in the context of a certain organization or even that of society at large. As each dream has a personal as well as a social aspect, the individual dreams for herself, but also for a group, an organization or a society. (As Bion spoke of thoughts looking for a thinker, Lawrence mentioned dreams looking for a dreamer).

Our post-Freudian culture makes it difficult for people not to consider dreams exclusively in terms of latent wishes and intimate thoughts and many find it hard to adjust to this manner of working with dreams. One must forget what one knows, or thinks she knows, about dreams, must leave behind her theoretical framework and her traditional ways of working with dreams and enter open-mindedly into a different kind of play: play in Winnicottian sense of the word (Winnicott, 1971).

As the dreams, rather than dreamers, are the focus, each dream returns to its dreamer through someone else’s dream. One must learn how to surrender one’s control and allow oneself to be surprised by new discoveries. The metaphor of a ‘casual tourist’ in the dreaming space is quite suitable here (Lawrence and Biran, 2009). When one can accept this state of affairs, the social dream actually liberates us from the need to delve into our personal biography and enables to leave and return in a different path.

While its chief purpose is not therapeutic, the Social Dreaming Matrix is, nevertheless, therapeutically valuable. The richness of its perspectives, the act of listening to other people’s dreams, the abundance of associations – all these help the individual relinquish her control and her prominence and reach a different kind of depth.

I will conclude with an example taken from such a Matrix. I hosted this particular Social Dreaming Matrix in Estonia, at a conference about treating difficult patients (Border-line, personality disorders, patients with cancer, patients with criminal records, etc.). The participants were mostly Estonians and Russians. One should keep in mind that the Baltic Estonia was occupied by Soviet Russia. Stalin had meant to settle it with Russians, who were sent there in their hundreds of thousands; for many years, the only official language was Russian. When Estonia gained its independence, about ten years ago, this Russian population found itself trapped – abandoned by “Mother Russia”. The official language was changed to Estonian and these people became even more confined. One should also keep in mind that the Estonians are a very peaceful people and their struggle for independence was conducted through song, rather than armed revolt.

Here are some of the dreams brought into the matrix on the first day:

Dream One: A party with many people dancing, but set in the middle-ages. All the people dancing taught us a well-known dance: everyone should have a magic wand, made of wood. The magic is that inside the wand there is a magnetic wire. We are supposed to gather together, holding our wands to create a culture of skirts. The wands change color so that they are black on the inside and red on the outside.

Dream Two: A dream about Cinderella. The scenery is beautiful; much more so than any ordinary landscape. The wind is very strong. At the center of the field there is a female figure. It is difficult to be there, but I’m hoping that things will turn out for the best. Suddenly, a boy appears, holding a magic wand. The woman says: We’re going to have a new government.

Dream three: I am looking for a nicer home.

Dream four: I am looking for a house with my late mother, a house for everyone. She always said we were living in the wrong house.

Dream Five: This dream also seems to take place in the middle-ages, in a fortress. There’s a kitchen with some kind of altar. Four or five people are preparing a meal: Diced chicken, peas and potato casserole. There’s plenty to eat. Suddenly there’s a dead body on the floor. We are afraid. We saw hunters come in and take the body, they said it was a mistake.

Dream Six: I was working at a morgue, starting to peel off the layers of a body. It wasn’t at all scary. It was interesting.

It is apparent that the dreams shared so far have quite a few common elements: the magic wand, the other-worldly atmosphere, something extra-temporal, losing one’s way, women with skirts or Cinderella. I suggested the feeling that Estonia has a feminine culture for which men may act as saviors but may also be very dangerous and corrupt and one never knows whether to wait for them or not.

The working assumption (interpretation in the matrix) related to that there is a lot of food of a very particular kind (dreams). The peeling is also that of the different layers of the unconscious. Beyond this the common element is the feeling that something bad is happening in the country; the house is unsafe. People are afraid that what happened in Russia will happen here as well (fear of Putin). The women want power and receive it through a process in which they have to learn not to wait for a male partner, to count less on men and more on their relations with the group and themselves as society.

Working through or interpreting dreams takes place in an area of play. The Social Dreaming Matrix teaches us the degree to which the dream is an extended invitation to observe, study and play, rather than to restrict ourselves to interpretation and the search for a definite, precise meaning. It has the potential of making manifest the hidden knowledge that is present in systems – the ‘unthought known’ (Bollas, 1987) revealing issues that are in-a-way known, but have previously not been able to be thought about. The difficulty lies in staying long enough with the unknown, the enigmatic, the vague and the mysterious.

Social dream Matrix is usually followed by Social Dialogue and Reflection. In the Social dialogue and reflection the focus is on thinking about the dreams and what they reveal about the shared context: social, political, organizational, and human.

To conclude: The personal and the social are interwoven at every stage of the dream’s life: from the mind’s nocturnal operation and the psyche’s private experiences to the social nature of such mental processes as perception, memory, thought and imagination; the personal, the interpersonal and the social/cultural are interlaced and mutually dependent. Society is situated at the very center of the psyche. It is fascinating to behold the dream as a manifestation of all these realms, the most intimate private, the relational and the social context.


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