Dream Therapy: How You Can Learn And Benefit From It

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson
Updated February 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Dreams have been interpreted in order to understand the subconscious for many years. Since the publication of Sigmund Freud's book The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900, psychologists have used dreams during psychoanalysis as a way to help patients self reflect and gain insight into their minds. If you are the type of person who vividly remembers your dreams, you may have questions about their meaning. Vivid, confusing, or recurring dream content can be challenging to understand on your own. With a dream analysis therapist, you can discuss these dreams with a professional.

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Could your dreams be trying to tell you something?

What is dream therapy? 

Dream analysis therapy is devoted to helping clients interpret dreams and explore them as thoroughly as possible.

A qualified dream therapist can play an important role in helping you find meaning in your dreams. Your therapist, by analyzing your dreams alongside you, may be able to help you identify common themes and worries. As you describe your dreams, you and your therapist may begin to notice that your dreams represent certain types of stress in your life and how your brain is processing emotions and circumstances. Dream interpreting can provide insights that can help you better understand yourself and your inner workings. Decoding these messages may help you understand specific symptoms, thoughts, or emotions you have in your waking hours.

Understanding dreams through dream analysis therapy could open new possibilities and perspectives for you. As dream analysts believe dreams are a reflection of subconscious or repressed thoughts, you might be able to discover new aspects of your conscious life and personality through them. Discovering specific sources of stress and eliminating these concerns in your daily life through dream analysis can offer various mental health benefits.

Lessons from dream therapy

Below are a few of the common themes that may be explored in your dream therapy sessions. 

Symbolism as a prevalent factor in dreams 

While dreams may not have a meaning for everyone, you might notice symbols in your dreams lining up with specific events in your life. At times, individuals may not understand what the symbols mean. For example, you might dream of a bizarre or traumatic event that leaves you uneasy in the morning. Dream analysts have found that what you dream about reflects symbols caused by your brain trying to process a particular event, whether the current day's events or a childhood occurrence. Studies have found that sleeping and dreaming help individuals organize and store away memories and thoughts, which can often show up as fragments in their dreams.

In addition, there are some common dreams that many people experience. One common, potentially bad dream involves losing your teeth or having twisted and malformed teeth. Studies have found that these dreams can indicate tooth irritation or dental problems during sleep and aren't as connected to psychological distress as dreams like falling or being smothered. There are many interpretations of dreams, and each therapist may use your unique past and life circumstances to help you find the meaning that makes the most sense for you. 

If you would like to try to interpret your dreams yourself, looking at symbolism or meaning in your dreams can be an effective idea for starting your dream work. You might explore symbols from your dreams by using a dream dictionary. Having a dream in which you are continually falling may be symbolic of feeling out of control. Dreams in which you lash out angrily can signify pent-up frustration you are not addressing when you are awake. Dreams often have meanings, and trying to pay attention to them can be beneficial. Some theories believe dreams give individuals a way to handle the trouble or anxiety they experience subconsciously—the stories the brain creates may help individuals process and cope with topics that feel too difficult in their waking lives. A dream therapist or sleep and dream expert can bridge this gap and offer a safe environment to discuss dream interpretation. 

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A reflection of current mood and situations in waking life

Some dream therapy clients may find themselves having dreams that reflect current moods or circumstances from their waking lives. Although it may not be the case for every dreamer, if you see recurring themes in your dreams, mental health professionals may be able to help you analyze them. For example, if you have a significant presentation for work or school in the near future, feelings of fear may arise in your dreams. 

At times, it may seem challenging to express how you feel about a topic, relationship, or current event. You may go through the motions in life and stay so busy that you do not have time to reflect on these areas during consciousness. Then while you sleep your dreams play a role in how your mind sorts through what's occurring in your waking life. If you feel sad, that sadness may be processed and exhibited at night through dreams about sad themes such as loss. If you have had someone on your mind, they may show up often in a recurring dream. Dreams can be a window into biology, the psyche, and the connection between the two that many scientists are trying to understand better. Dream therapy offers one avenue to do so. 

Analyzing dreams can require expertise. It may be possible to figure out the basic themes in your dreams on your own, but discussing these dreams in detail with a licensed counselor or dream expert could offer further insight. It can give you a chance to think more profoundly about your feelings, from your deepest desires to your greatest fears. In addition, counselors can offer coping mechanisms, life skills, and advice you may not find on your own. 

Dream interpretation of nightmares

One reason clients might seek dream therapy includes recurring nightmares. Experiencing different types of nightmares may signify distressing life challenges, an adverse or traumatic past, or fears. At times, the reason behind the nightmare may be apparent. In other circumstances, you might find the nightmare more symbolic or ambiguous. Either way, a therapist can help you discuss why you’re having the same dream or nightmare repeatedly, and what it may mean.

Nightmares can cause difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and feeling well-rested. Dream therapists can help you with more than interpreting your bad dreams. They can also offer strategies to avoid future challenges and reduce your nightmares. Some individuals also see psychiatrists who may be able to prescribe medication to treat a patient in order to reduce nightmare disorder in conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

A trained dream therapist often knows what to look for in a dream. During dream therapy work, the therapist may ask you questions about the dream, how it makes you feel, and what details tend to repeat or cause the most emotional reactions. Once they have garnered a history of your dreams, they may be able to provide insight into what is bothering you and offer tips to help you work through them.

Dreams can feel real when they happen, and feeling distressed by a nightmare can be common. You're not alone, and dream therapy may help you address your subconscious, track your dreams, and learn more about how your mind and emotions work. 

Dream analysis journaling for progress

Your dream therapist may encourage you to keep a dream journal. A dream journal allows you to write down details that you dreamed of, track recurring themes, and remember areas that might fade from your memory during the day. Often, it is recommended to keep the journal by your bed so that you can reach it immediately once you wake up. Dreams most commonly occur during REM sleep and can disappear from memory quickly upon waking or during non rapid eye movement sleep, but if you spend a few minutes writing down your dream as soon as you wake, you are more likely to remember all the details. In addition, as soon as you write down the details, the dream is transferred to your working memory, and you may be more able to remember it later without prompting. If you do not consciously think about your dream within a few minutes of waking up, you may lose the ability to recall that dream. Dream journaling is often the primary tool for taking control of your dreams in dream therapy. 

Dream journaling can benefit the creative process as well. If you are an artistic or otherwise creative individual, you may find your most vivid dreams fascinating and enjoy writing about or drawing images from them. You might also get inspiration from your dreams and use them to create a therapeutic art piece or story.

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Could your dreams be trying to tell you something?

Working with a dream therapist or other type of therapist

There are many ways you can reach out to a dream therapist. A quick search on a search engine can often yield results of dream therapists near you. You can also consider contacting your primary care physician for a referral. They may connect you with experts in the fields of clinical sleep medicine or image rehearsal therapy. As dream therapy is a niche form of counseling, you can also consider online therapy if you struggle to find a therapist in your area. 

Online therapy allows convenience and flexibility. Through a platform, you can gain entry to a vast number of therapists you might not be able to reach in your area. While online therapy has been a popular option for many, 75% of therapists started utilizing online therapy in 2020 to 2022. In addition, online therapy is effective in the same way as in-person therapy in treating depression, anxiety, PTSD, and many other symptoms and conditions. 

Through a platform like BetterHelp, you can connect with a dream therapist or another type of licensed counselor via phone, video, or live chat sessions. You can also specify your needs for therapy upon signing up and get matched with a therapist who fits your preferences. Dream therapy can offer insight, healing, and support for many. 

Takeaway

Dream analysis is a technique that has been used since the beginning of talk therapy in the times of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. If you want to learn more about how this process works or want to speak to a dream professional, consider contacting a therapist for further guidance.

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The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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