Before she set out on a three-week nationwide tour, clinical psychologist Gayle Delaney had a strange dream.
She dreamt she was kidnaped to the Soviet Union where a Mr. X master-minding the operation announced, "You're going to have a German shepherd guard dog."
At least "I'll have a dog to love" while a prisoner, she recalls thinking before she awakened.
For Delaney, a dream specialist, there was no doubt her vision had meaning. For help on interpretation, she phoned a close friend, who burst "into stiches." The guard dog, said the friend, "obviously is your husband."
"My husband is very possessive. I love him, but I hate his protectiveness."
In her dream, she'd been whisked away from home, which corresponded to her impending tour. She was to be guarded by the German shepherd -- her husband's possessiveness -- but, nevertheless, she loved the dog. With that in mind, she says, "I could talk to my husband about his distress" over the trip.
Delaney, who as a college student became fascinated with psychology of dreams, has developed a process in which, she contends, we can choose our dreams and direct them to help us solve everyday problems. It works much in the way we take a problem home from the office "to sleep on." The next day you get the answer.
A summa cum laude graduate of Princeton, Delaney, 30, also studied at the Carl Jung Institute in Zurich and has spent nine years researching the science of dreams. Her husband is a psychiatrist. She is, additionally, a sometimes professional ice skater.
For six years Delaney has had a dream clinic in San Francisco where she sees "healthy, curious people who want to know what goes on at night." She believes she is the only psychologist with such a practice. Her process is outlined in a new book, "Living Your Dreams" (Harper & Row, 232 pages, $8.95).
"I see business people, scientists, creative people working with problems. I show them how to go home and put it all together." The most frequent problems her clients want to resolve are, "How do I improve my love life?" and "What can I do about my job?"
One clients asked for help in stopping smoking. That night the client, following Delany's process, "had a dream where a friend died of cancer." The vision asked, "Have you faced what you're doing to your body?" The dream continued with the woman in tears, thinking about her son, should she die. She woke up with a guilt so profound, says Delaney, that she is quitting the habit.
"We all dream four or five times a night," she says, "and by learning a few simple tricks you can recall many of your dreams quite easily."
"If you look at any dream closely, it is trying to help you out of a problem," such as a creative block. People with sex dreams finds relief in them, she says.
Dreams, she writes, can "improve the quality of your relationships with your friends and enemies, business associates and family. Your dreams can give you specific insights into these relationships, as well as into your relationship to your body, mind and heart.
"They can tell you what is going on in your marriage and what is behind the conflicts you experience with your children." They also can help you, she says, improve your self-image.
"When you harvest your dreams, you can solve daytime problems and waste less energy. You don't sleep any less well when you remember your dreams."
Delaney says her process, which she calls "dream incubation," can be successful on the first try and gets easier with practice. To make dreams work for you, she gives these steps:
Pick a problem that is causing you some trouble.
Go to bed with a notebook and for 10 minutes write about what you did and felt during the day.
Pick a problem giving you trouble and phrase a question summing it up, such as "Why are my wife and I having this argument over and over?"
Turn out the lights and immediately focus on that question. repeat it several times. If your mind wanders, bring it back. You may fall asleep within seconds or minutes.
As soon as you wake up -- through the night or in the morning -- write down whatever you can remember. Don't wait until after breakfast. "The first cup of coffee will wash your dreams away."
After breakfast, "interview" your dream. With practice, she says, you will learn "to ask yourself the right question that will jog your memory and remind you of what a part of you knew all along." Do the interpreting yourself, or with a friend, family member or a group. The dreamer should describe each person and object in the dream as though he or she "were a stranger from another planet."
In her practice, Delaney, who may see 25 people a week, becomes the interviewer. One client came to her saying, "I have a nightmare that there is a snake under our bed. I know I have to protect my wife. When I wake up, I look under the bed to make sure it's not there."
"What is the snake in the dream like?" she asked. "Slimy, phallic," the man replied, saying it would hurt his wife "terribly."
"What are you trying to protect her from?" Delaney asked, and the man acknowledged he had had a number of affairs. "I thought it would be okay," he said. "I'm more interested in sex than she and thought she wouldn't mind."
"You didn't feel confortable, apparently, with that," Delaney told him.
Occasinally, instead of a snake, the client spied a rat, Delaney says. "A pejorative -- he saw himself as a rat."