Dream Therapy: The Importance of Dreaming Explained
Dream therapy is the process of unraveling what dreams mean and how they relate to our waking lives. Interpreting dreams is symbolic and it is specifically tailored to the individual doing the dreaming. For many years, people have been analyzing dreams in order to understand the subconscious. It is not uncommon to reference dreams even in traditional therapeutic sessions.
Ever since the publication of Sigmund Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, psychologists have used dreams during analysis as a way to help people gain insight. If you vividly remember your dreams, you might have questions about their meaning. With a therapist who is a dream analyst, you can discuss your vivid, confusing, or recurring dreams with a professional and begin to understand them better.
Dream analysis is a collaborative process that uses Freudian interpretation, Jungian symbols, Transpersonal theory, and Object Relational introjects. Clearly, it is much more than looking up symbols from your dream in a “dream dictionary.” For this reason, you might not be able to perform a simple dream analysis on your own. The goal of dream therapy isn’t inevitably to come to an unmistakable interpretation of a dream but to find meaning, usability, and emotional substance.
What is Dream Therapy?
Dream therapy is a term that describes a therapy technique where dreams, particularly recurring dreams, are interpreted, explored, and analyzed to help you understand the hidden stressors in your life. Most of the time, dream therapy will involve journaling as soon as you wake up from a dream. This is then discussed with the therapist.
By analyzing your dreams with you, your therapist may be able to help you recognize common themes and worries. As you describe your dreams, you may notice that your dreams represent certain types of stress you’re dealing with and how your brain is processing situations and emotions. This way, you can open new possibilities and perspectives by understanding your dreams. Discovering sources of stress and removing these concerns from your daily life can offer many mental health benefits.
Why Do We Dream?
The logic we use to get through our waking life has no chance in the face of our dreams. Dreams appear to be based on recent experiences and issues we’re dealing with but there is still no agreement among mental health professionals about what the purpose of dreams is. Although it’s still mainly a mystery, experts’ best guesses are that our brain uses dreams to:
Dreams may be your way of confronting emotional pain in your life. While you’re sleeping, your brain is working at a much more emotional level than while you’re awake. This might allow your brain to make associations about your feelings that your conscious self wouldn’t make. This is similar to the way that meditative trances, psychedelic drugs, or hypnosis work.
When you dream, your amygdala is one of the most active areas of your brain. It is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. This suggests that dreams could be your brain’s way of imitating future threats to help you prepare for them. It’s a biological survival mechanism that allows you to learn how to avoid the threat without having to face the actual threat.
Dreams may also be a method of sorting through which of your memories are important enough to store, making it easier to recall them later, and which should be relegated to your subconscious or unconscious memory system. This type of dream interpretation views dreaming as a kind of automatic sorting system for your experiences and memories. Your brain reflects on the day’s events, digests them, and puts them into the purpose you need.
Different Types of Dreams
Before a dream therapist guides you in a dream analysis of your dreams, they might begin by classifying the types of dreams you’ve been having such as:
Your dreams are probably most normal dreams. However, that doesn’t mean that they or you are boring. They can be exciting, intriguing, and weird (more often than not). Having common, normal dreams is a good sign that you’re healthy and well-adjusted. These normal dreams can also be recurring dreams.
When you’re aware that you’re dreaming and are able to control what happens in the dream, that is a lucid dream. Lucid dreams happen most often when you’re partially awake, unlike your most vivid dreams.
Nightmares are bad dreams brought on by trauma, stress, and fear. Nightmares tend to make you feel afraid and anxious, sometimes to the extent that they wake you up. A nightmare isn’t necessarily anything to worry about, but a recurring bad dream is something that you might want to consider dream therapy for.
What Do Your Dreams Mean?
Dream therapy has an abundance of material. The topic of interpreting dreams has inspired the writing of hundreds of books. Although on their own dreams can seem completely abstract, dream analysis can help you understand them and how they relate to your life.
This process of dream interpretation is used by both dream therapists and psychotherapists. It can be vital in helping people understand themselves and their deepest desires more deeply. Some of the common themes that may be examined in dream therapy include:
You might notice symbols in your dreams aligning with specific events in your life. At times you might not understand the meaning of the symbols. You might dream of a challenging or bizarre event that made you feel uneasy when you woke up.
Dream analysts have discovered that what you dream about reflects symbols caused by your brain trying to process a certain event, whether it was a current event or something from your childhood.
Dreams frequently have meanings so paying attention to them can be a benefit. The stories the brain creates may help you process and cope with issues that seem too difficult in your waking life. A dream therapist can help you bridge this gap in a safe environment.
Some people in dream therapy find themselves having dreams that express current moods and situations from their waking lives. If you see recurring themes in your dreams, a therapist may be able to help you examine them. An example might be if you have an important presentation for school or work coming up, feelings of fear might emerge in your dreams.
Sometimes, it’s difficult to express how you feel about a certain issue, relationship, or current event. You may stay busy so that you don’t have time to reflect on the issues while you’re conscious. Then, while you sleep, your dreams play a part in how your mind sorts through what’s happening in your conscious life.
If you have been feeling sad, that sadness may be processed and shown at night through dreams about loss. If you have been thinking about someone, they may appear often in a recurring dream. Dreams can be a window into the psyche, biology, and the connection between the two.
One reason many people seek dream therapy is recurring nightmares. Having different types of nightmares may signal distressing life challenges, a traumatic or adverse past, or other fears.
Sometimes, the reason behind the nightmare may be obvious. At other times you might find the nightmare more symbolic or vague. Nightmares can make it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, or feel well-rested in the morning. Dream therapists can offer you strategies to avoid future challenges and reduce your nightmares. Some people also see psychiatrists who may prescribe medication to help reduce nightmares in people with conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
How Can a Dream Therapist Help?
A trained dream therapist knows what to look for in your dreams. They can ask questions about the dream, how it made you feel, what details seem to repeat, and what details cause the most emotional reactions.
Balancing the conscious and subconscious
Dream therapy helps strengthen the conscious and subconscious mind.
Insight into mood
By evaluating the meaning of your dreams, you get a complete view of the state of your general mood.
Keeping your dream journal handy and recording the different symbols can help you identify various themes.
If you’re experiencing a creative slump, dream therapy may help inspire you.
Address recurring nightmares
Image Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) is used with dream therapy to help relieve symptoms of PTSD.
Awareness of internal conflicts
The ancient Greeks practiced dream incubation. Before you go to sleep, write down a specific concern of yours. When you wake up write down whatever images pop into your mind from your memory. This may help reveal internal conflicts or challenges.
A dream therapist may suggest that you keep a dream journal. This will allow you to write down the details of your dream, track reappearing themes, and remember things that might fade from your memory during the day. It is often recommended to keep the journal by your bed so you can reach it quickly when you wake up.
By writing down the details as soon as you wake up, the dream is transferred to your working memory and you’ll be better able to remember it later. If you don’t consciously think about the dream within a few minutes of waking up, you might lose the ability to remember that dream. Dream journaling is frequently the main tool for taking control of your dreams in dream therapy.
Dream analysis is defined as the process of interpreting and evaluating an individual’s dreams to help them understand the meaning of the dream. For instance, a falling dream where the person wakes up falling is often linked with that person feeling like they are on the wrong track. Dream analysis helps them understand where they subconsciously agree with their idea that their life is on the wrong track. Then they can change their situation and remove that stressor from their life and subsequently, their dreams.
Dreaming about your phobia or fear is common for a lot of people who have a phobia. Often it represents confronting an underlying fear, whether it’s your phobia or something else entirely. Discussing recurring dreams involving your phobia is a good way to help you understand why you keep having these dreams and how they relate to your subconscious.
Yes, it’s a real practice that has been done for thousands of years across many cultures. The legitimacy of dream interpretation has been questioned and debated often. But many trusted therapists believe that it can be used effectively to treat a person who is suffering from recurring nightmares.
Explore Yourself at First City Recovery
You may discover deep-seated issues you haven’t thought about through therapy. If you think you don’t understand your subconscious aspects, if you have a re-occurring dream, or if you think your dreams are especially meaningful, you’re probably right. Things that go on in our subconscious minds have a real effect on our conscious lives.
If you’re suffering from an addiction or a mental disorder, or both, dream therapy can help you think more deeply about your real beliefs and emotions. First City Recovery in Indiana can help you discover things about yourself you never dreamed of. There is help and it starts with you. Contact us today.
Dr. Vahid Osman, MD is a psychiatry specialist in Indianapolis, IN.
Dr. Osman completed a residency at Austin State Hospital. He has over 32 years of experience in Psychiatry & Behavioral Health. He is board certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology.