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What is Dream Therapy?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Dream therapy is a method of deriving meaning from images and elements from dreams in order to gain insight into a patient’s psychology. Most famously put to use as a psychoanalysis tool by Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century and outlined in his book The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, dream therapy took a prominent place in the public’s understanding of psychiatry and the therapy process throughout the 20th century. By the end of the century though, most mainstream psychologists questioned the validity of this therapy, though it continued to see some use, especially in the treatment of recurring dreams and nightmares. The alternative medicine movement adopted dream therapy as a treatment method, leading to its resurgence in popularity through the 1990s and 2000s.

At its core, dream therapy involves recording and analyzing dreams. The patient initially might find it difficult to remember dreams, but with some conditioning, he or she should be able to retain them long enough to write them into a journal. Voice recordings also can be used, and some therapists recommend drawing a scene from the dream. The important thing is to record the dream immediately after waking. Even when recorded within the first waking minutes, these journal entries will quite often be fragmented impressions rather than full, accurate records, and this fact must be remembered during the analysis process.

Countless books list common elements from dreams along with standard interpretations, although many question the value of these interpretations. Most professionals instead suggest that the best interpretations come directly from the patient, with the aid of a therapist, if needed. Information gained through such interpretations is intended to give the patient a greater understanding of his or her own issues and suggest a method of addressing any problems.

The interpretation of dreams is a practice that dates to at least the ancient Greeks and Egyptians and to ancient shamanistic practices that were used for healing and prophecy. In the 19th and 20th centuries, psychoanalysis gave the world a greater understanding of the workings of the mind, led by the works of Freud and Carl Jung, dream therapy became an instrument of science. Research of the later 20th century gave scientists a better understanding of the human mind but caused many to reconsider the worth of dream therapy. In 2009, however, researchers at the University of Frankfurt found a link between lucid dreaming — the state where the dreamer knows he or she is dreaming — and psychosis, leading them to reconsider dream therapy as a useful treatment for psychological conditions such as psychosis, depersonalization and pseudoseizures.

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Discussion Comments
By anon997166 — On Nov 23, 2016

I have been using dream therapy for decades with great effectiveness. I use it for myself and have used it with clients. I also have developed a product for use with dream therapy and it is wonderful.

By anon290489 — On Sep 09, 2012

I really rely on my dreams to express what I can't in real life. Like if I'm not allowed to get mad or don't have an outlet. The dream does it for me.

By suntan12 — On Feb 10, 2011

Comfyshoes - I think that many people experience the same dream. For example, I have recurrent dreams of being chased, or falling. I also have had dreams dealing with my teeth.

I have had a recurrent dream of losing all of my teeth. It is really odd. I think some dreams might signal a bit of anxiety or worry about something, but I feel that most dreams are meaningless.

By comfyshoes — On Feb 08, 2011

I think that dream therapy is fascinating to explore. There are many avenues regarding cognitive therapy and dreams that therapists can take.

The therapist will all use associations and symbols in the dream but may interpret the information in a different way. For example, those that follow Adlerian therapy understand that we are all in control of our future and most of the problems stem from an inferiority complex.

Psychologists that use Gestalt therapy will do a lot of role playing with the patient and discuss issues in the present not review the past.

The other popular school of therapy is that of psychoanalysis. In psychoanalysis the patient is learning about potential unconscious feelings and desires that they many have not known about but are present in their dreams.

It is really interesting.

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