Dream a little dream

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”

Eleanor Roosevelt

And so, it’s another new year (is it just me or is January 1st coming around quicker and quicker these days)?  This time of year can often inspire us to take stock of our lives, where we are and maybe where we might want to be. We might begin to daydream and catch a glimpse of our potential.  As we begin to contemplate our lives, the dreams we have whilst we sleep can sometimes be useful too.  As a therapist I am open to dreams and their potential meanings. My own dreams have been incredibly enlightening and have often marked pivotal points in my life. Our dreams are a way of our unconscious trying to communicate. To ignore our dreams, is to miss out on great personal treasure.

The theory of dreams

Freud described the interpretation of dreams as “the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.” He believed our dreams contained wish fulfilments. Since then we have further developed this theory and see our dreams as far more complex.  

Freud though did have a point when he explained that at every point in a dream, there is contact with the unknown.  Jung believed dreams are trying to reveal the start of our individuation process. There is a mystery to dreams and if we pay attention, they can help guide us towards our personal development. 

It is the latent content of the dream which is crucial. Latent, being the hidden psychological meaning of the dream as opposed to the manifest content which is its literal narrative. For example, a dream where there might be a death or funeral won’t normally mean an actual physical death but maybe a part of the dreamer’s life/personality/qualities might need to symbolically end. It is not the surface of the dream which matters, but the symbols and our associations which are key to unlocking the potential which they hold. 

Ways of interpreting

Not all therapists are interested in dreams, but for me they are too alive with content to be dismissed. Different types of therapy will assess dreams from different angles. For example, a psychodynamic approach might consider a dream in relation to your past especially your childhood. Or an existential therapist might look at a dream as if it tells us something about life’s dilemmas (i.e. death, freedom etc).  

As a therapist, and from a personal perspective, I like to stay open and curious to the potential meaning of dreams and use different techniques to help interpret them. So, what to do when you do have (and more importantly remember) a dream? My top tips are as follows:

  • Don’t worry if you can’t recall the entire dream (often dreams start as if you’re in the middle of them anyway). You can assess a dream from whatever you can remember.
  • The important thing is to make a record of the dream (e.g. write it down, start a dream journal). Not only will this help your memory (dreams are notoriously hard to remember), but it also grounds the dream (making it real) and even at this early stage can encourage interpretation. Keep a notebook by your bed or record your dream in a voice note into your phone.
  • When looking at your dream, first ask yourself “why now?” Have you a sense of what the dream might overall be about or trying to tell you. Is there something going on in your life which it might elude to? 
  • Notice the setting and context of the dream. In the early days of my therapy, I struggled with showing my emotions and often had dreams set in arid or frozen landscapes, water can sometimes represent our emotions so the lack of flowing water in my dreams made sense.
  • Notice how you felt, throughout the dream and when you woke up.
  • Remember dreams are normally not literal. So, look at what happens in the dream as symbolic. There are some general ideas about symbolism which can be useful (check out this stunning Jungian book) but I do feel that our personal attachments are key to unlocking the meaning of a dream. For example, I have struggled with owning my anger at times and had a series of dreams involving broken ovens (i.e. my fire wasn’t working properly).
  • Consider each person/place/object etc. Think about your own personal associations with each of these. What do they remind you of? What do they put you in touch with?
  • Most people in your dream are representations of yourself. So, say a work colleague pops up in your dream. Think about the qualities of this person. Think about these qualities within you and what the person does in the dream.
  • In the early days of therapy, dreams of people breaking into our homes/ invading our space etc are quite common. This can sometimes represent our unconscious (the intruder) trying to reach out and our panic demonstrates our understandable fear of exploring the unknown parts of ourselves. 
  • Once you’ve looked at all aspects of your dream, try to piece all your analysis together, to see if a message becomes apparent. Be patient, you may need to collect a few dreams before things become clear. Make notes of your analysis, again this grounds the dream and might allow the unconscious to send you another message via the next dream, now it knows that it is being heard.

I very much believe in the power of our dreams. To ignore them is to deny a precious part of ourselves, our unconscious.  Therapy is about making the unconscious known and so considering our dreams can provide a massive treasure trove to explore. I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg with my post today as to what you can do with dreams, but I hope it’s a useful starting point. 

Happy dreaming all!

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

    1. Thanks Gill for your feedback, that’s really interesting. As someone who was quite defensive and heady in my early days of therapy, my dreams were a great way of introducing key issues especially around difficult feelings.


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