Dreams are a very common experience for most people able to experience regular sleep. Sometimes the exact conect of our dreams are forgotten, yet we can wake up feeling stressed, sad, or happy, and not always sure why. Other times our dreams can have a tremendous impact on our feelings, staying with us for a long time, to the point we may not be sure what is real. Dreams can often reflect hidden emotional or mental states, bringing to the surface things deep within us we might not be aware of.
For this reason, dreams can be an important part of our therapy and our healing process. Here are some of the different ways dreams can be understood and dealt with in a therapy session, as well as ways you can use them to better understand your own mental states.
Many different types of therapists will utilize some forms of dream interpretation, in which you describe a dream to the therapist, who then leads you in a discussion to find meaning within it. The exact pathway this interpretation takes varies based on the therapeutic approach used.
Psychoanalytic theory views dreams as a form of hidden wish fulfilment, in which unconscious desires and conflicts are manifested in a more open way. Dream interpretation is considered a very important way in which our latent thoughts and emotions come up to the surface, and aspects our true selves can be made more accessible. Under this theory, dreams have both manifest content, or what is actually perceived in the dream, and latent content, the real, symbolic meaning behind what happens. Techniques such as free association are used to get to the bottom of a dream’s latent content, which can increase your understanding of what is really going on internally.
Similar to psychoanalytic thought, Jungian analysis probes dreams for what they say about the unconscious and the hidden symbolic meaning. However, Jungian theories tend to feel that the meanings are less hidden from the dreamer. In Jungian analysis, the meaning is expected to come from you, and should be something that really resonates with what makes sense to you. Jungian interpretation also looks at collective unconscious, probing not just your personal associations, but what a symbol might mean within different cultural groups. For example, an animal that appears in your dream will be understood both in terms of what it means to you, and what cultural expressions and historical views of that animal have existed in time.
Gestalt therapy is another therapeutic method that takes dreams seriously, viewing them as messages our minds send itself, that we should encode and take seriously. In a gestalt dreams are not merely described and analyzed, but fully enacted. The client may be asked to “take the part” of each character in the dream, looking at the dream from each person’s perspectives, so that there are multiple lessons and interpretations, not just one.
Existential Art Therapy:
Existential art therapy places less emphasis on what the dream “means,” and instead use creative, expressive, and artistic processes to sort through the feelings the dreams invoke. Interpretation is not the goal, but self-discovery occurs naturally as the content of the dream is explored.
Understanding Your Own Dreams:
Even apart from a therapeutic setting, you can use your dreams as a window into some of your hidden thoughts and feelings. Basic dream analysis that you can do on your own comes in three steps. First, review the action of the dream. Sometimes you remember a dream only in part, but then have more information come back later.
Keeping a dream journal, writing down your dreams as best you can remember, can help with your remembering and processing. Write down everything that happens and how it makes you feel, withholding any judgement. Then, think about the events, people, and objects that happen in the dream. Finally, think about what could be a parallel and association in your current awake life. Does it make you think about anything you’re facing in your life?
Are there any parallels between how you feel in the dream and what you’re feeling about your life? For example, a dream of yourself drowning or falling could be related to anything stressful you’re currently facing. In this way, your dreams can help you gain an awareness of what is making you feel stressed or worried, and be a guide toward the issues in need of resolution, healing, or mindful attention.