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History of Dreamwork in     Switzerland
Dream Research in Switzerland
Dream Groups in Switzerland
Dream Workers in Switzerland
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A History of Dreamwork in Switzerland   Select for German
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Earliest Dream Cave Painting




























Dreaming in Switzerland
Art Funkhouser and Christoph Gassmann

Historical background

Switzerland is a relatively small, land-locked country in the center of western Europe and, yet, I believe one can safely say that the world's knowledge of dreams has been heavily influenced by a number of important thinkers here. It is hoped the following brief chronicle provides some orientation in what has transpired and been achieved over the years.

Since they had no written language, one can only speculate what attitudes early Helvetic tribes had towards dreams and their interpretation. During the Roman occupation of what is now Switzerland, one supposes some mixture of Celtic (Druidic?) and Roman practice prevailed. Later on, during the so-called Dark Ages and early Middle Ages, dream work became forbidden in Roman Catholic Europe (described in Morton T. Kelsey, God, Dreams and Revelation, 1991) and soon only professional churchmen were considered qualified for deciding if a dream was divine or earthly in origin.

This did not stop various dream interpretation manuals from being produced and sold, particularly in the late Middle Ages, however. Some were ancient dream books that had been brought to the west by the crusaders (possibly those of Artemidorus of Daldis and Synesius of Cyrene, for example) while others were bogus productions which claimed an origin in Chaldea, Persia, Egypt and even India -- and thus be ancient and authoritative. In a prologue to a modern reissue of a Bernese dream book, originally published between 1820 and 1830, Sergius Golowin wrote that farm wives in Switzerland often had a small library of such manuals beside their beds and consulted them concerning dream images but that they then went on to make up their own minds about the meanings of their dreams. He also wrote that the persons most skilled in dream interpretation in that era were the midwives: from dreams they were supposed foretell the sex of the baby and possibly even what the future of the child would be like.

Learned thought about dreams was heavily influenced by the 1900 publication of Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, naturally, but there were other pioneers at work in this field before him who were known on both sides of the Atlantic. In Our Dreaming Mind, Robert Van de Castle writes briefly of 17, beginning with Descartes, and there were surely many more, most of whom must have been known more or less well by Swiss thinkers. As in other countries, there must have been popular literature about dreams and dream interpretation as well.

Depth psychology which came to rely so heavily on dreams and their interpretation has its own history which has been presented in numerous books and articles. Possibly the most thorough, though, is the massive 1970 tome entitled The Discovery of the Unconscious by Henri F. Ellenberger and anyone wishing to learn more about this subject should certainly start there. Suffice it to say here that there was already lots of interest in dreams and the unconscious in Switzerland as well as the other European countries before C. G. Jung appeared on the scene.

Other influential persons from the first half of the 20th century who have had an influence on thinking about dreams in Switzerland include Rudolf Steiner, the founder of anthroposophy; Medard Boss and Ludwig Binswanger, the founders of existential psychoanalysis, and Leopold Szondi, the founder of destiny analysis. Of course, training centers for Freud's psychoanalysis and for Adler's individual psychology are also ably represented in Switzerland. In addition, one can view Assagioli's psycho-synthesis, Perl's Gestalt psychology and Mindell's process-oriented psychology as further developments of Jung's ideas and methods and training in these psycho-therapeutic disciplines, along with many others, is present in Switzerland as well. Medard Boss's book about dreams (I Dreamt Last Night) is still mentioned in the literature on this subject.

It must be added that a number of Swiss artists have used dreams for inspiration down through the years. The list includes Ferdnand Hodler, Johann Heinrich

Füssli (Henry Fuseli), Meret Oppenheim and H.R. Giger (the famous designer of the Alien film monsters).

C. G. Jung

Carl Gustav Jung was born in 1875 in a little town in Switzerland and, except for journeys to European countries, the U.S., Africa and to India, he lived his entire life in this country. He was the son of a Swiss Reformed (protestant) pastor and went to school and the university in Basel, not far from where he grew up. He first studied medicine, but his interests led him to specialize in the field of psychiatry. He spent his working life in Zürich where he was on the staff of the Burghölzli, a world-famous mental hospital, then headed by Eugene Bleuler who coined the term "schizophrenia". It was there that Jung developed his word association test and invented what has become the lie detector, based on his research into unconscious feeling-toned complexes. He also coined two terms that are now known by most everyone, namely extraversion and introversion. With time Jung lectured at and became a professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ("ETH"). He also maintained a private practice in his home in Küsnacht (a small town on the Lake of Zürich), where he died in 1961.

In 1907 with Bleuler's encouragement, Jung traveled to Vienna to meet Sigmund Freud. He quickly became a devoted disciple and was even appointed heir or "crown prince" by Freud among his followers. In 1911 the International Psychoanalytic Society was founded and Jung was elected as president. Deep personal and philosophical differences soon emerged between Jung and Freud, however, and their contact ceased in 1913.
Bleuler, Jung, Binswanger and others (e.g., Alphonse Maeder, Rev. Oskar Pfister, and Franz Ricklin) formed the core of the Zürich school of psychoanalysis. Thus, from the beginning, Zürich was a center for quite a variety of depth psychological activities and even today has a certain attractiveness for those interested in such matters. In 1916 Jung founded the Psychological Club in Zürich (which still meets in its quarters on the Gemeindestrasse) and the Jung Institute was created in 1948 (despite Jung's misgivings) for training therapists in Jung's methods and philosophy.

Jungian publications

Jung's ideas, especially those concerning dreams, are ably laid out in the books mentioned above (as well as in many others), so there is no need to repeat them here. His semi-autobiography entitled Memories, Dreams and Reflections written with the help of his secretary Anielia Jaffe, though, is also highly recommended along with Man and His Symbols which he was collaborating on at the end of his life. The C. G. Jung website at is also available for anyone wishing to learn more about Jung, his ideas and what is going on in Jungian psychology today.
Among dream-related books by Jungian therapists here in Switzerland, On Dreams and Death by Marie Louise von Franz, one of Jung's closest collaborators, must be mentioned as being especially valuable. Fraser Boa in conjunction with Windrose Films (Toronto, Canada) produced a filmed interview with Dr. von Franz called The Way of the Dream and the transcript was subsequently published as a 1987 book by the same name. Other prominent Swiss Jungian authors include C. A. Meier, Mario Jacoby, Verena Kast, Peter Schellenbaum, Barbara Hannah, Katrin Asper, Helmut Barz, and Adolf Guggenbühl-Craig.

A multitude of books about dreams have been written by non-Swiss Jungian authors and they include Jungian Dream Interpretation (James A. Hall, 1983), Understanding Dreams (Mary Ann Matoon, 1978), The Jungian-Senoi Dreamwork Manual (Strephon Kaplan-Williams, 1980), Dreams, A Portal to the Source (E. G. Whitmont and S. B. Perera, 1989), and How Dreams Help (Harry Wilmer, 1999), to mention just a few.

Dream Research in Switzerland   Select for German
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  Modern dream research
Over a period of 20 years, the Prof. Inge Strauch, Dr. Barbara Meier and their co-workers at the University of Zurich were intensively occupied with the subject of dreams and dreaming. Employing systematic awakenings under laboratory conditions, they were able to collect reports of dreams from both children and adults. They were interested in the following themes: quality of dream recall, the means used for creating dream experiences and fantasies, influence of the situation preceding sleep on dreams, how dream elements are related to life situations, individuality and dream aspects, dreams from various sleep stages, the handling of stimulation in dreams and fantasies, physiological indicators in dreams, and cross-sectional and longitudinal investigations into the dreams and fantasies during childhood. The results of these studies were published by the two authors mentioned above in Bericht Nr. 46 der Abteilung Klinische Psychologie ("Report no. 46 of the Clinical Psychology Department") with the title 20 Jahre Traumforschung. Studierende entdecken die Welt der Träume und Phantasien ("20 Years of Dream Research. Students Discover the World of Dreams and Fantasies"). In 1992 some of these research results were also published by the same authors in the book In Search of Dreams (“Den Träumen auf der Spur”).
In addition to Prof. Strauch’s group, there were two other groups engaged in dream research in Switzerland in the last few years: Prof. Jacques Montangero's group in Geneva and one we had in Bern. Because it focuses on dream production processes and refers to cognitive phenomena, the Geneva research can be seen as a further development of the work began by Prof. Piaget there. Piaget was interested in rational thought, but in the book Play, Dream and Imitation (original publication in French, 1945) he devoted a section (chapter 7) to dreaming. There, he criticized Freud's conception of memory and of the unconscious and explained the specificity of dream representations by reference to two basic psychological processes: assimilation and accommodation. During dreaming, assimilation (activation of the subject's cognitive and affective structures which integrate data) greatly predominates over accommodation (modification of the structures under the pressure of the environment.). Montangero's group developed a method for collecting data concerning dream experience and its sources and proposed a list of six main dream production processes. His group mainly studied the transformation of mnemonic sources of dreams and completed an experiment in which dream and film reports were compared.
Following his retirement, Prof. Montangero is now exploring the uses of dreamwork in cognitive therapy and giving an annual training seminar in this work. In addition, Sophie Schwarz in Geneva is investigating neuro-psychological approaches to dream study.
In Lausanne, Anne-Marie Gabella is starting to run Jungian dream groups there while also doing individual therapy and dreamwork. Dr. Abraham George from Geneva has led the “Academie de Rêve for the past four years in Lausanne. The participants are medical doctors and psychoanalysts. The study the effects of dreamwork on health and healing.
In Bern the effects of dream-telling among the elderly are being studied. In a pilot project, completed in 1998 and supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, 20 persons over the age of 62 were given a weekly opportunity to tell a dream by telephone while this was not permitted for those in two control groups. Cooperation and interest were very good and it could be demonstrated that dream-telling did no harm: our subjects were as healthy at the end of the study as at the start. A follow-up project, also supported by the SNSF, in which the effects of dream-telling among persons going through retirement are being studied, is nearing completion ( The question is if a weekly opportunity to tell dreams has beneficial effects for persons going through such a major life event. The reason that dream-telling without interpretation or therapy is being investigated is that in most care facilities dream interpretation on the part of the care-giving staff cannot be expected while interest shown in dreams might be possible.
Currently, Dr. Klaus Bader and coworkers in Basel are working on a project related to childhood memories, sleep disorders and dreams. In Zürich Lutz Wittmann and Michael Schredl are collaborating in a project with Dr. Bassetti concerning dream-recall and dream contents in patients following a stroke. The stroke patients fill out a questionnaire in which they are asked if they have noticed any changes in their dreams or dreaming (e.g., decrease in dream recall). It is intended that persons that were able to recall many dreams before their strokes but recalled far fewer dreams afterwards will be examined in the sleep laboratory.



Dream Groups in Switzerland   Select for German
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  Section in progress.  If you wish to include a dreamgroup please email
Dream Workers in Switzerland   Select for German
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Dreamwork today

In 1990 Prof. Detlev von Uslar from the University of Zürich published Der Traum als Welt ("The Dream as World") which was concerned with the ontology of dreams. According to von Uslar, a dream is like a real world for the dreamer in which he or she lives and moves -- only upon awakening does the dream become unreal and simply a memory. When given sufficient study and attention it takes on meaning and becomes an image-language. This aspect is often neglected. (Note: lucid dreamers are usually the only ones these days who treat their dreams as real and practically as an inner world. The depth psychological schools, on the other hand, treat the dream as a language that must be "decoded" and can be translated.) Von Uslar published 2003 a new book Tagebuch des Unbewussten – Abenteuer im Reich der Träume (“Diary of the Unconscious – Adventures in the Realm of Dreams”) in which he deals with a vast dream series. Included is a CD-Rom with 5000 of his own dreams, which were the basis of his studies.

Regarding psychoanalysis, which in Zürich is rather liberal in its orientation, primarily Paul Parin and Fritz Morgenthaler are known internationally (for ethnopsychoanalysis). Morgenthaler has also occupied himself intensively with dreams and published a number of articles and books concerning them. Prof. Gaetano Benedetti from Basel published a 1998 book called Botschaft der Träume ("The Message of Dreams"). He presents there a multi-dimensional synthesis which attempts to bridge the differences in the points of view of the various depth psychology schools.

In the 20th century, besides numerous books sold here but published in other countries and those mentioned previously from Jungians, there have been a number of other books by Swiss authors available for those interested in dreams and their meaning. Possibly the most famous is the one by Ernst Aeppli who published Der Traum und seine Deutung (“The Dream and its Interpretation”) in 1943. That the ninth edition was published in 1983 attests to its popularity. In 1995, Felix Wirz and Konrad Wolff published Träume verstehen - Impulse fürs Leben ("Understanding Dreams - Impulses for Life") which was quickly sold out.

In 1980 a Swiss author with the pseudonym "Turi Teufelhart" published an autobiography called Das unterdrückte Selbst: Ein Menschenleben in Träumen ("The Repressed Self: A Human life in Dreams") in which he documents his own healing process from schizoid tendencies as it is pictured in the dreams and in his therapy. Werner Zurfluh must also be mentioned who has written a large book entitled Quellen der Nacht ("Springs in the Night") about lucid dreaming and out-of-the-body experiences (cf. In 1996, Regina Abt, Imgaard Bosch and Vivienne MacKrell pubished Dreams and Pregnancy (Einsiedeln: Daimon Verlag). One of us (Christoph Gassmann) has published a book Träume erinnern und deuten (“Remembering Dreams and Interpreting Them”) which is currently being reprinted (2004). It teaches people how to better retain their dreams, how one can work with dreams, independent of the schools of depth psychology and symbol-based interpretation, and how to train oneself to dream lucidly.

In 2000 Susanne Elsensohn, an ethnologist and Jungian psychotherapist published Schamanismus und Traum (“Shamanism and Dreams) which approaches the theme from an empirical and theoretical point of view. In Der schamanische Weg des Träumens (“The Shamans Way of Dreaming”), published in 2003, Carlo Zumstein describes a practical approach that is based on the work and ideas of Michael Harner, Carlos Castaneda and on modern lucid dreaming techniques. It seems that the shamans’ approach to dreaming, imported from North and South America and from Russia, has recently become more important in Switzerland.

Beyond the work on dreams that occurs in the therapist's office there are also signs of increasing interest in dreams and their meaning among the lay public here. There have been programs broadcast by the Swiss radio station network in which dreams were worked on. A popular women's magazine ("Annabelle"), a family-oriented weekly magazine ("Der Schweizer Familie") and even a daily newspaper ("Blick") have had series of articles on dreams and have even offered dream interpretation services to their readers (for a price).

In addition to lectures and workshops held in a variety of cities there are also dream groups scattered about the country. At present these are privately organized and a central organization to coordinate and help develop this movement is lacking at the moment. With time, it is hoped this situation will evolve and improve.

Compiled by Art Funkhouser, Bern with the help of Christoph Gassmann, Horgen.


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Art Funkhouser 

Christoph Gassmann

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