By Sandy Plone, Ph.D.

Helping my clients analyze their dreams has been a major part of my psychotherapy practice; and friends and family often enjoy relating their dreams to me, being curious about the possible meanings, so I decided to see what the Internet had to offer about these headings.  In this age of instant gratification there was a National Dream Hotline Event posted, poised to inform the viewer about decoded meanings of various dream subjects, such as Family, Mom, Dad, Grandparents, Siblings and Danger, among other topics.  However, this is stated without the writer knowing anything about the dreamer, and with dubious expertise other than being a prolific writer for Lifestyle and other periodicals.

My personal dream-work style seems to be a composite of varied theories and theorists I have studied over the years, leaning heavily on Gestalt techniques, with the underlying assumption being that some aspect of the dreamer may be represented in each character within the dream, rather than interpreting characters other than oneself as literal representations.  For example, if the dreamer saw a kind figure in the dream, it may represent the kinder, gentler aspect of oneself.  Conversely, if the dreamer saw an angry or envious figure in the dream that might represent unwanted aspects of self.  Objects or animals may also be interpreted this way, as well as gender differences.

For example, males may dream of women with traditional feminine characteristics, possibly revealing their anima as Jung described, more feminine, emotional side of their nature.  Whereas women may have dreams of ambitious, powerful men, likewise revealing their animus or more masculine side of their nature, having little to do with socialization.  This thinking is based on the idea that our pre-conscious or sub-conscious feelings may be revealed to us within our dreams.

Many people react to dreams as predictive, either as wish fulfillment as Freud proposed, or from a superstitious point of view.  A futuristic dream that may portend an actually event, is the underlying fear.  The Freudian perspective holds that understanding dreams can shed light on the unconscious, heretofore unknown thoughts, feelings and memories, and provide insights as more depth emerges.  According to Freud, the core function of the dream is to fulfill childhood wishes or to release inner tensions.  Often the insights in dream analysis are free of self-judgment with a curious detachment, as if one is viewing a lab test in order to confirm a physical complaint.

Some therapists and theorists believe that early memories, as far back as infancy can be brought into consciousness through dream work, offering clues to early, traumatic events.  Paul Sloane, M.D. in Psychoanalytic Understanding of the Dream (1979) suggests that:  The dreamer comes to regard the dream as the touchstone of his life (p.14)

A personal experience I have had in the context of a Jungian Dream Seminar Group unfolded in the following way:  One person (in a group of about ten psychotherapists) reported a very complex, personal dream which was difficult for her to understand; trusting us sufficiently to allow us to listen, and offer our own associations or understandings of possible meanings.  What proved to be fascinating as we shared our thoughts was that each of us had a different association or understanding, as if we had been blindfolded individuals feeling a large elephant and each person having a different image of an elephant.  It was a powerful experience, as all of our images felt true to the dreamer!  What came out of that experiment was the power of what the Jungians call The Collective Unconscious.

Another approach to dreaming based on imaginative exploration rather than the pseudo-scientific approach involves using a dream directory, depicted in an artistic rendering of common dream symbols, which help translate often surreal dream images into concrete visual terms, aided by language to help interpret them.  It might be akin to using primitive cave art, which included words, to help better understand the images.

The Secret Language of Dreams; A Visual Key to Dreams and Their Meanings, by David Fontana/artwork by Peter Malone (1994), depicts images that many see in dreams.  A chapter offering suggestions to the reader who wishes to enrich their dream life, suggests using a dream diary and other techniques of dream recapture.  This could be invaluable to the reader who would like to analyze his or her own dreams, as well as use the book as part of their work in therapeutic dream analysis.

Finally, a former client gifted me with a beautiful book, Dreamings:  Art of Aboriginal Australia, revealing the cross-cultural view of dream work as well as the timelessness of such an endeavor.  Since the Aborigines believed that dreams encompass the beginning of time as well as guidance to the here-and-now, it seems that dreams may be viewed as manifestations of things always known, yet just discovered.

So, we can continue to be fascinated by our own dreams without apology, as if it were some narcissistic exercise best kept private.  I hope that some of the references above will be helpful as you take that journey, either alone or with a trusted partner or therapist.

Dr. Sandy Plone is a Psychologist in West Los Angeles and Marina del Rey and a member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network.  For confidential questions she can be reached at (310) 979-7473 or dr.splone1@verizon.net.

Copyright 2019 by Sandy Plone, Ph.D.