Dream Analysis As A Mental Health Practice

by Jason Barrera

July 24, 2020

The number of people with anxiety seem to be on the rise. The American Psychiatric Association did a poll in 2017 and found that “Nearly two-thirds of Americans are extremely or somewhat anxious about health and safety for themselves and their families and more than a third are more anxious overall than last year.” This inevitably leads you to the questions of “Why?” and “What can be done?”. As is the case with many who suffer and search for cures to neurotic symptoms, they find that the current and most popular answer is pharmaceuticals. Many claim that while these prescriptions help with symptoms, there also comes a general numbing of all senses; not just those associated with anxiety. The root cause behind the issue still remains. During my search for answers I came across someone who was asking the same questions. This man was Carl Jung. Among many things, he expressed the importance of an individual’s exploration of the dream state as a means to keeping a necessary balance in their waking life. This dream analysis is what I believe to be a useful tool in the fight against anxiety disorders. In the following article I will lay out a quick background of Jung and his theory of dream analysis along with a proposed experiment for personal dream analysis.

Carl Jung: Modern Man in Search of a Soul

Carl Jung was a Swiss psychologist and psychoanalyst who lived from 1875 to 1961. He worked for a time with Freud but eventually had a falling out after many disagreements. One of the disagreements was on the topic of the unconscious, which Jung wrote many books about. It was these books on the unconscious that I believe to be a potential antidote to some of our modern-day mental health issues. I will be writing future posts on some of the topics explored in other books, but this post pulls from Jung’s book, Modern Man in Search of a Soul. It is in this book that Jung brings up the topic of Dream Analysis and how it can be helpful to the individual.

Dream life compensates Waking life

In Jung’s explanation of the Dream state he refers to the unconscious. The unconscious mind is a complex topic, but here’s the simplest way of describing it: it is everything that is not part of conscious life. Jung’s theory of the unconscious went so far as to say that there are entities with autonomy, or separate personalities that exist on their own in the unconscious, which he gave the term archetypes. This is not an important topic to go into here, as the relationship can be explained as such: when you’re awake you are conscious, and when you’re asleep you are unconscious. Dreaming, then, is an encounter with unconscious contents.

So why the importance of dreams? To many, dreams are simply leftover contents from waking life. If not this, then they are non-existent or rare. However, with an intention to analyze and consistent practice you will find that dreams begin appearing with startling consistency. Still, why bother? What is there to gain from practicing dream analysis on yourself? As Jung puts it, “The psyche is a self-regulating system that maintains itself in equilibrium as the body does”, and for this reason, “The relation between conscious and unconscious is compensatory.” This means that if something is out of balance in waking life, there will be dream imagery to compensate it. It is for this reason that Jung states that when interpreting dreams you should ask yourself: What conscious attitude does this compensate?

This brings us back to the original question: What can be done about the rising cases of anxiety? As is mostly the case today, we are treating symptoms, not root cause issues. What dream analysis may show is the compensation that is needed to re-create balance in waking life by fixing these root causes. Jung has many examples from his clinical psychiatry, but here is one that shows this clearly. One of his patients was a successful man who had quickly climbed his way up a social ladder and had suddenly been hit with some terrible anxiety. He brought a dream he had in which he witnessed a train that was noticeably going too fast and he knew it should slow down. The train continued at a quick pace and ran off the tracks because of this. When looking at this dream you can see the compensation happening. The dream is stating that the individual is moving too quickly and needs to slow down to avoid having a nervous breakdown, which is shown in the symbol of the train flying off the tracks. The patient denied this advice and ended up suffering because of it. Jung lists other examples, but the ultimate goal here is experiment, so the best indicator of usefulness will be personal experience using the practice.

Daily Dream Analysis Practice

I want to stress the importance of the fact that I am not an expert in this field and that I am laying out the following practice as a proposed experiment. However, I do believe this practice to be harmless. My only goal here is to lay out a potential tool for many who seek to know themselves and gain a balance they feel to be lacking. I know from personal experience the usefulness of the exercise. With this in mind the practice is as follows:

  • Get a journal
  • Write down your dreams first thing after waking (or as soon as you can). The earlier the better, as we all know dreams fade as the day progresses.
  • Write down your waking life events from the day before
  • Write down what you would like to accomplish that day and how it leads to a goal/destination.
  • Do this daily, then every week go back and read through your entries.

If the above were applied to Jung’s patient example above it would look like the following:

Dream: I see a train taking off from a station with many cars attached to it. I notice the train is moving too quickly. Sure enough, the train continues at its pace and flies off of the tracks.

Wake: I have quickly progressed through my companies ladder. Yesterday they told me that I am soon ready for another promotion. For whatever reason today I continue to have terrible anxiety despite my successes. Regardless, I will jump at the next promotion to continue on my path to be the top dog at my company.

It is obvious when looking at the above journal entry that the dream is trying to tell you something. This is the ultimate goal of this practice, to see if there is something in the dream life trying to compensate for actions in waking life that are throwing things off balance and creating anxieties.

Conclusion

As can be seen, the practice is fairly simple. It only requires that you take at least 15 minutes a day to get the minimum information down. The basic premise here is that you are laying out your dreams with your waking life to see how one may be affecting the other. The ultimate goal is that this helps with anxieties of the individual, as the dreams may show things that need to be done in order to restore balance. Again, I do not claim this to be the ultimate medicine to anxiety/depression or any other neurotic symptoms. I am merely taking what I have seen thus far and proposing an experiment that is immediately accessible to everyone. If anyone has any experience with this, or other similar practice, comment below so that the conversation is started.

3 thoughts on “Dream Analysis As A Mental Health Practice”

  1. When I dream analyze, I tend to look to the past for answers on why I just had that dream. I start blaming past situations and traumatic events for reasons why my dreams are very intense, upsetting, or even beyond amazing. I mean it only makes sense, right? I once read that dreams allow people to emotionally go through situations unconsciously because it would be too hard to go through them consciously. That may be why you wake up and you can feel your heart racing, body sweating, and an overall state of panic. Your dreams slowly get you through these certain things and traumatic events as well. Let’s say you just dealt with a traumatic death in the family and constantly having happy dreams about them may help you be okay with the fact that they are gone, since you can see them all the time in your dreams.

    I tend to look at my dreams as if they are lessons to be learned. The past may have shown me, in a way, tasks to be completed in life, and my dreams are showing me how to complete them. These tasks can include things needed to be done in your life to help you survive, in that given moment of time. These tasks may also be fears that you need to overcome. For example, my fear of dying in the past provides me with dreams of death and circumstances where death may occur. After waking, I have a sign of relief that I’m still alive and I try to be more grateful for the time being. Those dreams eventually can show me that death is a part of life and it won’t be so scary to me the more I dream about it. I also have this extreme fear of flying lately and I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have had dreams of flying recently. Slowly, but surely, I believe my dreams will allow me to overcome my fears and provide me with the tools I need to survive in this present time.

    1. That’s interesting that your dreams seem to immediately compensate your fears. Does this happen often? Do you know you’re dreaming when it’s happening?

      1. It does happen often, but not always. Unfortunately, no I don’t know I’m dreaming. I think there have been a few times where I may have known.

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