The Power of Dreams in Psychotherapy

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dreamcatcher-1585820Dreams fascinated people since the dawn of human kind. Throughout history, dreams moved from being associated with all kinds of superstitions to becoming the object of complex scientific research. Psychology pays a high importance to these by-products of the psyche and one of the first to acknowledge their use in psychotherapy was Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and talk-therapy. Psychoanalysis puts the unconscious in the centre of the psychological activity and, according to Freud, dreams are the royal road to it. It is worth journeying down that road because interpreting dreams help us understand what the unconscious has to communicate and this can play a vital role in one’s recovery process.

Bringing dreams to the consulting room is encouraged by many therapists today because it still represents a safe way to understand what one’s psyche is trying to communicate. There’s still this magical aura around dreams and dreaming, but in psychotherapy people learn there isn’t anything supernatural in analyzing them… It’s all about deciphering the message: associating dream contents with life events, emotions and personal experiences while trying to make as much sense as possible of it all.

Questions like “Why did this dream contents appear now?”, “Why this specific form of expression?”, “What do they represent for the client?” are often used to decrypt the message. Some psychotherapists, like the Jungian ones, go even further from the manifest content of the dream. They look for deeper meaning of what they call the “latent” content of the dream and, in order to find it, they encourage the client to associate parts of the dream with symbols and figures from mythology or folklore. This way, the client has the opportunity to realise that their psyche is a fascinating mirror of a universe where all is connected, not a simple recycling machine that makes you dream of cherry pies because you watched a cooking show before going to bed.

Finally, dreams brought into psychotherapy can give a great indication on the progression of the healing process. Here are two short examples to provide a picture of how it really works:

Dream one: A woman has a recurrent dream where she is trying to lock doors. She is afraid that something will come in. However, she cannot get all the doors locked…

Although this dream is the carrier of a high amount of anxiety, it turns out that it has a positive meaning. In dream analysis, the dreamer is the one who knows the best what the dream is telling them, while the therapist’s role is rather to provide a containing environment where they feel comfortable to make associations and find meanings. This client realises that, as her psychotherapy progresses, she starts downing defences and allowing what is coming up in therapy. She slowly moves from feeling stuck and locked up to talking about her childhood trauma. Of course, it is not the dream on its own that helped her reveal her problem, but the entire therapeutic context. In this scenario, the dream is the sign that the client is ready to start the big journey.

Dream two: A woman has not spoken to her sister in a few years, but she mentions in therapy that she has been thinking that she should perhaps reach out and call her relative. She dreams she is at the swimming pool where she and her sister used to go to when they were children. She stresses that it is a beautiful place and the old rock pool is just as she remembers it. She recalls having a happy feeling in her dream and deciding to go swimming.

It is quite obvious that the dream relates to the relationship with her sister. The fact that she wants to swim is a sign that she is ready to heal the past and to jump back into the relationship. She is becoming aware that it might be a risky endeavour – the pool is made of rocks – but she is also becoming aware of the fact that it is worth the risk. As mentioned before, everything that happens in a dream matters – from events, to characters, to feelings and sensations. On the other hand, everything that appears in the dream is a symbolical, coded reflection of both real life events and of of one’s inner world: in dreams, parts of us are communicating themselves and, with the right therapist, we can make sure they hear each other and work together for a better life, for a better us.

Paying attention to dreams does help us heal and grow. Are you interested in dreams and in a psychotherapeutic approach that values the power of dreaming? Give us a call at +1 847-967-0952.

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