Can dreams ever tell a therapist anything useful?

History

Many times we ask ourselves what are dreams, why we have them and what do they tell us about ourselves. When we sleep, our subconscious doesn’t need to battle with our conscious mind. Our emotional side is not challenged by our logic, so it’s easy for our subconscious to break through barriers. But it isn’t always easy to understand what it is trying to tell us. The subconscious relays messages in the form of dream symbols, or sometimes even bizarre dreams in which we are participants or observers. Dreaming is one of the best ways for the subconscious mind to get your attention. Many people get psychic impressions from their dreams. Others may only dream when being forewarned about a situation. Some people think they never dream. They do, but probably can’t remember. In some dreams, our friends and family members may make an appearance. Even loved ones who have passed on can show up from time to time to say hello.

There are different types of dreams such us:

1. Prophetic: Are the dreams that give us a glimpse into the future. They are the category of dreams that you can keep a record of and interpret.
2. Recurring: Are the dreams are ones you have repeatedly. The same theme or series of events is always played out in this type of dream. If you experience a recurring dream, there’s probably a psychological or emotional reason for it. Your subconscious mind is telling you that there is an issue, fear, or worry you need to examine within yourself.
3. Precognitive Dreams: These are psychic dreams that can foretell the future. Make special note if you have a dream that feels precognitive. Even if the details are a little off, they may be close enough to alert you to upcoming events.
4. Warning Dreams: These dreams alert us to possible danger or problems ahead. These dreams help us by giving us prior knowledge so we can be prepared or a crisis our even stop it from happening.
5. Factual Dreams: We have lots of these! They don’t last long, and we’re more apt to get bits and pieces of information than tangible knowledge. However, they can be very helpful. For example, you could dream of being interviewed for a new position or of talking with a friend about something that is actually happening in your life.
6. Inspiration Dreams: If you are going through a personal crisis, perhaps having a difficult time at work or worrying about something, an inspiration dream offers a solution. It can give you insight to handle a situation. These dreams leave you with good feelings when you wake up.
7. Visitation Dreams: Sometimes, deceased loved ones want to visit us, and the best way for them to connect with us is through our dreams. When we’re asleep, our subconscious is open to receiving messages from the other side.

But how do we decode dreams?

• Algorithms developed by psychologists and cognitive scientists to create feedback.
• Communities of dreamers or even dream experts who will opine about their hidden significance

Cultural/Religious Perspective

Religion was the original field of dream study. The earliest writings we have on dreams are primarily texts on their religious and spiritual significance. Long before psychoanalysts, sleep laboratory researchers, and content analysts arrived on the scene, religious specialists were exploring dreams in a variety of ways: using dreams in initiation rituals, developing techniques to incubate revelatory dreams and ward off evil nightmares, expressing numerous dream images in different artistic forms, and elaborating sophisticated interpretive systems that related dreams to beliefs about the soul, death, morality, and fate.Every religion has its on way of defining dreams. Below there are some explanations of how the three religions (Christianity,Islam and Hindu) define dreams.

  • Christianity

The Bible reveals that in times past servants of God were given visions and dreams for specific reasons and/or to convey special messages. For example, Jesus gave a vision of His future Kingdom on earth to Peter, James, and John, no doubt as a witness and encouragement both to them and to us (Matthew 17:1-9).Some visions and dreams may simply be caused by mental or physical stress or the pressures of daily life. The Bible reveals that dreams may result from an upset or overly stimulated mind (Ecclesiastes 5:3). If one has had a very troubled or busy day, he might be more likely to have vivid dreams that night. Ill health or memories of unpleasant experiences may also cause such dreams.n situations where an unpleasant dream or vision causes distress, fear, physical sickness, or any such thing, we would advise seeking God's intervention and healing. If Satan bothers us with bad dreams, we should ask God to rebuke him (Jude 9). We should also stay close to God in prayer and Bible study so that Satan cannot bother us (James 4:7-8). God will grant us peace of mind if we walk with Him each day (Philippians 4:4-9; Isaiah 26:3).

  • Islam

Interpretation of dreams in Islam is a mean to analyse past and future situations, and is one of the 46 parts of prophecy.There are 3 kind of dreams in Islam :
-The truthful dream (rahmani)
-The dream stemming from personal desire (nafsani)
-The dream coming from the devil (shaytani)
Believers of the Islamic religion use a dream dictionary based on the work of Muhammad Ibn Sirin, a specialist in the field of dream interpretation in regards to the traditions of Islam.Muhammad Ibn Sirin was born in 654 and died at the age of 77. He was a very pious Muslim. He belonged to the tabighins, formed by the kufit school.However, in today's world, he is more know for his expertise in giving the meaning of dreams.He also brought lots of hadiths from Abu Huraira, Anas Ibn Malik and others.

  • Hindu

The Hindu shastras contain deeper knowledge of the relation between the soul (Jiva), the mind, and the omnipresent consciousness (Brahman), and describe dreams as the expressions and mode of subtle linkage between them. The shastras affirm the soul as 'Trikaldarshi' (clairvoyant which can experience the past, present and the future with equal ease. The Upanishada state that when the mind gets active linkage with the soul, it can experience the world beyond the limits of time and space, supernatural realizations of future and divine inspirations through dreams.Dreams are called 'Swapna' in Sanskrit language. The literal meaning of the word conveys "seeing (experiencing) that as real which is not experienced in the real (perceivable) world." Dreams have been the focus of curiosity and enquiry since the beginning of human civilization. Haphazard or vague dreams are experienced during the 'subconscious' (Swapna Nidra) or 'disturbed' sleep due to sickness, stress, etc. Such dreams are often shortlived, perplexing and meaningless. In a state of deep sleep (sushupti) dreams either do not appear or they appear with sharp impressions and are of longer duration. The dreams which are clearer and longer attract attention of the dreamer and he is curious to know the cause and implication of such dreams

Notable Approaches

Sigmund Freud

[1856-1939]

Sigmund Freud (born Sigismund Freud) was born on May 6th, 1856 in Freiberg, Moravia. He is known for being the founding father of psychoanalysis and for his work on the id, ego and superego. Freud also worked on dreams in one of his most prominent works, “Interpretation of Dreams” (1899). He emphasized the importance of using free association and transference in treatment and the importance of childhood events, which could contribute to mental developments in adulthood.

Sigmund Freud. (2014). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 06:37, Apr 08, 2014, from http://www.biography.com/people/sigmund-freud-9302400.

For Freud, dreams represent the immoral desires of the dreamer, with the usage of imagery that was experienced at some point in their waking life. We usually dream of something undesired, however, Freud thought these were actually repressed feelings in the waking life. We dream about these things so we can experience the wish to be fulfilled. Freud acknowledges that his assertion of “all dreams are wish-fulfillments” can be easily refuted, since anxiety dreams and nightmares exist. But even so, Freud still holds the opinion that dreams are wish-fulfillments and that the interpretation of dreams (even painful and anxiety dreams) lies not in the manifest content but in the latent content.

Freud, S., Strachey, J., & Gay, P. (1989). III. On dreams (pp. 23-24). New York: Norton.

Manifest and latent content in dreaming

The manifest content of dreaming refers to the literal dream. What is being seen or what is thought about in the dream is the manifest content. You usually recall this content upon waking up. This content disguises the latent content and the manifest content is the narrative of the dream. Freud thought the latent content in dreams were of the most importance; they tell us of the underlying mental activity the dreamer is experiencing. They are the hidden, repressed thoughts that the dreamer desires. The latent content of dreaming is what the person dreaming must understand.

Freud, S., Strachey, J., & Gay, P. (1989). II-III. On dreams (pp. 16-23). New York: Norton.

'Wolf-Man'

Through the usage of free association, Freud attempts to help Serguei Constantivovitch Pankejeff, who was codenamed "Wolf Man" due to the subject manner of his childhood dream.

At 23 years old, Serguei was being consulted by Freud because of his depression. He was raised in a wealthy aristocratic Russian family. He was a good-natured boy until an “eccentric”, “quarrelsome”, and “addicted to drink” and additionally, very cruel arrived to his household when he was about three years old. Around the same time, he also experienced a “sexual playing” by his sister with him. His woes do not end there; he contracted gonorrhoea at eighteen and his father and his sister committed suicide. Serguei’s problem was that he was always dependent of other people, so he was always accompanied by a servant or a personal physician. Physicians were of no help to him before the appointment with Freud.

At age four, the now violent and sadistic Serguei had a dream, which gave him a phobia of wolves and other animals. He dreamt it was night and he was lying on his bed. The window in his room suddenly opened; in front of it, he then saw there were six or seven white wolves sitting on the walnut tree. Serguei recalled he was afraid to get eaten, so he screamed and woke up.

Serguei thought the white wolves reminded of his father’s sheep, which he remembered as good memories. These sheep later died because of an epidemic. The dream also reminded him of various fairy tales, which all involve a wolf or a pack of wolves as the antagonist(s). As for the walnut tree, Serguei associated it to a Christmas tree, with the wolves sitting near it like presents. He recalls the wolves sitting still and were staring at him.

Freud thought the wolves were “father surrogates” and believed Serguei was afraid of his father. He also thought through Serguei’s association to fairy tales (more particularly the tale where a wolf’s tale was being removed), Freud believed Serguei had a fear of castration. Freud thought the staring wolves represented that Serguei witnessed his parents having sex. The opening window meant that the boy’s eyes were opening. Freud also thought the immobile wolves was the opposite of what young Serguei saw; his parents violently having sex.

Freud, S. (1918). From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, described in West, M. (2011). 11. Understanding dreams in clinical practice (pp.93-95). London: Karnac

Carl Jung

[1875-1961]

Carl Gustave Jung, the first modern scientist who really believed in the reality of the unconscious, was born in the summer of 1875 in Switzerland. He was married to a woman by the name of Emma Rauschenbach and had five children. Jung was familiar with Sigmund Freud’s work, “The Interpretation of Dreams”, but didn’t quite agree with his views. He did not use Frued’s word psychoanalysis, but instead referred to his methods as analytic psychology. Some of Jung’s works consisted of “The Association Method”, “The Significance of Number Dreams”, and “The Psychology of Dreams.” He also introduced the concept of collective unconsciousness. Carl Jung died in the summer of 1961 at the age of 85.

Last Encounter with Carl Jung. N.d. Counter-Currents Publishing. Web. 07 Apr. 2014.
von Franz, Marie-Louise. C. G. Jung: His Myth in our Time. Inner City Books, Toronto, ON, 1998. ProQuest. Web. 7 Apr. 2014.
In Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale, 2004. Web. 7 Apr. 2014.

Symbolism/Interpretation

James A. Hall states in his book, Jungian Dream Interpretation, that there are three major steps in Jungian interpretation. Firstly, the interpreter needs a definite understanding of all details of the dream. Next, one has too gather associations to the dream starting with personal, then cultural, and finally archetypal. The last step to interpreting in the Jungian method is to, place the dream in circumstances of the dreamers life whether it be the situation of their life or the “process of individuation” (Hall 34).

Hall, James A. Jungian Dream Interpretation: A Handbook of Theory and Practice. Toronto, Ontario: Inner City Books, 1983. Print.

There are different dream interpretation examples given in Jung’s book, Dreams. One dream interpretation shown in his books is of a field of sheep. Jung says, “A green land where many sheep are pastured. It is the ‘land of sheep’” (Jung 132). He says that this image can come from childhood feelings and also from those who have religious character.

There is also the elaboration of dream images. The Jungian perspective in clinical work stresses the importance of the self in dream images.

Carl Jung mentions in his book Dreams of a use of symbols to interpret dreams called mandala symbolism. Mandala is a magic circle used in a system of beliefs instilled by a spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism.

Jung also gives examples of mandala symbolism in his book, Dreams. Jung says, “The anima accuses the dreamer of paying too little attention to her. There is a clock that says five minutes to the hour.” (Jung 178). He says that the timing represents a moment of anxiety for people who live by the clock. The dream may also be saying that the person lacks time.

Jung, Carl G.. Dreams. Trans. Hull, R.F.C. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1974. Print.

Personality Development

James A. Hall says in his book, Jungian Dream Interpretation, “the process in which a person in actual life consciously attempts to understand and develop the innate individual potentialities of his or her psyche.” (Hall 19). This is the concept of individuation and is a primary idea to the Jungian belief. Spiritual experiences that happen in some dreams can cause deep changes to a person’s personality.

Hall, James A. Jungian Dream Interpretation: A Handbook of Theory and Practice. Toronto, Ontario: Inner City Books, 1983. Print.

An example about personality change happens in the illustration given above about the ‘wolf man.’ According to the Jungian belief, the treatment of both Serguei’s sister and the governess towards him, is what caused Serguei’s nature to go from good behaviour to a short-tempered and aggressive behaviour.

Freud, S. (1918). From the History of an Infantile Neurosis, described in West, M. (2011). 11. Understanding dreams in clinical practice (pp.93-95). London: Karnac

Studies of Dreams in Therapy

These studies involve the therapeutic treatment of trauma and anxiety patients through their dreams, nightmares and sleeping patterns.

Krakow, B., Johnston, L., Melendrez, D., Hollifield, M., & al, e. (2001). An open-label trial of evidence-based cognitive behavior therapy for nightmares and insomnia in crime victims with PTSD. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(12), 2043-7.
In this study, what is being discussed is the relationship between nightmares, sleep disturbances and post-traumatic stress disorder. It involves the treatment of the trauma victims’ sleep patterns and nightmares. The method of treatment that was used consists of imagery rehearsal (a form of cognitive behavioral therapy) for nightmares and sleep hygiene. Imagery rehearsal therapy is described as the user changing “the nightmare any way they wish” and then later rehearse the changed dream when awake. In the article, it is stated that in the clinic, PTSD nightmares are viewed as uncontrollable and from the unconscious. But the results show that if successfully treated, the patients may exhibit confidence. This also concludes that treating bad dreams can reduce distress and anxiety. The treatment of sleep problems (nightmares, insomnia, etc) can be successful through the improvement of distress and anxiety.

Wilmer, H. A. (1982). Dream Seminar For Chronic Schizophrenic Patients. Psychiatry, 45(4), 351.
This paper describes a group therapy program for schizophrenic patients. This therapy program consisted of Dream Seminars and its purpose is to allow patients to understand their dreams. It was also to prove that Dream Seminars would reduce insomnia and night fears (through the use of dissecting dreams.) In addition, the paper describes the importance of the manifest content of the dream (in contrary to Freud and his importance towards the latent content) and leaving out free association in dream analysis. The patients would speak about their dreams in a group discussion, but it would only be further analyzed if it was not short or filled with delusions. Patients with insomnia and nightmares were to record it (through different mediums such as writing or painting) or speaking to a night nurse. There was an interesting part in this article; it was a recording of patients discussing about a dream that a Vietnam War veteran had. It is a good example of the kind of interaction the group would usually have. The patients, the psychiatric social worker and the doctor attempted to help the dreamer by discussing their interpretations of the dream. Later in this discussion, the seminar went to a more creative direction. The dreamer was told to conduct a conversation (relating to his dream) in the form of role play. In the end, this discussion is shown to benefit the veteran. Through the interpretations of the dream, the veteran/dreamer came one with himself and the seminar is shown to improve his condition. The Dream Seminars has helped chronic schizophrenic patients control their insomnia and night fears, as well as understanding themselves better.

Simard, V., & Nielsen, T. (2009). Adaptation of imagery rehearsal therapy for nightmares in children: A brief report. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 46(4), 492-497.
In this study, Simard and Nielsen measured the effectiveness of a modified version of image rehearsal therapy (IRT) in children and their nightmares, anxiety and depression. To update dream logs, the researchers used drawing as a replacement of IRT; the children were asked to draw a modified version of and speak about their unpleasant dreams. The treatment has shown to reduce nightmare distress and manifest anxiety. Through the use of drawing their modified dream, it is shown to reduce nightmare distress. Also, through the use of speaking about the dream to an automated phone call with the clinician’s voice or having contact with a clinician, it is seen as helpful in the reduction of the nightmare frequency. The researchers conclude that it is the thought that a clinician is listening, which has a therapeutic effect on children. While this study shows some important information, the researchers pointed out some issues with the study and gave some pointers (and alterations) on how future studies can utilize this therapeutic method for children.

Bibliography

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  11. Krakow, B., Johnston, L., Melendrez, D., Hollifield, M., & al, e. (2001). An open-label trial of evidence-based cognitive behavior therapy for nightmares and insomnia in crime victims with PTSD. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(12), 2043-7.
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  15. Wilmer, H. A. (1982). Dream Seminar For Chronic Schizophrenic Patients. Psychiatry, 45(4), 351.
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