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Book Reviews

The Hypnotic Use of Waking Dreams:
Exploring Near-Death Experiences Without the Flatlines

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Review by Kenneth Ring, Ph.D.
author of Heading Toward Omega and Lessons from the Light

Dr. Paul Schenk’s book represents a major innovative contribution to the spiritual uses of psychotherapy. Based on the concept of what he calls "waking dreams," Dr. Schenk is able to show how therapists can use the potentials of these induced dreams to afford many of the same insights and transformative changes that are brought about actual near-death experiences themselves. His book will be of considerable value both to spiritually-oriented therapists and persons interested to pursue their own spiritual growth by connecting with their own sources of inner intuitive guidance.


Robert Almeder, Ph.D.
Author of Beyond Death and Death and Personal Survival: The Evidence for Life After Death
Professor of Philosophy, and The Alan McCullough Distinguished Professor
Hamilton College

This little book is a gem and I cannot imagine any serious psychotherapist, or student of psychotherapy, not needing to read it very carefully in the pursuit of successful psychotherapeutic practice. Waking dream therapy (asking clients to fictionalize near death and or past lives and then probing the significance of the dreams) in the case studies presented and discussed in this book provides a striking breakthrough for psychoanalytic therapy as a source of mental and spiritual healing and health. All this the author does without requiring of us that we accept the content of waking dreams therapy as evidence for anything more than good therapy based on the deliverances of deep consciousness, whatever else the content may suggest to the more metaphysically-minded.


Dabney Ewin, MD, FACS
Clinical Professor of Surgery and Psychiatry, Tulane University Medical School
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Louisiana State University Medical School

Many people have returned from a true near death experience (NDE) and reported having met the "White Light." They all say the encounter was profoundly comforting and free of anxiety. By using an extension of Sacerdote’s "induced dream" technique, Dr. Schenk leads his clients to a therapeutic encounter with the White Light without the danger of a NDE. His case reports are fascinating."


Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D., L.P.C.

Have you ever fantasized about being someone else, or wondered who you might be, if you were living at another time and in another place? Do you ever dream that you are living a life other than your own? In The Hypnotic Use of Waking Dreams psychotherapist Paul W. Schenk explores the therapeutic and spiritual implications of imagined alternative lives. Through "waking dreams" Schenk invites his clients to imagine themselves as another person, living another life, as a "dream character." The dream life provides the client’s medium for working through current life issues and problems from another perspective.

Schenk hypnotically guides his clients to imagine being the main character in a fictional life---one made up entirely by the client. The client describes significant events in this imagined life and then narrates the dream character’s death and after-life experiences. Schenk believes that the true power of the waking dream begins in the after-life episode, a time of philosophical reflection and spiritual exploration.

The author draws from the work of Raymond A. Moody Jr. M.D., who, in the 1970s wrote an astonishing bestseller, Life after Life, in which he documented interviews with people who recounted their near-death-experiences (NDEs). Moody found that NDEs contain common features: awareness of death, feelings of peace, a sense of bodily separation, entering a dark region, seeing or being enveloped in light, encountering spirit entities or deceased loved ones, and a return to the physical body.

Schenk tells his readers that when his clients describe the death of the dream character, they report experiences similar to those of an NDE. Schenk’s tenet is that by imagining the after-life experience of an imaginary self, the client can reflect upon the deeper meanings and purposes of his or her own life. He asks, "What did you learn from this life?"

The waking dream is reminiscent of Dorothy’s adventure in the Wizard of Oz. Waking dreams serve many purposes for clients:

Clients discover previously unrecognized faulty assumptions about a problem.

They can safely try out new solutions in a virtual reality.

They can develop abilities and relationships they lack.

They see their problems from another perspective.

They establish a cue to remind them to carry their insights forward into their real lives.

They develop insights into the dynamics of their current relationships.

They use the waking dream to address metaphysical, existential, and spiritual issues.

Schenk asks his clients to dialog with the dream character, to see parallels between the dream life and the client’s real life, and to discuss the implications of dream content. He also asks his clients to identify and converse with "spirit guides" representing intuitive parts of the client’s own personality.

The book contains several case examples of waking dream work, with transcripts of the client-therapist conversation (often across multiple sessions). These case examples illustrate methods of trance induction, the use of guided imagery, and hypnotic language patterns. Dr. Milton H. Erickson’s influence is evident in the use of metaphor, anchoring resourceful states, ambiguity, a permissive approach, open-ended questions, reflective listening, utilization, and client-initiated discovery. Each waking dream unfolds spontaneously as a teaching tale, created by the client. Throughout, the therapist facilitates the process by asking questions, encouraging exploration and curiosity, and suggesting choices and possibilities. Clients choose their own dreamscapes, work through dilemmas in their own way, answer their own questions, find their own meanings and interpretations, and draw their own conclusions.

The case examples include presenting problems such as trauma and grief, forgiveness, belief change, life transitions, phobias, and undesirable personality traits. These examples illustrate what Schenk calls "the overlap between psychotherapy and spirituality." He also reflects on the profound effect that 20 years of this work has had on his own life, reporting that it has led him to examine his thinking on past lives and reincarnation, the existence of spirit guides, one’s after-life, out-of-body experiences, and multiple personalities. Indeed, in reading the case transcripts, it is often hard to tell what, in each client’s story, is imagined and what might be true "paranormal" phenomena. Or is it the case that all "paranormal" phenomena are simply figments of the imagination and a game played by a creative subconscious?

Hypnotherapists, especially those who work with metaphor and guided imagery, will likely be drawn to working with waking dreams, and will enjoy this book. Like one viewing a Rorschach test, each reader will find something uniquely intriguing about this book, depending on one’s model of what constitutes the human personality and mind. Some will find in this book much evidence of the subconscious mind at play. Others will see this work as highly spiritual, giving a glimpse into the latent supernatural abilities in each individual. Some readers will see in this book evidence of various therapeutic approaches and theories of personality, such as psychodynamics, ego state theory, Rogers’ client-centered approach, Gestalt Therapy, and of course, Erickson’s language patterns.

In The Hypnotic Use of Waking Dreams the line between reality and fantasy becomes slightly blurred, and entices us to ask questions about the mind and soul, about life and after-life. The answers are elusive, but the questions are sheer delight!

Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D. is a licensed mental health counselor, psychotherapist and life coach practicing in Springfield, Virginia. She is Executive Director of the National Board for Certified Clinical Hypnotherapists at www.natboard.com. She has recently published The Weight, Hypnotherapy and You Weight Reduction Program: An NLP and Hypnotherapy Practitioner Manual with Crown House. Her website is www.engagethepower.com.


Thomas Connelly D. Hyp (Distinction) FBSCH, FBAMH
Secretary of the British Society of Clinical Hypnosis

So why not attempt to create this moment of epiphany but without the imminent danger of losing one’s life? Why not use this moment of life change to change one’s life? Using a combination of hypnosis and dynamic reverie the author explores these ideas and illustrates their practical use to tackle many presenting problems. The case histories show the scope and possibilities of this method of provoking insight and realization.


Dr. Tracie O'Keefe DCH, Hypnosis Australia On Line Journal

Dr Schenk is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. Working in hypnosis for more than 25 years, he is an approved consultant with the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. He is obviously a very skilled therapist and his style of writing is pleasant and easy to read. The title of the book, however, is slightly misleading because it is more about past-life work than near-death experiences; but that in no way detracts from it contents. It is well written, skillful and huge relief from yet another book on therapy by numbers.

What the book is really about is personal narrative transformation through a cross between past-life work and hypnotic dream therapy. The author is without doubt a master of narrative and reframing, taking clients through past-life journeys that lead them to greater understandings and resource release in their present life path. Clients can undergo anything from an epiphany to slow conversion of self-realisation. Although the book does not tell us about Schenk's background, he can obviously be lusciously Jungian with touches of Erickson which hangs on the peg of Moody.

So many hypnotherapists are afraid of past-life work because they don't want to appear left of Zelda The Crystal Ball Gazer. Schenk, however, shows us the pure depth and power of such work that can motivate great change within the client in a direct an indirect manipulation of physical development. His case examples are illustrative and instructive, showing his very high level of rapport with his clients while facilitating the multiple persona integration.

The book also shows us that the art of past-life work requires creativity on the part of the therapist and how that pays off, not only for the client, but in hugely rewarding ways for the therapist. His analysis and integration skills can give us all lessons in how to work the story and underlying therapeutic techniques, out of the client's conscious awareness.

I think almost all hypnotherapists will like this book because it clearly shows the skillful workings of a clinician who is unreservedly passionate about the way he uses hypnosis. Furthermore, reading through it is an exercise in itself of metaphor construction and deconstruction.

Whether you believe in past lives or not, there is certainly is lot to commend that way of working in these pages. Having used past-life work for many years myself, I greatly enjoyed Schenk's skilled use of creative imagery to get the client to utilise whatever they needed from the past life and in between life experiences.


Pat Doohan MNCP, National Council of Psychotherapists Magazine

This book will be of particular interest to those who currently use Past Life Experience therapy as a useful tool in the treatment of clients, as well as those who might be tempted to use past life therapy but are unsure how their clients would receive such suggestions.

The author calls the experiences "waking dreams" because of all the derision he received from his colleagues in the psychotherapeutic community when he talked about past lives and reincarnation. In truth, there is very little difference between the two strategies but using the waking dreams title would possibly persuade more clients to embark on this particular form of treatment, since it has none of the connotations of weirdness associated with past life therapy.

There are some rather fascinating case studies, transcribed pretty much verbatim, apart from changing clients' real names to preserve anonymity. In a change from the usual past life experiences, Dr. Schenk found that it was often possible for characters from previous 'dreams' to cross over into subsequent ones, in order to become 'co-therapists' on the client's behalf. The transcripts of these occurrences make very interesting reading and could be utilized by anyone using the strategy, whatever title they were calling it.

The only problem I had with the transcripts was the fact that Dr. Schenk's language is pretty eloquent and I would have problems living up to his standards but, other than that, reading this book could give some great ideas for treating clients who seem to be 'stuck' and with whom nothing else appears to have worked. What the book also shows is that 'past life experiences' don't have to be true in order for the healing to take place. In fact, the author always encouraged clients who said they weren't 'getting anything' to just make it up and they inevitably found themselves going with the flow and soon got into their stride.

The author doesn't neglect the spiritual side of things either. He is quite happy when clients start to talk about their 'guides' and other spiritual beings although he never brings anyone's religion or lack of it, into the proceedings. All in all, the book should appeal to most therapists, whatever their beliefs about reincarnation and Near Death Experiences, as a very useful therapeutic tool.

To purchase The Hypnotic Use of Waking Dreams directly from the publisher, go to https://secure.aidcvt.com/chp/ . For orders outside the U.S. and Canada, go to www.crownhouse.co.uk.

The book may also be ordered from Amazon or from me directly (contact info below).



Updated: 07/21/2007

Paul W. Schenk, Psy.D.
3589 Habersham at Northlake, Bldg O, Tucker, GA 30084-4001
Phone: 770-939-4473
Office Fax: 770-939-0033