We all dream and sometimes they are vivid or lucid but sometimes we just don’t remember them.
The analysis of dreams is known as dream therapy and can be a really good way to look at what our subconscious is trying to tell us. It’s also a really useful tool in therapy.
Throughout history, dream therapy has existed. The Mesopotamians looked at dreams as messages or symbols, whilst ancient Egyptians created dream temples as places of healing, where the answer to a person’s emotional and physical ills could be found. The Greeks and Romans had sleep temples which were dedicated to healing. Indian and Tibetan text tell of using dreams to gain spiritual enlightenment and the ancient Chinese believed the soul separated from the body to communicate with spirits during dreaming.
Even Hippocrates believed that during sleep the soul produces images that are prophetic, diagnostic and psychologically revealing in dreams. He strongly felt that bad dreams indicated there was some form of somatic or psychological issue. He used his own dreams on many occasions to diagnose illnesses!
Dreaming take place during REM (Rapid eye movement) sleep, this is the point when our closed eyes are rapidly and randomly moving. This eye motion is not constant but intermittent. Our brain activity during REM sleep is a variety of low-amplitude mixed-frequency brain waves, quite similar to those experienced when we are awake.
For us to understand our dreams is not an easy task as dream dictionaries from any shop or in any format are ineffective because they do not take into account our culture. The symbols and objects in dreams will have different meaning dependant on our upbringing and surroundings. They also do not take into account our life experience so far, for example, for some of us a clown is a scary thing whereas for others it is a symbol of happy childhood times.
We have approximately 100 minutes of important dreams every night. These take place when our body temperature is at its lowest. These periods have an average duration of 6 minutes and occur every 25 minutes during sleep.
A scientist called Michel Jovet believed that dreams had five functions –
- The dream sentinel: an ancient reaction that periodically reduces depth of sleep to allow survival in a possible hostile environment
- Dream transforming: the short-term memory to long term memory
- Dream facilitating or inhibiting: the transfers between the right (feeling) and left (thinking) hemispheres of the brain
- Day Dreaming: moments without interest (ghosts of waking time)
- Obligatory Dreaming: dreams to delete information without interest
From a counselling point of view, every dream is trying to tell us something about ourselves, especially if we remember them. There are certain dreams that seem to have a universal meaning: –
- Angel. Guidance. Wisdom. Truth.
- Bathing. Spiritual cleansing. Need to “clean up” one’s life.
- Cat. Universal symbol for woman. May refer to gossip; beware of gossip. The mysterious. Independence.
- Church. The realm of Inner Awareness. Higher Self. Spiritual need.
- Desert. Spiritual thirst. Emotional barrenness. Sterility.
- Falling. A natural fear and common to children. Falling from grace or higher spiritual realms. Defeat.
- Island. Seclusion. Desire to get away from it all. Security. A place of inhibitions.
- Judge. Authority figure. One who views objectively and fairly. Need for Self-discipline. Hidden guilt.
- Lake. Water symbol for spirit. Peace if placid or smooth.
- Mirror. Reveals one’s true Self. good, bad, or indifferent. A reflection of the truth. Can also Ocean. Spirit, God, Higher Self. Peace, unless a rough sea, then turmoil, strife, etc.
- Suitcase. Prosperity. Desire to travel. Prestige. Subconscious desire for someone else to go away.
- Sun. Spiritual light and awareness.
In therapy, dreams can often help us to open up issues that have so far been hidden but are being processed in our dreams. In Gestalt theory, the dream is told by the client form themselves and all the other characters in the dream, often finding that is one of the other characters portraying real issue. This is not something that is easy to do on your own but recording your dreams and looking for themes is.
Take a notebook and pen to bed with you, then when you have a dream that you remember you can write it down straight away and then go back to sleep. Over a period of a month you will find a whole list of dreams, and then any themes and people that turn up in your dreams will be clearer.
There are several things that can affect or inhibit our dreams, such as the use of drugs and alcohol, sleeping disorders, the food we ate and when we ate it, what is happening in our life and environment, pregnancy and the smells and sounds around us when we sleep. So, a note of what was happening to us at that point also helps us to review what we are dreaming about.