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What’s Dream Analysis and How Does It Really Work?

Maybe you have woken up from a dream and wondered what it meant. Maybe you even told a friend or family member about that dream and hypothesized together about its meaning. Maybe you even conducted an internet search to try and understand the elements of the dream. Many people choose to keep a dream journal and write down their dreams, then look up the components in a book.

Dream analysis is not just a fun activity. Many psychologists do view dreams as being rich sources of information about a person and their psyche. Dream analysis can be a part of a broader therapeutic process. Learn more about dream analysis and what you can expect from this therapeutic intervention:

Dream Analysis: What is it?

Dream analysis is both a therapeutic tool and a therapeutic process. As a tool, dream analysis takes the manifest content of dreams and examines it for the latent content. Manifest content is the content that is seen in a dream. Latent content is the underlying hopes and fears represented by the dream. The process of examining manifest content to identify latent content is also considered dream analysis.

Dream Analysis Theory

Dream analysts believe that dreams can give insight to a person’s deepest wants and personal wounds. Those who support and practice dream analysis believe that this process may be a helpful method for assisting people to know themselves better, to uncover hidden information from regions of their mind, and to ultimately become a more whole person.

How Does Dream Analysis Suggest the Mind Works?

Psychological researchers are still seeking to understand why people dream and what causes specific content in dreams. So far, it is clear that dreaming can occur throughout the sleeping hours. Some of the most vivid dreams may occur during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Sleep itself is known to be crucial for human functioning and well-being.

It is thought by some psychologists and researchers that dreams may represent some communication between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. It is thought that perhaps dreams allow the mind to communicate and transmit information across these levels of consciousness. Further, it is believed that perhaps dreams allow the mind to resolve certain emotions and experiences. For example, after a traumatic experience, a person may have upsetting dreams about the event, as their mind seeks to process it and find some resolution.

Important Practitioners in Dream Analysis

The earliest form of therapy was psychoanalysis. Dream analysis is one of the best-known and most popular techniques in psychoanalysis. The technique of dream analysis still remains popular among psychoanalysts, although any mental health provider can certainly use this approach. Given its history, the early psychoanalysts are considered among the most important practitioners of dream analysis.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud was largely the originator of psychoanalysis and dream analysis. Freud’s view of the human mind was that people store all sorts of information in their unconscious. He believed that dreams were “the royal road” to the unconscious and analysis of dreams could uncover hidden information, that once revealed, could enlighten a person and improve their functioning.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung was initially a student and follower of Freud. However, he eventually separated and developed his own theories about the human psyche. He too thought that dreams could help to unlock the unconscious. However, he viewed the dreamer as the one who should interpret their dreams, rather than the therapist (in contrast to Freud, who saw the therapist as the expert).

How Does Dream Analysis Cause Change?

It is thought that dream analysis causes change by helping a person to become more connected to their unconscious. As the unknown enters the conscious level of a person’s awareness, it becomes known. This allows a person to work through and process that content, so they can improve their functioning.

What Happens in a Dream Analysis Session?

Most people have, at some point, casually made their own attempts at dream analysis. There is no set list of rules for how to do personal dream analysis. However, psychologists do believe that dream analysis is best done as part of a broader course of self-discovery and increased self-understanding. As such, it is helpful to work with a mental health provider who can guide you in the process of analysis.

Techniques Used in Dream Analysis

If you attend therapy and your counselor opts to use dream analysis as one of the interventions for your treatment, there are several specific techniques they may use to aid that analysis.

The first technique you may be asked to engage with, for dream analysis, is to simply record your dreams. This means that you would keep a notebook near your bed and as soon as you wake up, you would write down a few sentences and details about the dream. This is important for the process of analysis because otherwise, you are likely to forget the dream altogether. Research shows that doing this will make it easier to remember your dreams for analysis.

The next step in dream analysis is to practice recalling your feelings and emotions from the dreams you had. You might ask yourself what you were feeling in the dream. Be sure to define it in specific terms. It may also be helpful to analyze how you feel after waking. Additionally, ask yourself how comfortable you are with those feelings. It is thought that sometimes people experience and feel things in their dreams that they cannot during their waking hours.

Dream Analysis

After some time of dream analysis, you may be able to start identifying recurring thoughts and feelings from your dreams. You may even identify themes that appear during both your waking and dreaming hours. Ask yourself if your dreams do seem to represent something else.

As you analyze your dreams, be sure to consider all the elements. Psychologists believe that you may be able to see parts of yourself and your personality in small and sometimes unexpected details. For example, other people and figures in your dream may mean quite a lot.

Most psychologists actually discourage the use of dream dictionaries and other resources when you try to analyze the elements of your dreams. This is because there is not necessarily a universal meaning for every element you might encounter. Instead, you need to consider and identify what those elements mean to you. Essentially, you are actually the best expert of analyzing your dreams. However, a trained therapist can also be very helpful in the process.

In therapy, you will likely describe your dream to a counselor, and then discuss the dream (including focusing on key elements that seem particularly important). This process will allow new information to be gleaned from the dream, it will also increase your overall understanding of the dream, and it will ultimately increase your general understanding of yourself. A portion of the therapy session might also be focused on helping you to figure out how to apply the information you have learned about yourself from your dream into your daily life.

The process of dream analysis is often combined with another technique—free association. In this technique, the client is asked to consider the elements of their dream and freely discuss whatever comes into their mind. It is believed that this combined process allows the client to more deeply explore the unconscious and bring the content there to be more conscious.

Does Dream Analysis Work?

Research does indicate that dream analysis seems to be helpful as part of mental health therapy. It is unusual for it to be the only approach or technique used. Most often, it will be applied as a broader part of therapy, depending on the client’s preferences and interests, to elicit some benefits.

What Kinds of Concerns is Dream Analysis Best For?

The main goal of dream analysis is to help people resolve some psychological problem. It is often the case that this problem is a mental health symptom or issue. Depending on the type of dream and the believed cause, various specific dream analysis approaches may be used.

How Are Dream Analysis Specialists Trained?

At a basic level, practitioners who aim to use dream analysis with clients, will need to receive education to become a mental health provider. Then, they will need to receive training and applied experiences to increase their ability to work with clients. Providers who aim to make dream analysis a core part of their therapy work may receive specialized training to conduct dream analysis with their clients.

Dream analysis can be used by psychoanalysts and other mental health providers. This approach is also popular among practitioners who use gestalt therapy. From the gestalt approach, the provider often asks the client to act out or interact with some elements of the dream. This allows the client to further explore the meanings of the dream. Existential therapists also practice dream analysis with a focus on the imagery of the dream. In the existential approach, the therapist acts as witness to the exploration.

Concerns/Limitations of Dream Analysis

Research has found some benefits from dream analysis. However, it does have some limitations. One challenge is that dreams and dream analysis are difficult to study. Many psychologists also view dreams as just biological, due to brain activation, and not as a reflection of the unconscious. Since it is difficult to study dream analysis, it is somewhat difficult to know how to apply it exactly for the greatest success.

How to Find a Therapist

If you are interested in pursuing therapy and want dream analysis to be a part of that, then you will want to research for mental health providers that use this specific approach. You may be able to ask friends or family for recommendations. You can also research online for potential providers.

What Should I be Looking for in an LMHP?

When you search for an LMHP (licensed mental health professional) you will want someone who is appropriately trained and adequately experienced in the field of therapy.

If you want dream analysis to be a part of your therapy process, you may want to seek out someone with specialized training. If you are pursuing therapy, it is likely that you are doing so because you want to address some specific concerns and accomplish some specific goals. When you choose to work with a mental health provider, you want to be sure they have experience working with concerns and goals similar to yours.

Finally, to make the process of therapy more productive, you will want to work with a provider whom you feel generally comfortable working with.

Questions to Ask a Potential Therapist

When you pursue counseling, you will want to ask your potential provider important questions before you get started. You will want to ask about their training, experience, and general approach to treatment. If you have an interest in receiving dream analysis as part of your therapy, then you will want to ask about their experiences using this intervention. It is also helpful to ask what approach your potential provider will generally take to working with your specific concerns and goals. Finally, you may want to ask how they will monitor your progress.

Find a Therapist Now

If you choose to pursue therapy, online websites can help you find local providers. One useful site where you can search for providers according to your location, is Psychology Today. The SAMSHA website also has a provider locator to locate nearby low-cost options. Today, many people choose to obtain their therapy and dream analysis through online platforms.

If you decide to participate in online therapy, use a convenient and confidential platform. One recommended option is Thrive Talk. This platform is easy for anyone to use. You start by setting up an account and then get matched with a therapist. There are many potential licensed providers to research and choose from. You can even specify that you are interested in working with someone on dream analysis. You can then use the online platform to schedule an appointment and participate in your therapy sessions at a time that is most convenient for you.

Final Thoughts on Dream Analysis

Dream analysis is one intervention used to assist in addressing various mental health concerns. It can be used in conjunction with other techniques to help a person learn more about themselves, increase their self-understanding, and improve their overall psychological functioning.

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