Dream analysis for beginners

Ever since Freud wrote that dreams were ‘the royal road into the unconscious’, counsellors have been interested in what dreams mean and whether they offer an insight into our secret selves.

Types of dreams

Whether we remember our dreams or not, whether they are in black and white or colour, we all dream. We’ve all had dreams that upon waking leave us feeling unsettled as if something both deeply strange and familiar has been unearthed from our psyche. There are dreams so vivid that when we wake we still feel angry or upset as if the events really happened. And then there are dreams that feel like a jumble of memories and events lacking any easily perceived meaning.

The secret language of dreams

Dreams are our brain’s way of processing emotions and memories while we sleep and can offer interesting clues as to our deepest thoughts. Interpreting our dream language can feel difficult, baffling and frustrating. Yet if we persist, dreams can offer a window into a different more instinctual part of ourself, unfiltered by our waking self.

Not every symbol in a dream has layers of meaning – sometimes a cigar is just a cigar! But it can often be useful to try and figure out what messages we are being sent in our dreams paying particularly attention to reoccurring dreams or symbols. Dream interpretation books are not particularly helpful as the meaning of each symbol differs from person to person. Your counsellor will want to know what the symbols mean to you. For example, for many people swans mean elegance or love (as they pair for life). For me swans equal fear as I was bitten by one as a child and have been unnerved by them ever since!

Recalling your dreams

If appropriate, a counsellor may ask clients to bring a dream into a session to unpack. Often people can find this difficult particularly if they don’t remember their dreams. Try keeping a book by your bed. Immediately after waking (perhaps leave a post it on your alarm clock or a reminder on your phone) write down what you remember of your dreams no matter how small a fragment (a red hat). If you persist over time you will be able to remember more of your dreams as the process becomes automatic.

Homework – interpreting your dreams

In Gestalt theory, every person and object in our dreams are all disowned parts of ourselves that requires expression.

Start by writing down your dream.

E.g. I stood at the edge of the cliff. The wind played with my hair. I heard my friend calling behind me but I did not turn around. I stepped off the cliff and fell for what seems like years. All I could hear is the wind and my laugh echoing as the ground rushes up at me. Just before I hit the rocks below I wake with a start.

  • What do you wake up feeling? E.g. Terrified and confused: why I did step off the cliff and laugh?

  • Talk me through the dream in the present tense? E.g. I’m standing at the edge of the cliff.

  • Embody different parts E.g. Be the cliff/the wind/your friend. I’m the friend, I am really worried.

  • How does the dream end? E.g. I am still falling.

  • Repeat the dream but this time end it how you want to E.g. I slow like a feather and swoop upwards as I start to fly.

Let me know how you get along with your dream analysis in the comments.

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