A Brilliant and Playful Listener to  the Unconscious

Paul H. Elovitz - Clio’s Psyche

Paul H. Elovitz, PhD, is a presidential psychohistorian trained in history, political science, and psychoanalysis, who has been researching and writing about the candidates and presidents since 1976. He is Editor of Clio’s Psyche, a founding faculty member at Ramapo College who formerly taught at Temple, Rutgers, and Fairleigh Dickinson universities, and a founder and past president of the International Psychohistorical Association. He has over 200 publications and for over three decades has organized psychohistorical meetings in Manhattan on a regular basis. He has published on the dreams of historical personages such as Humphry Davy, Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelly, and Robert Lewis Stevenson, as well as historical dream methodology. He studied dreams in psychoanalytic training and later with Montague Ullman (1916-2008, a pioneer in the field), ran dream workshops for years, devised a method of probing the dreams of historical and public personages, wrote various articles and chapters of books on dreams, and edited the dreams of others as a journal editor. Prior to working on Obama’s dreams, he did an intense biographical and psychological portrait of the Illinois Senator, published in the fall 2008 issue of the Journal of Psychohistory. Dr. Elovitz may be contacted at pelovitz@aol.com .

His extraordinary abilities as a listener were key to Monte Ullman’s specialness as a human being. He listened to the conscious and unconscious with rapt attention and taught others to do the same in a playful manner. The safety and playfulness of his dreamers, built into the experiential dream method, was central to its success. Adults must trust and feel secure to reveal their unconscious before others; his method guaranteed that the dreamer was in charge and could stop the process at any time. It also enticed dream group members to literally “make the dream their own”—“playing with it”—as they projected onto it and teased out its nuances. This offered new possibilities to the dreamer, to be accepted or rejected. The dream dialogue also left the dreamer totally in control of the process.

Members of dream groups knew Montague Ullman was something special. After all, here was a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst welcoming people into his home, using his first name, and working in the dream vineyards (in my personal experience illegal, illiterate grape pickers probably make more money for their labor than do most dream workers!). He did not seek to squeeze the reality of those he sought to help into some theoretic Procrustean bed, as was not uncommon in his profession. As a “recovered psychiatrist,” rather than making a handsome income prescribing legal drugs to patients, he put aside the authority and prestige of psychiatry to help people come into close contact with their unconscious desires because of his belief in the healing power of dreams—when listened to rather than suppressed and repressed. He did not need the big income, office, and title to heal people. In fact, he thought these were obstacles to helping people know themselves, since they expected knowledge to come exclusively from “the doctor” rather than themselves. Monte believed the Socratic dictum “know thyself” was the key to healing.

Psychoanalytic training and experience were invaluable assets in Ullman’s work with dreams and dreamers. They helped him see past the defensiveness, reaction formations, rigidity, and verbiage so often used as defenses against relating to others positively and knowing oneself. When a new member appeared in the dream group behaving like a bull in a china shop, he listened to his own dream in which the disruptive man appeared as a teddy bear, and Monte knew the individual could ultimately adjust to the group, which he did. In dealing with an energetic, loquacious, talented, dream enthusiast who for years did not accept the need for boundaries, he was insistent to the point of toughness, about enforcing the rules allowing space for the dreamer and the other participants to understand the dream’s meanings.

Monte was quite willing to reveal himself when he thought it might help someone struggling with a problem. In my case, both my brother and mother had died quite young at the same age, and when that age loomed before me, my death anxiety was revealed in a dream. Monte spoke of having confronted the same issue as he approached age forty-four when his father had died of a stroke. His sharing of his own anxieties was most reassuring.

My own route to discovering the enormous value of Ullman’s work was circuitous. My course on dreams in psychoanalytic training had been disappointing. The instructor and materials were uninspiring. In therapy sessions and control (supervision) analysis I discovered the enormous value of dreams for probing the patient’s unconscious, but felt frustrated since the patient did not see what I saw in the dream, yet looked to me to articulate what it said. I appreciated the insight regarding my own countertransference when I dreamed of being President Carter’s psychoanalyst at a time I was writing a psychobiography of him, yet I needed additional tools for probing dreams. I wanted to be able to probe the treasure trove of dreams of the pioneer chemist Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829) which I had discovered on a 1981 sabbatical in England and most of all, I wanted to uncover the creativity revealed in our dreams.

In 1982, after Monte spoke on dreams at my New Jersey psychoanalytic institute, I found a new way to understanding dreams. The outcome was that after I attended his dream group sessions in Ardsley, New York, as well as one or two leadership training sessions, I became an Ullman dream group leader. I worked with Monte, Don Hughes, Mena Potts, and others to apply a modified version of the Ullman technique to the dreams of historical personages (The Historical Dreamwork Method), and I wrote articles and chapters of books on dreamwork. We may not have been able to get deceased dreamers to associate to their dreams, but we could greatly enlarge the number of possible explanations for it and help the historical biographer to understand much more about his/her own countertransference to the subject. Without having in-depth knowledge of psychohistory, Monte supported the Psychohistory Forum and occasionally wrote for Clio’s Psyche.

As a historian and psychoanalyst, I was taught to be skeptical of claims of precognition and telepathy, generally finding other disclaimed explanations for these assertions. Yet, because of a precognitive dream, I can happily report that a gift copy of Ullman and Krippner sits on my shelf with a dedication reading, “To Paul[,] who precognized a situation and solved it[.] Appreciatively[,] Monte[,] July 1984.” On July 9, 1984 I dreamt that I had a flat tire and presented the dream in Ullman’s group which was meeting for the first time on the following Monday. Uncharacteristically, he left the group briefly to answer and make phone calls and appeared to be a bit distracted. Amidst his apologies to the dreamer and group for the interruptions, he explained that a potential buyer, with whom he had no way of communicating, was coming to look at his used Volvo shortly after our meeting and that the mechanic had promised to come directly to fix a flat tire that had been discovered only that morning. After the meeting was over, I volunteered to replace the flat with his spare tire, which I did. The following week as I walked out of the next dream group meeting, Monte handed me his book with the dedication.

A key reason for Monte Ullman’s success was his genuine interest in and respect for people. He sat back in his chair in a relaxed manner, radiating curiosity, good will, kindness, infectious humor, intelligence, interest, and warmth. He kept the focus on the dream, gently rejected theory as a distraction, and helped dreamers focus on their own day and life residue, associations, feelings, and fantasies regarding concrete images in their nocturnal productions. As he spoke slowly and deliberately, we sat at the edge of our seats listening to his every word. Dr. Ullman’s very expertise would have been a distraction form the ultimate source of knowledge of the dream—the dreamer. The ultimate genius of his methodology was that most of the time he took the back seat, serving only as the protector of the dream method, while the dreamer was allowed free rein of interpretation, and the group projected onto the dream (“played with it”) and dialogued about the possible meanings of the dream.

Our best ways to commemorate Montague Ullman are to probe our own dreams, lead dream groups using his methodology, examine claims of precognitive and telepathic dreams as well as of paranormal experiences with his scientific precision, and value the creativity and the healing powers of dreams. Should I find the time to complete my book, The Creativity of Dreams, the dedication will include Monte’s name alongside that of my wife.
This ‘Dream’ Man of Firsts
Mena Potts - University of Pittsburgh

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Montague Ullman:
In Memoriam - Clio's Psyche | Elovitz | Gilden | Lotto | Pannier | Potts | Van De Castle
 The Little Prince | Quantum Dreaming : The Dream: In Search of a New Abode
Lifwynn Lecture | Psi Dreaming | Monte Ullman: Selected Works Relevant to Cosmic Dreaming