Why Dream Interpretation Works

In this article, I wish to provide my personal view on the most common views of dream interpretation followed by my own approach.  There are several approaches to interpreting dreams and many have gained the entire concept a rather pejorative stigma.  However, dream interpretation is still utilized by therapists and counselor’s to help achieve further self-awareness.

I am not an advocate for the clairvoyant or clandestine approaches to dreams.  Like many others, dreams are simply a means to discuss and investigate a persons unconscious and self-awareness.  I have done a great deal of dream interpretation for people and so I’d like to share how I approach it as you could take this approach to yourself as well.

➡ Purpose of Dream Interpretation

When we think of our dreams, we often think of many mysterious symbols and meanings. Our dreams have always had a history of vague purpose and spiritual nature. There have been many methods to interpretation and their purposes are also varied.  Often, people first think of dreams in a spiritual nature. They are often considered a sign or a prediction of things to come. They can also be referred to as a manifestation of your psychopathology.

Scientists will often say that the dreams are manifestations of consciousness. The reductionist will even go so far to say that dreams are just the random firing of neurons during sleep. They assert that there is often no purpose at all.  Clinicians who utilize dream interpretation in their therapy are those in favour of the psychodynamic approach. In this approach, the dreams are representations of unconscious content that have resided in the individuals cognizance since childhood. They are often representations of deeper unresolved conflicts.

Whatever the approach that is taken, we must all take an approach to interpreting them because of how much time we spend doing it! Further, the purpose is always an underlying understanding of the self.

➡ Spiritual

+ “Dream of Aesculapius” by Sebastiano Ricci

The first greatest dream interpreter was Aesculapius. Aesculapius is often depicted as the God of Medicine. The common medicine symbol is derived from the symbol of Aesculapius; a snake entwined around a staff.  The actual living Aesculapius was a formidable doctor who constructed places for baths and dream interpretation. These buildings were known as Asclepeion’s.

Ever since this time, it is natural for humans to look at dreams as spiritual manifestations vis-a-vis the individual. Symbols, people, and animals are all spiritual representations in favour of the individuals personality.  There is no specific institution for spiritual dream interpretation. Even Aesculapius, the first dream interpreter, never wrote any manuals or dictum’s on how he did it.

I would consider the next greatest spiritual dream interpreter to be Carl Jung. Carl Jung was actually a great inspiration to me to study psychology. In his book, “Man and His Symbols” he, and his favoured associates, share their interpretations and work on the symbols in human history. With this, they share how individuals often dream of these symbols and what they would mean to them.

To Jungians, the symbology of humankind is derived from a collective uncsoncious. A sort of unconsciousness that resides within us all and understands the world in unison. Jungian concepts are very powerful and still, to this day, are commonly used in the media and art.

➡ Barcode Interpretations

In contemporary times, there are many books and resources which make equation dream interpretations. I like to call this method the “barcode interpretation”.

In this method, one takes a symbol and looks for it in a manual. Under each symbol is a given interpretation.  However, I would not likely call it an interpretation more or less a given definition. There is little insight given to the individual and most likely encourages the person to feel less control of their own dreams and even self-will.  Most people do not adhere to this method but many will succumb to buying, or accidentally buying, a copy of one of these books.

The main problem with this approach is that it completely ignores context and the individuals background. How can you possibly make one interpretation of a symbol completely global and applicable to everyone?  While a symbol like blood is often interpreted as a bad thing, it could easily be contextually good (say, for example, the blood of a cow you just killed to eat, or the blood of an incision that will initiate your life-saving surgery, etc. etc.)

There are many sites that easily do this. You will also often find them covered in advertisements, silly games, and vague or pseudo-intellectual context. For example:

+ My Dream Visions

➡ Scientific

Aristotle provided the first greatest scientific approach to dream interpretation from a scientific approach.

+ “On Dreams” by Aristotle

In this first short record, Aristotle describes the situations in which people fall asleep, wake up, the difference between being awake and sleep, and more.  I personally think the most important point that Aristotle made was how individuals can tell the difference between reality and hallucinations and how this is inhibited in dreams.

Many dreamers can relate this to the short speach given in the popular movie “Waking Life”

+ Key Speech at 0:50

Here, Jason T. Hodge is speaking of how our neurotransmitters facilitate our sensory of our environments. While awake, we have naurotransmitters which facilitate our distinction between imaginary concepts and actual stimulus which exists outside of our cognizance.

This is an important function of the scientific approach to dream interpretation.

The common scientific theory is now called the Activation Synthesis theory, purported by Allan Hobson. In this theory, Allan Hobson ascribes dreams to the random activity of neurons in our brain. This random activity is no longer affected by our distinction of reality and cognition, so the thoughts appear as reality!

Some neuropsychologists might utilize these brain patterns and facilitate certain drugs or lesions to help prevent maladaptive behaviours. However, this is thankfully often a last (if ever) resort.

➡ Freudian/Psychodynamic

Probably the most famous form of Dream Interpretation is by the Sigmund Freud.

+ “The Interpretation of Dreams” by Sigmund Freud

It is not an easy task to sum up Freudian psychoanalysis in a quick paragraph, but I will do my best.

The crux of Freudian Dream Analysis is Wish Fulfillment. In our dreams, Freud would argue that our wishes are fulfilled. Things we wish we had done during the previous day or things we wish would happen in real life would be fulfilled in our dreams.

The idea is derived from his psychodynamic view that we have unresolved conflicts from childhood. These unresolved issues are “wished to be resolved” and are then “resolved” in our dreams. As these issues can easily carry their way far into adulthood, some people will have neurotic dreams or recurring dreams. Freud would accredit these recurring or neurotic dreams to these unresolved issues from childhood. Finding the conflict and then resolving it is the purpose of the psychotherapy. However, I will not delve into psychodynamic psychotherapy.

➡ My Take/Interactionist

Personally, I employ an interactionist model.

As diverse as humans are, we must also employ a diverse model. We need a model that can adapt and change per individuals needs. There are certain steps to this approach, and I will summarize them afterwards.

♦ Step 1: Background: While interpreting a persons dreams, one must take that individuals background into consideration. If that person takes a spiritual approach to dreams, you ought to as well. If they take a barcode approach, you ought to as well.

Afterwards, you ought to ask about them. Ask them what their family was like, their upbringing, their schooling, their interests, etc. I often look at it as like reading a painting and trying to figure out what the artist is trying to say or why they painted it. In this case, the dream is the painting and the artist being the dreamer!

♦ Step 2: Emotions: Further, you must consider all the things that this person feels about the context of the dream. While the dream might sound happy to you, the individual might find it dreadful.

In addition, ask why it is important to them to understand the dream. Often, people just ignore dreams. If they ask for interpretation, their is usually good reason. People do not often ask for dreams about going pee to be interpreted.

In these two steps, you will do two major things:

– Make the individual reminisce on their life

– Make the individual self-aware of their emotions

Once doing this, it is often the case that the person immediately understands their own dream. This is your goal as an interpreter!  However, it is also probably %50 likely that they will still not understand. There are a couple reasons why, so this is the next step.

♦ Step 3: Investigate: Ask open-ended questions about the person and eliminate certain obstacles.

Sometimes, people do not want to understand the dream content. Ask if the person has experienced anything profound that affects them to this day. Try to use neutral questions to avoid leading emotions in good or bad; you want the real emotions left to the dream. Do not create new issues.

Also, often people do not want you to know what the dream is about. Ask them if there is anything about them self they wish they could change or not have experienced.  There are other common possibilities to this further complication and this is where I interact with the other models.

♦ Step 4: Integration: First, most importantly, ask about their biology. Do they have any medical conditions or biological problems. These are easily causes for dream content. If a person has visual problems caused by a concussion, it is very common for them to dream in related to the incident or how they wish it didn’t happen, etc. This can be distressing to them and you must be sensitive to the fact that dreams and manifest content of the persons traumatic incident that causes biological nightmares!

Second, ask about their childhood more deeply. There may be some repressed, or even regressed, issues that are not being attended to. For example; a person may have been molested while young and may truly consciously believe it didn’t happen while unconsciously profoundly affected by it.

If it comes to this state, then you are in the deepest form of interpretation which only a select few in history have been qualified for. On a personal level, I would simply say that it is better to leave it be. If you wish to continue, then you must aim for something referred to as “transference”.

In transference, you are trying to get the individual to transfer onto you the problems they had with childhood. By this time, you ought to have the persons trust and a decent relationship. However, you will want to challenge and confront them about problems relative to the dream content. You want facilitate the conflicts that are likely unresolved and basically play them out yourself.

This can be dangerous, and will likely never be employed by anyone reading this, but I thought I’d go the distance and explain the whole thing.

➡ Conclusion and Summary

My approach can be summarized as:

Background, Emotions, Investigate, Integration

There are many approaches to dream interpretation just as there are to understanding human behaviour. I adhere to the idea that we ought to employ interacting methods that can adapt and acknowledge relative contexts to each individual rather than strive for a sophomoric universal definition.

Further, I do not like the spiritual approach. When one employs that dreams are spiritual, it is implied that our dreams and thoughts are not in our control. If you agree that your dreams are from your thoughts, and that you control your thoughts, I do not think you have grounds to say that dreams are spiritual then.

I would like to debate, discuss, or hear from you!  Perhaps lucid dreaming next..?

What do you think…?



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