By: Suzanne Maiden
Our dreams provide us with profound information – pregnant with meaning, dreams illuminate our emotional health. Dream data suggest what needs psychological excavation, examination, and healing. When a client needs access to difficult material they consciously resist dredging up, we explore their dreams.
As Hall (1984) said, “The dream is to the psyche as an x-ray is to the body.” Oftentimes, new clients minimize and poo-poo the notion that their dreams have meaning. Usually, it only takes one time for us to explore a “big” dream – and they’re hooked. Some clients sit and cry after processing a dream, because the dream so accurately portrays their inner world which they are just beginning to explore. Clients e-mail me, leave voice-mails, and stop me in public excitedly describing a dream they need help dissecting. Jung said, “Dreams are, after all, compensation for the conscious attitude.” What we have difficulty consciously owning, the dream clarifies.
I am grateful I trained with notably the best dream analyst in the country. For 7 years, Barry Williams, has been my own dream analyst. In the world of psychoanalysis, Depth psychology, and Jungian concepts – Barry is considered the Godfather of dream interpretation – and one of the last greats of this work. He is a direct disciple of C.G. Jung. People travel from around the world to work with him. Because I learned from the master, I feel free to speak with some authority regarding dream interpretation.
What do your dreams mean? Dreams speak symbolically. Dreams speak metaphorically. Dreams carry archetypal energy and schema’s – archetypes are ancient world wide patterns that may be seen in every culture. For example, some classic archetypal themes include: the ‘wise old woman/man’, the ‘virgin’, the ‘healer’, the ‘warrior’ or the ‘teacher’. Jung said that dreams perform a self-regulatory function, and are imperative for personal growth and survival. Because dreams speak symbolically, the symbols are unique to the dreamer – except when larger archetypal motifs dominate. This is why dream interpretation books with standard answers do not work. For example, when the dreamer dreams about a snake – it does not automatically mean a penis, unless you’re a strict follower of Freud. Although, the snake could represent the proverbial penis if the dreamer has this association. However, it is unlikely.
Where to begin interpreting your dream? Keep a dream journal by your bed. Many dreams are forgotten on the way to the bathroom! The following is a quick way to interpret you dream. It is difficult to interpret a dream by yourself (and C.G. Jung declared it nearly impossible to interpret a dream’s meaning by oneself) but this do-it-yourself technique is a good beginning.
1) Write down every detail of the dream; people, colors, smells, location, and feeling-tone.
2) Highlight the most significant parts.
3) Begin a column and re-write the most significant part as a header. Underneath that header, free-associate. Write down every association to that one significant piece. Do this for each significant piece.
4) Narrow down the associations – which really resonate with you? Which associations carry big energy? This creates a picture, or story, you can begin to piece together an overall theme. What are you left with after this point?
Two key points: First, this essay is not applicable to Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder dream recall/flashbacks, or psychic-prophetic dreams. Second, anyone you dream about is almost always YOU. For example, if I dream about Sarah Palin, the dream is only using her persona to identify the part of me that is Sarah Palin-ish – whatever she means to me. However I describe Sarah Palin, is a projection. A projection is a part of me that I cannot own or consciously carry, so I project onto another. Whether I love or loathe her, if she shows up in my dream, it still represents the part of me that I love or loath.
Lastly, “It would be an extraordinary waste of nature’s time if dreams did not contribute in some vitally important way to our survival” (Stevens, 1994). Honor your dreams and their message. Dreams can be literally life-saving – they were and continue to be for me…