[5-min read] Q&A with Dr. Katherine Lawson, Psychotherapist & Dream Worker
Welcome to Tricycle Day. Go ahead. Pinch yourself. 🤏 It’s true we’re the newsletter of your dreams, but this email is very real.
Dr. Katherine Lawson has been fascinated with dreams her entire life. But when she came face-to-face with a traumatic cancer diagnosis, she really leaned into their healing potential.
We got Katherine’s expert opinion on the meaning of dreams, what dreams and psychedelic journeys have in common, and how people can revisit non-ordinary states to heal and integrate psychedelic experiences.
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Q&A with Dr. Katherine Lawson, Psychotherapist & Dream Worker
Your master's thesis focused on the healing properties of dream work. Can you tell us a little bit about how you developed and cultivated your fascination with dreams?
My fascination with dreams began when I was a child and had a repetitive dream that puzzled me. During my master's program at the Pacifica Graduate Institute, which emphasized Carl Jung's philosophies and archetypal psychology, I had the opportunity to explore dreamwork. I met a therapist who understood this approach and helped me interpret the repetitive dream as a form of communication between an individual and the divine Self within. This realization allowed me to understand the progression of my life and develop a more compassionate perspective.
Recognizing the healing potential of dreamwork, I dedicated myself to sharing this modality with others. I obtained a certification in Embodied Imagination®, a deeper and more embodied way of working with dreams. However, when I was accumulating hours to become a licensed psychotherapist in state mental health care, I encountered a lot of resistance. Many people believed that dreamwork fell outside the accepted paradigm for psychological healing. This led me to forgo pursuing licensure in California and instead practice as a psychospiritual counselor, incorporating dreamwork very successfully into my work.
What’s your view on the relationship between dreams and psychedelics? Do you believe that psychedelics can help facilitate dream work?
Absolutely. I believe that there is a strong relationship between dreams and psychedelics, and that they can mutually facilitate each other. For the past 20 years, I have been researching and personally exploring the parallels between mysticism, dreaming, and psychedelics. While there hasn't been an extensive amount of research on the topic, some studies and findings in neuropsychology indicate similarities between the visions experienced during psychedelic journeys and dreaming.
When approaching dreams and psychedelics, I view the images presented in both as forms of information or communication. However, the unique aspect of my approach is that the dream work method I use is embodied. I guide individuals to not only contemplate the meaning of these images but also to feel what they hold.
In my experience, we can’t think our way into wholeness. True healing has to come from engaging in a process of feeling. Whether working with a vision or a dream, I encourage people to establish a physical connection with the imagery and environments presented to them.
How has your personal experience with cancer influenced your work? How have you found dream work to be helpful in the context of cancer treatment and recovery?
When I received my cancer diagnosis, the doctors focused on saving my body, and for that, I am grateful. But cancer treatment is brutal and takes a toll emotionally and spiritually. While going through the treatment and facing my own mortality, I also experienced symptoms of complex PTSD, which exacerbated my suffering.
I noticed that there was a lack of attention to the emotional and spiritual aspects of healing. There’s now evidence from research that for optimal healing, the mind, body, and spirit must work together. But that wasn't happening in my case. While my body was being treated, my mind and spirit were neglected.
Through dream work and Embodied Imagination®, which I started practicing with the method's founder, I found significant healing for my trauma symptoms. My dreams provided me with courage, spaciousness, and other capacities that I couldn't access in my waking life. They supported me through the challenging moments, such as getting into the radiation machine. When my emotions and spirit aligned with my body, it had a greater capacity to heal and withstand the treatment.
Once I became strong enough, about a year later, I pursued a doctorate in mind-body medicine. I felt compelled to address the lack of holistic support for people going through cancer treatment and facing mortality. I began working with women and cancer patients, incorporating Embodied Imagination® into my practice. When I explained to these women that a cancer diagnosis is a psychological trauma, many of them cried because nobody had acknowledged that before.
Since then, my focus has been on an integrative and holistic view of healing, with dream work playing a vital role. I strongly believe that psychedelics offer the best form of integrative medicine because they work in a similar way, providing us with our own inner resources and addressing our specific needs.
How does the Embodied Imagination® approach differ from other forms of therapy? Can you explain how it can be applied to psychedelic integration?
Embodied Imagination® is not therapy; it's a resource used to work with dreams, visions, memories, and the imagination. It involves guiding individuals into a hypnagogic state, which is the state between waking and sleeping where we are most suggestive and can remember our dreams vividly. In this state, people revisit their dreams or journeys and engage in an embodied experience with the images or environments found there.
During the process, individuals temporarily transcend their habitual consciousness or ego perspective and share a body and perspective with a dream image or journey image. The images have their own wisdom to share, and the role of the guide is to hold space and facilitate the experience. By anchoring the qualities of these images in the person's body, they can carry those capacities into their waking life.
Embodied Imagination® allows individuals to access capacities that may not be readily available to them in their waking state. The process works on various levels—psychoneurologically, physically, and emotionally—and results in the person having a new body that carries these capacities.
In the context of psychedelic integration, Embodied Imagination® offers a natural progression from the journey to everyday life. The embodiments experienced in the expanded state of consciousness can be practiced and integrated into waking reality, without the need for substances.
What led you to co-found the Awake in the Dream School? Can you share a bit about your upcoming training and who it’s designed for?
What led me to co-found the Awake in the Dream School is a deep belief that it is unjust that these medicines are not accessible to people. I have personally experienced significant healing through the use of MDMA with a licensed psychotherapist, which helped me overcome symptoms of complex PTSD. Witnessing others achieve profound and rapid results through psychedelic-assisted therapy solidified my conviction to support this movement.
I co-founded the Awake in the Dream School with my partner, Ophilia, who brings her expertise as a ceremonialist, complementing my background as a researcher and therapist. Our collaboration bridges generational perspectives and combines diverse skills to create a comprehensive program.
We offer a six-month training program divided into six modules. The first three modules cover the history, contraindications, and molecular compositions of nine different medicines, with a strong focus on ethical considerations. The second set of three modules focuses on training participants in the integration method, with a strong emphasis on learning the techniques of Embodied Imagination®. The program includes a five-day in-person training session in Costa Rica and concludes with a practicum that combines preparation and integration.
The certification program is designed for anyone who feels called to serve the psychedelic movement by providing education and integration support, rather than facilitating the actual journeys. Our mission is to equip our students with the necessary tools to educate and support the growing number of individuals seeking psychedelic experiences for healing.
Want more from Katherine? Learn about Awake in the Dream’s psychedelic integration certification program, enrolling now.
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