How A Psychologist Learned Dream Interpretation from a Movie Star

by Ron Masa Ph.D.

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After twenty years of working with dreams, someone asked how I first got inspired. The question took me back to an extraordinary weekend in the 1980's. I was a private-practice psychotherapist who included a few minutes of dream interpretation in every therapeutic hour. Dreams often suggested topics to explore in therapy, and occasionally some real insight would emerge.

Then I saw an advertisement for a lecture on "Jungian Dreamwork" at the elegant "Old Main" building at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I arrived early and sat in the front row as a huge crowd amassed. I was surprised that so many people cared about dreams. As the lecturer, Tom Laughlin, began to describe the process of dreamwork, his assistant recorded every word for his next book; he had written two (now rare) books on dreams already.

First, Mr. Laughlin decried how "rote Jungians" had lost touch with the living soul of dreamwork. Then he related several amazing case studies that revealed the wisdom hidden in dreams. I was genuinely intrigued. He was a powerful speaker with impressive stories about a vein of living psychic wisdom. He said every dream offers us a living dialogue with the Unconscious. For some Jungians, that roughly translates as "talking with God."

As I delighted in these fresh possibilities for understanding dreams, an odd awareness began to dawn. I had the clearest feeling that I had seen this man before, that I knew him. So while I took notes, I racked my brain for why he looked so familiar.

After a time, he wiped his forehead in a gesture which I absolutely recognized. Clearly I had seen this brilliant dreamworker before, but where? After half an hour, I tapped the person next to me to ask incredulously, "Isn't that Billy Jack?" "Of course" he hissed. Always the last to know!

So this overflow crowd was not just here for the dreamwork. Many came to see the movie star who wrote and starred in one of the biggest hits of the 1960's. Laughlin later mentioned that he had based that film upon several classic Jungian archetypes, and believed this gave it a depth that increased the movie's collective appeal and cultural impact. So here I was, learning more about the power of dreams than I had in doctoral studies… from Billy Jack!

It turns out that Tom Laughlin had worked for many years with Jung's star student, Marie Louise Von Franz and many other renowned Jungian analysts. After the lecture, Laughlin's assistant enrolled volunteers for 90-minute sessions to be held at his Hilton suite from early next morning until night time: anyone could have a dream interpreted! I eagerly arrived at 9:30 a.m.

Though there was not time to interpret my own dream, I observed how, with carefully targeted questioning about the associations to each symbol in each dream, Laughlin could arrive at insights that stunned, sometimes amazed, and without fail, thrilled the dreamers.

Each and every time, with people he had never met, this movie actor could unearth profound and powerful insights that you could witness having a potent effect on the dreamers. It never failed. The impacts were dramatic and unmistakable. People learned important new truths about themselves that they often affirmed with passion and gratitude. This rich interior wisdom came from any dream of any length from any person! I was electrified, and my professional life changed that day.

Tom Laughlin allowed me to witness this amazing process in action for three sessions in a row; 4 1/2 straight hours. That is the day that the wisdom and power of dreams really hit me. That day dreamwork became my primary object of study and in time, my central professional purpose.

Before long I discarded all the rest of the therapeutic hour and focused only on dreams. The psychotherapy model was designed by some brilliant and caring people--but the dreams come from our source, from whoever created all those brilliant humans! Von Franz called dreams "Nightly letters from God," and I have since devoted my career to reading the mail!

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Ron Masa, Ph.D. taught and wrote about dreams while in private practice for 25 years. He and Debbie Hart co-lead the University of Yourself (

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