Dreams and dream therapy get a bad wrap. My intent in this post is to “unwrap” the reputation that dream analysis has. We all know those books that are full of symbols and colors that, if you match them to your dream parts, are supposed to tell you what exactly your dream is saying to you! I agree with the majority of people that this type of interpretation is full of fluff and not based in true meaning. But I DO think that dreams can hold something important for us, can tell us to notice or pay attention to parts of ourselves and our lives, and that talking about them in therapy can resolve anxieties.
In my last post I mentioned Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which affects millions of people for different reasons and in different ways. I believe that our dreams can be linked to PTSD, as a way for our minds to try to process some of the trauma or memories we have experienced, or as a signal that we still have things we need to work on. A recent article suggests that dream therapy can offer relief to PTSD sufferers. It talks about scripting, which is a technique that uses imagery and guidance by the therapist. In this intervention, the client is awake and together they alter the course of the client’s dreams by talking about the content and feelings associated in the dream and uncovering parts of the client’s life that may be coming through, hiding behind a mask, in the dream.
There are opponents to dream mastery (or scripting) in the psychology field. Jungians feel that altering or changing part of a dream takes away the opportunity to read what the subconscious is trying to say. I believe that sometimes the things that come into your dreams are parts of your day that you had not yet processed, that you had stored away because you did not have the time to infiltrate them into your brain. Now, when you are sleeping, you do. These types of dream parts can hold meaning, but they also can be just a filtering system for important and unimportant memories day-to-day.
I believe that there are parts of our dreams that do play a significant role in how we are feeling mentally, and that nightmares in particular can be a signal that there are some memories or feelings that need to be worked on. For me, I have a lot of anxiety dreams that revolve around food. This has been going on a long time, and I always wake up with relief that I am only dreaming. These dreams occur during times when I have a lot going on in my life and I have learned that the food is a tool to show how anxious I am about a certain thing (such as starting a private practice!). The food is a doorway into my inner mind and when I have a food anxiety dream, I know that there is something in my life that I need to focus on in therapy.
Whatever your take on dream therapy, you cannot argue that aspects of present life do not affect your sleep in some way — restless sleep, waking up multiple times in the night, insomnia, nightmares. Whether you have experienced trauma, are in recovery from a disorder or addiction, or are anxious about something going on in your life, dreams can be a bell that rings in your ear and tells you to listen.