The Value of Dream Analysis

[Written around 2007.]

Dream analysis is a wonderful and challenging discipline – and is often a key component of deep psychotherapy and deep self-therapy. It is best to catch and write down dreams right when you wake up to them, so then the little details that tell so much about them are not lost to the unconscious. I have compiled a list of the benefits of dream analysis, from the personal to the interpersonal to the therapeutic.

  1. Dream analysis is humbling. Life makes it so easy for us to become arrogant and grandiose, to feel we’re on a higher plane than others.  By studying our dreams in depth, we cannot avoid seeing ourselves in the more humble light of our own vulnerabilities and ancient unmet childhood needs. Dreamwork – my word for dream analysis – helps us see that these needs are nothing to be ashamed of and are not our fault, but the fault of our past caretakers, our limited parents, who could not meet them adequately, and sometimes actively stunted them. By owning up to our still-living ancient needs, those anachronistic remnants of our past, we have much less need to pathologize the comparable unmet needs in those we interact with in life. My own dream analysis helps me see, in the most powerful of ways, just how incredibly similar I am to everyone else on this planet, from the sickest to the healthiest.
  2. Analyzing our dreams naturally reinforces in us a pattern of listening for the depths of things and not just taking things at face value. Dreams are the deepest messages of our soul, but expressed in symbolic code. People who take the content of their dreams at face value rarely derive much value out of them. My experience with dream analysis is that it has allowed me to think and approach life much more symbolically than ever – and to trust my free associations better than ever. This has been allowed me to become a much more intuitive person. Because of my dream analysis I find myself more naturally inclined to sort through my daily behavior in search of present replications of past traumatic dynamics – and I do the same with my patients, which has makes me a much more effective therapist.
  3. My own dreamwork shows me that I can heal myself – and that the answers to life’s questions are all within. Whenever I can figure out what a dream really means, and decode all its symbols and place them in proper context, I get a major clue into the workings of my unconscious. And when I do this for fifty – or a hundred, or a thousand – dreams in a row, I really get to know myself well. This is incredibly empowering, and gives me something that no external guru, therapist, or book can provide.
  4. Dreamwork keeps us focused on the center of our being. I haven’t found anything in my life that so intensely keeps me centered. Granted, being centered has its costs, especially when we hide things in our unconscious that we’d rather not know or remember, but in the end if we don’t bring up and work out the things in our unconscious we will act them out, and this is the essence of living death. Dreamwork is a wonderful antidote to this.
  5. As a therapist I find that my dreamwork empowers my work with my patients. The more centered I become through dream analysis the less I hunt for external gurus to rescue me from my traumas, and consequently the less I need to play guru with my patients. They tend to appreciate this, which reminds us both that ultimately they are their own healers, and that I am only a guide. I used to be more afraid that if my patients became too empowered they’d all quit therapy and I’d be out of business, and while I still have this fear at times, it hasn’t proven true. And the exciting thing is, the more I do my inner homework the more I really do have something valuable to offer.
  6. Because I heal through my dreamwork – I see the evidence every day – I have a greatly improved confidence that all emotionally-based conflicts, including the extremes of psychosis, are also totally curable, if only you can untangle them! This leaves me with a much greater sense of hope, and allows me to transmit this hope to others – because it radiates out of me (especially if I’ve had a good morning of dream analysis). I find this hope catching, and when I spend time with others who also are doing dream analysis I find myself increasingly hopeful and motivated to self-examine. This builds a wonderful sense of connection with others and a powerful healing momentum.
  7. My dreamwork consistently highlights the traumatic underpinnings of my own emotional conflicts – most traumatic dynamics from within my family of origin, and most following repetitive patterns over many generations. I now take the following as a maxim both for my own healing and that of my patients: grieve the traumas, free the spirit.
  8. Dreamwork helps show me what my real emotional needs are – which makes me less likely to manipulate others, especially those over whom I wield any power, into being there for me. The more I heal the less I carry a hidden agenda, and I find that this lets people feel safer to be themselves around me. Similarly, I find it safer and more productive and satisfying to be around others who are more consciously in touch with their deep emotional needs. I find that people who are more in touch with their depths are less likely to act them out onto me and unconsciously to expect me to be there for them.
  9. Through the inward focus of dreamwork I become much more immune to the effects of having the world tell me who I am. I have seen this for others who do dreamwork as well. This is great for the process of individuation. This also sets a wonderful example for me to quit hogging the airspace in my interpersonal interactions and quit telling others who I think they are. Others on the healing path seem to do fine figuring out who they are for themselves – and I the more I do dreamwork the more I tend to be respectful (and the more appropriately and efficiently I can mirror my patients).
  10. Through dreamwork I gain a massive respect for the genius of the unconscious. When I see the genius in the part of me that creates my dreams – a part of me that I really cannot take much credit for, because it feels so separated from my “ego” – I’m really blown away. It also gives me a LOT of motivation to integrate this unconscious side of me! Also, I have less hesitation now in picking out and labeling this same “Dream Genius” in other around me, including my patients – and what I find when I point it out to them is that deep down they already know it. Deep down we all know we have a buried genius.
  11. Doing my own dreamwork is painful, frustrating, time-consuming – and, slowly but surely, liberating. It gives me headaches sometimes, makes me grieve a lot, makes me see sick and nasty sides of myself, reminds of things that happened to me and things I’ve done that I’d often rather forget, sometimes makes me afraid to sleep, and it doesn’t always make it easy for others, especially others who are avoiding going deep into themselves, to get close to me, because the energy and consequences of healing, again, are catching. And yet dreamwork bolsters my deep optimism like nothing I’ve ever experienced. To me all of this, the good and the bad, is parallel to what psychotherapy patients go through, and because of my dreamwork I have more consistent and fresh empathy for patients regarding their projections, resistances, inner torments, struggles, self-hatreds, and self-doubts.

4 thoughts on “The Value of Dream Analysis

  1. Dream analysis requires nothing but commitment, courage and discipline (internal) and a pen and paper (external). When you wake instantly jot down your dream in as much detail as possible – sensations – feelings – key moments – try to be as automatic and at times foolish and what may seem silly at times, the most absurd things are usually linked deeper into the unconscious….After some time you will become better at understanding your unconscious language. The Jungian tarot system is also a fabulous tool to communicate with the unconscious for self understanding and healing.

  2. How does one get started with dreamwork? What are the tools of this analysis? How does one find/ establish a group to work with?

    • hi shelly—
      greetings from australia (where i am right now…). hmm….i don’t know if you saw my essay on doing self-therapy, but that has a little part on how to get started doing one’s own dream analysis, and other forms of self-therapy too.

      but i think there are a lot of ways to do self-therapy and dream analysis — mine are just one option………

      as for groups……well……i don’t know about that. i didn’t have any luck finding any really good ones myself, which is why i did self-therapy…

      wishing you the best!!

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