The significance of dreams and what they can represent

For the majority of us, dreams are an ongoing part of our lives. Some of them we remember, some we don’t. We may consider them to be highly meaningful and feel greatly impacted by them, or we may view them as a collection of the day’s events; an amalgamation of useless images or random neurons firing in the brain.


There are a number of different theories on dreams and their significance. Sigmund Freud referred to dreams as being the royal road to the unconscious. He believed they held huge significance to our unconscious thoughts, feelings and desires.

Throughout our waking lives, we can have a tendency to push into the depths of our minds, those thoughts, feelings and ideas which disturb, shock or worry us the most. However, our unconscious mind is not a locked vault and nothing we place there is ever truly hidden from view. These difficult and distressing thoughts and ideas often have a way of showing themselves in a variety of different ways, such as through our dreams.

Why do we dream?

Despite numerous different studies into sleep and dreaming, there is still no exact reason for why we dream. What is clear however is that there is an enormous amount of neurological activity occurring during sleep, especially when we are in REM sleep. This is the period of sleep which happens in cycles of about 90 to 120 minutes, usually during the latter half of our night’s sleep.

It has been suggested that dreams could be crucial to our emotional and mental health and can be a means by which we solve problems, deal with emotions and thoughts. It is thought that dreams play an important role in providing us with the ability to function psychologically. Therefore there are clearly benefits to dreaming, understanding our dreams and their meanings. Not being able to dream may have an adverse effect on our mental health and capacity to deal with difficulties in our waking lives.

Are dreams important in life?

Dreams are highly personal and have the most significance to the individual dreaming them. This being said, dreams do have psychological significance and they may often be an unconscious reflection of our internal anxieties, fears, desires, hopes and fantasies. Of course, we can read almost anything into our dreams. As they are constructed within our own minds, we can attribute certain ideas or thoughts to dreams, or ideas held within them and make them mean what we wish them to.

However, dreams can give clues to areas of our lives which require attention, our significant relationships or aspects of ourselves which we are concerned about. The importance of dreams should not be underestimated nor should we dismiss reoccurring themes.

Common dreams and possible interpretations

Being chased

This is a very common dream that is more easily remembered because the anxiety we experience is so vivid. This dream can represent a fear of what we are running from and not the fear of being chased itself. These sorts of dreams can help us to understand that we might not be addressing something in our waking life that requires our attention.


This dream can often be linked with insecurities and anxieties and could mean that something in your life is potentially out of your control. You may feel that there is nothing you can do about it. It can also be interpreted as a sense of failure about something or having a lack of control over what is happening to you.

Taking a test or having an interview 

Finding yourself running through empty classrooms, halls or buildings searching for where you are supposed to be, but you are unable to find where or what you need to do. This is a common dream which can have several different interpretations with similar meanings. It could represent a sense of being scrutinized, judged or tested. Maybe you sense that you are not facing up to a challenge in your waking life, or do not feel prepared to stand up to scrutiny. It could also mean there is something you have neglected or forgotten about.


Many flying dreams are the result of lucid dreaming, but not always. These sorts of dreams can mean that you are on top of the world, in control of the things which matter to you. Maybe, you have recently gained new insight, knowledge or a new perspective. It could also represent feeling strong-willed, confident or undefeatable. If in the dream you struggle to maintain your ability to fly, it could mean that there is something or someone who may be standing in the way of your having control. Feeling afraid whilst flying could represent a fear of not being able to manage challenges.

Working with dreams in therapy

Therapy and counselling can provide you with a space to explore your dreams, their meanings and identify possible themes. You will learn how to think in depth about the impact of your dreams and reflect on why you may have had a particular dream. A therapist can work with you to understand your dreams, identify meanings, messages and ideas, as well as offering perspective, reflection and interpretation. The process of therapy will allow you a greater understanding of what your unconscious mind could be trying to tell you through your dreams.

It is clear that dreams have significance and have an important part to play in our lives. Whether they are remembered or forgotten, valued or considered nothing more than a collection of thoughts, they do have an impact on our lives and can contain messages which are hidden and hard to interpret. However, taking a little time to understand your dreams and their potential meaning and significance can be a highly rewarding and informative process. They offer you the chance to see what is going on within the deepest parts of the self.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

Share this article with a friend
London N6 & NW5
Written by Joshua Miles, BA, MSc, BPC, BACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
London N6 & NW5

Joshua's an experienced integrative therapist with a special interest in working with dreams & unconscious processes, & how these can impact our lives. He's assisted people in exploring their dreams, ideas & thoughts at a deeper level & assisted them in understanding themselves & their relationships with more clarity. He's based in East London.

Show comments

Find the right counsellor or therapist for you

All therapists are verified professionals

All therapists are verified professionals