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  • Writer's pictureEve Houseman

Dream Exploration in Psychotherapy

Updated: Jan 6, 2022

What did you dream about last night; perhaps you had a dramatic dream, a scary dream, an erotic dream, a sad dream, or perhaps you didn't have a dream at all, or one that you can remember?

Keep a Dream Journal

Since the birth of Psychotherapy analysts have recognised the importance of dream exploration in understanding the human psyche. You can use your dreams to work with your therapist to explore the presenting issues you have; start by making a 'dream journal', a small note pad & pen placed by your bed, every morning when you wake up try and remember what you dreamt about and write it in the journal, even if you are someone who thinks they do not dream, or are not able to remember, the dream journal will help you to remember and, your dream memory will become more and more vivid with practice. Note feelings, colours, shapes, animals, places, people and things you recognise or don't in the dreams.

The History of Dream Interpretation

Austrian Neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), first argued that the motivation of all dream content is ‘wish-fulfilment’ in his book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ (first published in 1899); and that the instigation of a dream is often to be found in the events of the day preceding the dream, which he referred to as ‘day residue’.

Free Association is a technique used in psychoanalysis (also in psychodynamic theory) which was originally devised by Sigmund Freud during 1892-1898, and came out of the Hypnotic method of his mentor and co-worker, Austrian Physician, Josef Breuer (1842-1925). 'The importance of free association is that the patients spoke for themselves, rather than repeating the ideas of the analyst; they work through their own material, rather than parroting another's suggestions' (Thurschwell, 2009). Founder of Analytical Psychology, Swiss Psychologist Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), and his Zurich colleague Swiss Psychiatrist Eugene Bleuler (1857-1939), 'devised some ingenious association tests which confirmed Freud's conclusions about the way in which emotional factors may interfere with recollection' (Jones, 1974), such as ‘the word association test’, they were published in 1906. As Freud himself put it; 'in this manner, Bleuler and Jung built the first bridge from experimental psychology to psychoanalysis' (Freud, 1914-1916).

Freud believed every dream is a wish fulfilment, and he kept this theory to his end, even though he gave up his initial idea that all dreams have an underlying sexual content. For Freud, the concept of wish fulfilment did not necessarily imply that a pleasure was sought, because a person could just as well have a wish to be punished. Nevertheless, this idea of a ‘secret’ wish being masked by a dream remains central too classical Freudian psychoanalysis. Some theorists believe that dreams have certain fixed meanings; for example, ‘If you dream about oranges, it means good health; if you dream about onions, it means hard work’, and so on, you can even buy ‘dictionaries’ of dream interpretation. Then there are modern scientists who claim that dreams are nothing more than images resulting from random electrical activity in the brain as it ‘housecleans’ itself during the night.

Like Freud, Jung and now Jungian theorists, emphasize the importance of the unconscious in relation to personality, however, they propose that the unconscious consists of two layers; the first layer called the ‘personal unconscious’ is essentially the same as Freud’s version of the unconscious. The personal unconscious contains temporarily forgotten information as well as repressed memories. Jung outlined an important feature of the personal unconscious called complexes. A complex is a collection of thoughts, feelings, attitudes and memories that focus on a single concept, the more elements attached to the complex, the greater its influence on the individual. Jung also believed that the personal unconscious was much nearer the surface than Freud suggested, and Jungian therapy is less concerned with repressed childhood experiences; it is the present and the future, which in Jung’s view was the key to both the analysis of neurosis and its treatment.

By far the most important difference between Jung and Freud is Jung’s notion of the collective unconscious; this is a level of unconscious shared with other members of the human species comprising latent memories from our ancestral and evolutionary past; ‘The form of the world into which a person is born is already inborn in him, as a virtual image’ (Jung, 1953, p. 188). According to Jung the human mind has innate characteristics ‘imprinted’ on it as a result of evolution, however, more important than isolated tendencies are those aspects of the collective unconscious that have developed into separate sub-systems of the personality, Jung called these ancestral memories and images ‘archetypes’ (Jung, 1947).

How Does Dream Exploration Work in Therapy?

You can bring your 'dream journal' into your therapy session or just recount one dream that you would like to explore. Your Therapist may ask you to explore how the dream made you feel, if anything was out of place in the dream? You may explore the animals, Architypes, Anima & Animas, Symbols and your Persona & Shadow within the dream (all of these explored individually in my other blogs).

Another method to explore meaning is to hold a 'dialogue' with a character in the dream, maybe an animal or person, this may seem or feel a little strange but you will be amazed at how revealing this can be; for example you may ask the character if they have a message for you, where they come from, why they are there?

So before you go to bed tonight have your dream journal ready and before you go to sleep repeat the mantra 'tonight when I sleep I will have a revealing dream and remember it'.

Psychotherapy can help you to explore your dreams or help with the suffering of night terrors.

Contact me for a free initial telephone consultation here

Eve Houseman MBACP

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