Decyphering Dreams

For psychologists they are a major key to healing mental illnesses 

          We all dream a lot at night. However, most of us don't pay attention to them. While some believe dreams are meaningful, the majority of people believe they can tell what will happen in the future.

          But for psychologists, dreams are used as a tool to explore hidden emotions through analysis that could help cure mental illness.

   Looking back

          In ancient times, there was the world of reality and the world of dreams, and people were highly influenced by the dreamworld.

          In many cultures, people considered dreams as prophetic, for good or bad, and used them to guide their actions.

          Greeks and Romans believed the gods physically visited dreamers. It was also accepted that dreams could influence political and military movements.

          And sick people slept at the temples of Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing in ancient Greek religion, to receive dreams that would heal them.

          Ancient Egyptians believed gods and the dead communicated to people through dreams. They also gave the dreams of the pharaohs special attention as gods were more likely to appear in them.

          Chinese believed that while dreaming, a person's soul left the sleeping body and communicated with the land of the dead. If the person was aroused from dreaming, their soul might not return to the body and the dreamer could die.

          In North America, American Indians and Mexicans believed their ancestors were still alive and people connected to the dead through dreams.

  But Thais believe dreams always have a "culprit". There are four main types of dream:

           Bu Ra Pha Nimitre stems from the past stories of dreamers. In general, the stories give prophetic signs.

           Jit Ni Worn is formed when dreamers are absorbed in something. This is because the dreamer's soul has been attached to a particular thing for a long time.

           Thep Sung Horn is structured by a god in order to give prophetic signs, particularly of good luck.

           Thad Kho Pha occurs when dreamers are greedy and sleep a lot, leading to poor sleeping.

          The groundbreaking psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud believed dreams were "the royal road" to the subconscious. The stories reflect a dreamer's subconscious feelings, needs and attributes, which highly influence their mental state, motivations and defence mechanisms.

           Freud postulated that projection was an unconscious ego defence, where we take unwanted or undesired self-traits and attribute them to others.

  The interpretation of dreams

          Dream interpretation is the process of assigning meaning to dreams. Dreams are meaningful and provide benefits to us. They are quite often a reflection of our day memory and information processing. Dreams can be structured in the form of symbols, emotional relationships and feelings.

          Although dreams are generated by personal stories, all our subconsciouses are quite similar. Therefore, symbols in any dreams in any culture do not differ greatly.

          Fritz Perls considers dreams as being projections of parts of oneself. Often these are parts that have been ignored, rejected or even suppressed. One aim of "gestalt" dream analysis is to accept and reintegrate these.

          Carl Jung encouraged people to record dreams and study them over long periods so we can witness the development of dreams that reflect different types of behaviours, thoughts, feelings, motivations and defence mechanisms.

          To learn more about your hidden needs and feelings, why don't you learn to work out your dreams.

  How to increase your dream recall

          Some people remember their dreams. Some people forget them. To recall them, just follow the below techniques.

          1. The first and foremost step is to pay attention to your dreams.

          2. Set your mind and think of what you will dream tonight.

          3. Recall the special events in the past.

          4. Put a notebook and pen close to your bed.

          5. While closing your eyes, learn by heart that you will dream something and that you will remember it.

  How to jot down your dream

          1. The best recall is when you wake up in the middle of the night or in the morning. So you should write down your dream just as you wake up.

          2. Try to jot down any details of your dream.

          3. Explain your dream using first person pronoun.

          4. Describe every character in the dream in terms of behaviour and feelings as well as anything that happened in your dream. Drawing can also be used to describe characters.

          5. Review and revise what you write down.

          6. Also write down what you think about the dream when you wake up.

Discussing your dream

          1. Discuss your dreams with a friend. In this way, it not only makes listeners understand your dream but also allows the dreamer to return to the dream.

          2. Use first person pronoun when telling your dream. Tell what you saw, heard and experienced. Gestures can be used when discussing your dream.

          3. Ask questions to make the dreams clearer.

  Questioning your dream

          1. Think of dreams as your friends. They have something to tell you.

          2. To start dream analysis, people should question about them rather than the interpretation of it.

          3. Ask such questions as what the aim of the dream is, what the dream comes from, why you dream of it.

  Writing a conclusion about a dream

          1. Realise what the dream wants to tell you.

          2. Write down the conclusion.

          3. You can have more than one dream a night. Write them down chronologically.

          4. Name your dreams.

  Different characters in a dream

          Characters in your dream are symbols and signs of unconscious attributes or suppressed feelings.

          To make your dream clearer and in order to analyse it, divide an A4 piece of paper into three boxes.

          1. In the first box, describe how your character acted in your dream, such as what did you do in the dream? What did you say?

          2. In the second box, write down the attitudes and feelings of your characters with regards other players and different circumstances in the dream.

          3. In the third box, compare your personality in the dream with your real one.

          4. Jot down things that you are satisfied with and not satisfied with concerning the characters in your dream.

          5. Give suggestions to the dream players as to what are dos and don'ts.

          Note: symbols and signs in the dreams can be pictures such as a church, vase, or even noises or smells, which can arouse dreamers to express specific feelings. Also, symbols can be actions or passive reactions, for instance, that you are being chased.

  Talking to your dreams

          The interpretation of a dream means talking to your dreams. By doing so, read the record of your dream and choose an outstanding character or symbol that you want to work with.

          Go for the very special one, which you consider as the key for your dream interpretation.

          Talking to your dreams helps to discover unconscious needs, attitudes and behaviours. If dreamers are open-minded and innovative, they will witness hidden issues when they are awake.

    How to interpret the meaning of your dream

          1. Ask your friend, who acts as an interlocutor, to join the interpretation. Also ask him to express his view and feelings using first person pronoun such as "I think that".

          2. As a dreamer, you should ask open questions of the interlocutor. Try to ask as many questions as you can, particularly about shapes and characters of the players in the dream.

You might start with:

  • Who are you?
  • Why did you show up in my dream?
  • What do you want to tell me?
  • What is the best in you?
  • What are you afraid of?
  • What do you want from me?
  • What do you want to tell me?

          The dreamer should ask questions that generate significant conflicts, whether it be conflicts between you as a dreamer and the interlocutor, or conflicts in yourselves.

          If you don't receive any answer, you may try, "Why don't you answer me?", in order to exchange the idea.

          During the conversation, the dreamer should notice the differences in his conscious and subconscious needs.

          That shows how big the difference is between the real world and the dreamworld. This question may make you understand how your decisions affect your way of life.

          During the conversation, motivations, needs and wishes are also of paramount importance. Find out where they are from and how they affect you.

          It is important to observe your behaviour, particularly when you disagree with conflicts. Also, keep talking to the interlocutor until the conflicts have been resolved or you want to finish the conversation.

          Before ending the conversation, you should ask the last question: "What else do you want to let me know or give me?"

          After the conversation is finished, think twice about what has happened in your dream, the main issues, feelings and questions.

          Bear in mind that dreams don't communicate direct meanings to dreamers. Rather, symbols and signs are what dreamers have to pay attention to. This is because they give dreamers clues and possibilities of meanings.

          In summary, some parts of dreams are clear, while others are unclear. Some are peculiar and unreasonable because they are formed subconsciously.

Working with your dreams, people may get involved in the three main stages: dream observation, talking to an interlocutor and playing a role in the dream.

          In this way, the dreamers can track their thoughts and suppressed feelings. This can help the dreamers review circumstances in the dreams and understand and accept them.

          In other words, working with dreams is finding the way out for conflicts in the dreamers' minds in order to cure mental illness and relieve worries.

BangkokPost, myfamily July 22-28, 2010   
By Dr Penny Lorwatanapongsa is a psychiatrist at Manarom Hospital