Thinking About Dreaming
Many of you may have had some curiosity around dreams through your life. Perhaps like me, some years ago now, in my 20’s, you owned a dream book. This book could take imagery from you dream and tell you what it meant.
Dream work in therapy holds the basic intention and belief as these books. We hope to find a meaning, a deeper understanding of what our unconscious mind is communicating to us.
Analysis of a dream in psychotherapy is specifically tailored to you, your life, your experiences, your feelings and thoughts. No two people are the same. We are alike in that many people process their external and internal word through dreams. However, no two people’s history, day, how we receive the world, and relationships are the same. They are distinct to each one of us. So this means that dreams and the meaning of them are unique and individual to each person. They are yours and mine.
What do dreams have to do with therapy you may wonder? From the beginnings of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy dreams have been seen as important and a way to engage with a part of ourselves that can seem inaccessible.
Dreams can hold our oldest memories. They can be a gift to a person’s therapeutic journey; a way through to deep self understanding and change.
In the process of psychodynamic psychotherapy we do what may be the opposite of some of a person’s day to day life, we lean in. When it is seems like it does not make sense or it is a bit uncomfortable, we investigate. What can come from this investigation is an opening of parts of you that can hold keys to the remembering and repair of old wounds.
Imagine the meaning of the word dream as we often use it. It can be a way to hope for more, to “dream big”. This word is is common in our language for good reason.
Then there are nightmares, dreams that can be so hurtful to us. They demand our attention. People may wake up crying, immobilized by fear, with hearts beating, trembling, fluctuations in body temperature and many more symptoms. They are hard to ignore.
Let’s consider that these dreams and nightmares are unconscious communications. That there is a wise part of you that is calling you to attention. We all have wisdom and it comes in different forms. I believe dreaming allows us, therapist and client, as search light illuminating a path towards what needs to be discovered, thought of deeply and healed.
We remember in many ways. They are many things we just “know”, we walk, we talk, we drive a car or ride a bike. These are actions we learned and stay with us. These can be linked to implicit knowledge. We don’t typically remember how we learned to walk or talk, we just know. Feelings and relationships can operate similarly. So like riding a bike we just do. We learn how to be with people from early experiences with people and subsequent experiences through our life that may reinforce this experience.
Before we know it, we may be friends with someone who is like our mother and dating someone who is like our father. How did this happen? Especially since some of us can be so intentional about wanting something different, more fulfilling then what we have had. This way of relating may be the result of implicit knowing which reinforces following the patterns of “what we know”. For many people there is not a conscious knowledge yet, that relationships can be kind, giving, loving and peaceful. Healthy relationships do exist, you may not know it just yet, but you deserve to live a life surrounded by people who build you up rather then take away from you.
We begin learning when we begin. Early memories are important in the therapeutic process. Very small children are sponges with intense and powerful learning capacity.
I’m told that when I was about a year and a half old a pot of hot tea spilt on my arm and I had significant burns as a result. Sure enough I have the scar to show proof of this but no active memory, not a feeling memory, no images. I have been told this story many times in my life. The verbal memory “the story” of someone else’s knowledge had been given to me but no one could know my internal experience or learning. The other day I was reflecting to my partner how particular I am about the temperature of my tea, not too hot, nearly cool. When I go to a coffee shop I ask them to put ice in it before I leave with it and I still wait to drink it. Could this perhaps be memory? It is quite possible. With this small example in mind, what may you, people, be holding and be enacting in our daily life. Both in large decisions but also in micro decisions through our days, that may be a sort of remembering of your experiences.
Our dreams can hold our deep fears, and our wishes for more. They can be a preparation to reach for something more. When brought into a trained therapist and if given the time and attention they need, an opening for depth work can be created. Depth work can be where true long terms shifts and changes in your psyche can occur.
Some of you may not remember dreams. That’s ok. Rest assured you have them. When they are ready to come to the surface of your mind they will. There can be many reasons why they are not remembered, yet. Be patient and trust that your mind will offer memories to you when you are ready.
You could also consider that even the smallest dreams, which I call flash dreams (an image that may only last a few seconds), can hold a good deal of potential for exploration. They can also be an invitation. If you are on a therapeutic journey don’t hesitate to share those. You may thank yourself for it later. So you are not there yet but you may be on your way to accessing your unconscious mind through dreams.
At some point in your therapy it is likely that I will ask you about dreams or nightmares. We do not ever have to explore this. They belong to you. However, maybe you are curious, maybe you will allow us to be curious about your dreams together. I will be interested and excited to know what knowledge this part of you holds and discover how it may help your process of healing and growth.
If you are choosing or have chosen to explore psychodynamic psychotherapy please consider this a welcome into the vast world that is outside of your conscious mind.