Do you ever have a dream and wonder if there is any meaning behind it? Want to understand your dreams better? Can I control my dreams? Or you’re just curious about the interpersonal aspect of dreams?
To start, I want to give you a fun fact about dreams! Did you know that as amazing as our brains are, our brains cannot create new, unseen human faces? So, every face that appears in your dream you have seen before in real life. Whether it be someone you know, an actor from a movie, or just a stranger who walked past you in the street.
This fun fact leads to the idea of us being able to control our dreams. Our brains can control the faces and people we see in our dreams based on our subconscious. The ability to control your dreams is the fascinating phenomenon of lucid dreaming, in which a person is aware they are asleep and dreaming. Those who are more adept at lucid dreaming can control the action and content of their dreams to varying degrees. You may ask yourself, can I learn to lucid dream and perfect it? According to a recent study by Denholm Aspy, Ph.D. at the School of Psychology at the University of Adelaide in Australia, the answer is yes. Learning to lucid dream takes time and practice, but you may be doing it without even knowing. For example, if you are watching a social media post of someone at a concert that you would have loved to go to right before bed, and you dreamed about going to the concert. That is a form of lucid dreaming; you can control your dream based on a desire that was presented to you.
The idea of lucid dreaming can help us better understand the meaning behind our dreams. Dreams are ultimately our subconscious and desires coming out, and everyone’s dreams have a different meaning behind them because they are unique based on that person’s life experiences. Knowing that the meaning behind your dreams is unique to you allows you to interpret them in the way that makes the most sense and meaning to you. Analyzing your dreams can help you better understand what you need in the real world.
The concept of dreams having their own meaning and interpretation stems from the original findings and background on dreams dating back to the 1900’s.
The Background of the Use of Dreams in Psychology:
There has been a fascination with dreams for thousands of years. Dreams have served as the inspiration for scientific discoveries, creative masterpieces, and inventions. People often wonder why and how dreams hold so much power. The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, a famous Austrian neurologist, in 1900 was the first publication on dreams in psychotherapy. Freud believed dreams consisted of manifest and latent content. Latent Content is the actual meaning and or interpretation of the dreams’ symbolic meaning. Freud explained that dreams were manifestations of our deepest and sometimes darkest anxieties and or desires. He had tied dreams to repressed childhood fixations and memories as well. He believed dreams were meant to be interpreted and had a more profound or hidden meaning.
Carl Jung was a friend and student of Freud, and he took Dream Work in a new direction. Jung believed that psychotherapists should use it to benefit the patient in therapy. Dreams hold so much meaning and can have much deeper-rooted emotions in an individual. This concept is used frequently today and is known as Jungian Therapy.
Alfred Adler was a psychiatrist in the 1930s; he used dreams to identify his patients’ personalities, lifestyles, and presenting problems. He used this opportunity for problem-solving and improving one’s self-worth.
One newer form of dream interpretation is the cognitive approach, which focuses on the internal mental processes that occur while people dream. Cognitive theory explores how an individual understands, thinks, and what they know about the world around them. This approach to dreaming holds the purpose of processing information received throughout the day and that dreaming is a way to remember, learn, and survive. This approach does not view dreams as repressed memories or desires. Many theories and forms of therapies have been created based on these original findings, and they will continue to evolve over time.
Use of Dreams in Therapy:
Thinking of the concept of dreams can be overwhelming, especially if you ask yourself the questions above. The term dream works is an umbrella term used to describe the exploration and incorporation of dreams in psychotherapy. Mental health professionals who integrate dreamwork into their practice often use it to help people problem-solve, gain self-awareness, or improve overall well-being. You may have also heard the term dream interpretation. It is when the therapist is the expert on the symbolism and meaning of the dream. The dreams that you have can give great access to your inner thoughts, fears, and even sub-conscience. Dreamwork can also be used as a self-help technique.
Dreamwork therapists believe dreams are formulations and continuations of waking thoughts, concerns, emotions, and memories. It makes this experience unique to everyone, and only that individual can verify the purpose, message, and or meaning of that dream.
A scenario of a dream interpretation case would be a patient having a reoccurring dream of being chased by a person or an unknown thing. It could indicate that the patient is experiencing anxiety or conflict. This type of dream can stem from a mishandled issue in the person’s life; they feel something is catching up to them, or they are running away from their emotions. An excellent self-help technique for dream interpretation is keeping a dream diary. Writing down what happened, how you felt, and any symbolic meanings during your dream will give you clues about what the dream may mean to you and align these emotions with events that happen when you are awake. Connecting your feelings in both states will give you greater insight into your interpersonal emotions and their root cause.
What Dreams Are and Why They Happen:
A dream is a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations. Dreams can occur in different sleep cycle stages, but vivid dreams occur during REM sleep. In this stage, your body is as active as being awake: increased heart rate, blood pressure, brain activity, and rapid eye movement. It is why your brain can construct stories that look and feel real. We sometimes know when we are dreaming and what we are imagining isn’t real, but dreams can feel very real while they are happening. Some dreams feel so real that we may talk or walk in our sleep, and this can cause us to wake up in a panic.
Emotions, thoughts, images, and hidden meanings in dreams are just as important as our emotions, thoughts, and experiences while awake. Learning how to interrupt dreams can significantly benefit your mental health journey or help you gain more insight into your most inner emotions, desires, anxieties, and fears.
Clinically reviewed by John Carnesecchi, LCSW, CEAP Founder and Clinical Director of Gateway to Solutions