Dreams are an art form in which each of us acts as the sole scriptwriter, director, and producer. Dreams usually reflect current concerns. They integrate past data with recent experience and express the information metaphorically in the form of visual images. "A dream that is not explained is like a letter that has not been read." (author unknown)
Dreams can be interpreted on an 'objective' or 'subjective' level: Objective—elements in the dream are related to external events and the person. Subjective—elements in the dream are all strictly seen as part of the dreamer. Dream symbols are specific to each person, although shared cultural contexts clearly play a role. Symbols arise out of the specific life history of each individual, and it is only within this context that their meaning can be interpreted. Meaning is determined by the individual's own biographical events, life experiences, and past relationships.
Individuals. Persons in the dream can represent the person or significant others, or whole individuals can represent particular characteristics of the self or others (e.g., a harsh punishing person in the dream may represent the harsh punitive aspect of the self). The individuals may be accurate, or distorted and unrecognized aspects of the self or others. Disturbing aspects of the self are likely to show up in animal form.
Action. The action symbolizes part of the total living process of the person. Note the kind of action/movement in the dream-Is it parallel, conflicting, coordinated, passive or active? What is the direction and intensity of the action?
Feeling. Affect is closely related to a person's thoughts, behavior, and total functioning. Focusing on emotions can access previously inaccessible material in a most revealing way. Further, emotions in a dream may be symbolized (i.e., the affective component is not actually felt, but is implied by other aspects of the dream-a light push results in a person being flung across a room) or experienced (anger, rage, sadness, fear).
Surroundings. Surroundings are significant in that they contribute to the meaning of the other elements in the dream (e.g., elements of the therapist's office may show up, contributing to the identification of the therapist in the dream).
How to Remember a Dream
Dreams are available only as traces, and deteriorate rapidly, much as do sensory traces that enter attentional memory. For a dream to be remembered and fed into short term memory, the dreamer usually must awaken during REM sleep and actively process it.
- Tell your "self" to remember before going to bed at night, or think about remembering them during the course of the day. Presumably, this will serve to heighten the dreamer's awareness of internal physiological processes and promote awakening during REM sleep.
- Immediately after awakening, close your eyes and try to think about what was being dreamt. Often, a 'trace' can be captured.
- Write the dream down immediately. Keep a pad and pencil right next to the bed; even getting up to put on a robe may disrupt recall of the dream. Some people prefer to use a tape player to record their dreams.
These questions are to be completed after reading a dream journal entry, or upon recalling a dream.
- How do you feel now, having just read about your dream?
- If you had to label the dream as either fearful, scary, pleasant, or upsetting, which would you choose and why?
- When did the dream take place? Is the dream based on the past, present, or is it future focused?
- Where did the dream take place?
- Who were some of the people in your dream and were they seen as positive, negative, or neutral?
- How did the dream end?
- How would you have liked the dream to end?
- What part of your life is causing you the same type of feelings that you experienced in your dream?
- What in the dream does not seem to fit with your everyday life experiences? Or, what was most bizarre, surprising, or shocking to you?
- How can you fit any part of your dream into what's going on with you now? Does the dream correlate with your life, and are changes needed?
- What do you think your dream means?