The relevance of social dreaming for action research: exploring jail workers’ unconscious thinking of the changes in the prison organization


  • Lidia Borghi | Department of Health Science, University of Milan, Milan, Italy.
  • Claudio Cassardo Department of Mental Health, ASST Santi Paolo and Carlo University Hospital, Milan, Italy.
  • Elisa Mingarelli Fondazione Rosa dei Venti Onlus, Casnate con Bernate, Como, Italy.
  • Elena Vegni Department of Health Science, University of Milan, Milan; Department of Mental Health, ASST Santi Paolo and Carlo University Hospital, Milan, Italy.


The contribution focuses on how dreams can be investigated as social phenomena in a manner which illuminates the role of the individual in a particular group and elucidates unconscious group processes in an organization. The article presents an experience of adopting Lawrence’s social dreaming (SD) matrices in a new a specific field: an Italian prison which has shifted in the last two decades from a punitive to a rehabilitative mission. The aim of the experience was twofold: i) to help jail workers, through a formative experience, gaining a deeper understanding of how the new prison environment influences their emotional experience and work functioning; ii) to collect the emotional climate, the feelings, and the critical issues among the prison staff, in order to gain insights for the authorities responsible for the regulation of correctional facility. The experience of SD included 4 matrices, involving a total of 12 participants: 7 prison officers and 5 educators. The main thematic areas emerged from the matrices are related to: trust, competence, professional identity, separateness and privacy, safety, and to the gender differences. All the themes are presented and discussed, along with dreams and free associations. The present work is, to our knowledge, the first attempt to apply the tool of social dreaming to the context of correctional facility all over the world. The described experience might serve as an example of the applicability of this mode of analytic exploration to institutions or organizations, and the contribution opens to reflection and some implications.



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Special Section: Working on dreams, from psychotherapy to neuroscience
Social dreaming, field theory, social field, action research, work organization, prison workers, unconscious feelings, unconscious thinking, psychoanalysis.
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How to Cite
Borghi, L., Cassardo, C. ., Mingarelli, E., & Vegni, E. (2021). The relevance of social dreaming for action research: exploring jail workers’ unconscious thinking of the changes in the prison organization. Research in Psychotherapy: Psychopathology, Process and Outcome, 24(2).

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