Since we have been stuck inside for much of 2020, it turned out to be the perfect time to begin a course on Jungian dream analysis. As well as spending more time at home than usual, I’ve been spending a lot more time inside my psyche than ever before.
This fascinating journey was inspired by a great podcast I’ve been listening to for the past year, called This Jungian Life, who are running a course in dreamwork for anybody who is interested.
So why do some psychotherapists and counsellors become interested in dreams? What do dreams have to tell us?
Most counsellors and therapists share the view that everybody has a part of the mind that we are not aware of, and we refer to this as The Unconscious. By definition, although each of us has an ‘Unconscious’, we don’t know what it’s like. We don’t know what’s going on in there. It’s like trying to see the back of your own head!
Freud called dreams the Royal Road to the unconscious. Carl Jung wrote: the dream is the theatre where the dreamer is at once: scene, actor, prompter, stage manager, author, audience, and critic. And by learning to give full and interested attention to our dreams, we can find ourselves with new realisations about attitudes, fears, desires that we didn’t know we had.
We may sometimes have a dream that seems quirky or funny or weird. Or we may think that the meaning of the dream is obvious: for example, I’m dreaming about our dog on holiday because she died recently, and we were reminiscing. And sure, these things are probably accurate as far as they go.
However, as I study Jungian dreamwork, I am developing the stamina to delve deeper with dreams. If a dream suggests something to you that you already know, then you can bet that there is more to be found. By committing time and attention to reflecting on our dreams we may find a whole different world to be interested in.
Since I have been writing down every single dream I’ve had recently, I’ve found much to ponder about the recurring images, structures and themes that seem to be cropping up for me in 2020.
So how do we know when we have hit a useful interpretation? There are dream dictionaries in any bookshop, or on the internet, that provide “meanings” for different images or items in a dream. Yet, this is too simple. Those dictionaries may be a starting point, but clearly different images mean different things to different people – a dog may be a loved friend or a scary threat, a holiday may be a time of fun and excitement, or a more stressful time, depending on an individual’s personal experience or attitudes.
When working with clients, the therapist’s value is not in interpreting dreams for the client, but in helping them to find interpretations of their own dreams. And as with most things, there is never just one interpretation: there may be many ways of reading a dream, and none of them more right or wrong than another.
A skilled dreamworker can offer many different possibilities when presented with a dream. The dreamer can then consider these and notice if any of them just seem to catch, as something interesting we hadn’t thought of. And by following those threads, we can maybe unravel something from the unconscious and bring it into consciousness. It is our own sense of “Aha!” that will tell us when we have hit on something important.