What’s in a dream?
Dreams are fascinating and mystical creations that come alive while our conscious/waking minds, cerebral brain areas, and executive functioning regions are less active. One school of psychological theory posits that during this period of decreased cognitive control our most sacred, bewildering fantasies, wishes, emotions, fears, expectations, desires, and intentions are revealed. Herein, dreams may be viewed as the least distorted of subconscious representations, and thus, “constitute the royal road to the unconscious” (Weinberger & Stoycheva, 2020, p. 36).
Research suggests dreams may truly reflect subconscious elements of life. Dreams that humans remember disproportionately occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. In this state, the dreamer’s reflective processing systems in the frontal parts (the regions that test reality) of the brain are relatively inactive. Panksepp and Biven (2012) observed that during REM sleep human’s eyes engage in saccadic scanning, which is a movement typically reserved for functions such as craving, searching, and foraging (Solms, 2015). It is possible, then, that REM sleep dreaming may involve a complicated process wherein the dreamer actively desires some image or symbolic representation that is presented in a rather vivid or guised manner due to the relatively inactivity of waking state-level cognitive processing. In other words, the images and symbolic representations drawn forth in a dream are not subject to the cognitive-perceptual “checks and balances” that prevail during the waking state. Carhart-Harris (2007) elaborated on this point by discovering that random bursts of activity in the cortical regions during sleep are evident of unconscious material breaching the conscious (i.e., waking awareness) surface. In contrast, Bazan (2017) found that alpha wave oscillations during REM sleep function as unconscious defenses that inhibit material from surfacing, and thus acquiring personal meaning, to the cortical and/or conscious state. This convoluted process occurs throughout the night sleep cycle as humans oscillate between roughly 3-4 instances of REM sleep a night.
When brought into the therapy room, dreams can serve as enlightening and revealing material that opens up new conversations and realizations. Wishes or fears that are buried during the waking state find guised meaning in dreams. The images and representations experienced by the dreamer may be the undernourished, anxiety provoking parts of ourselves we banish from our waking state and, as a result, haunt our functioning in subliminal ways. If the guise is peeled back with a client and therapist who are positively curious and engaging with the material, it is possible these unconscious messages can be “brought into daylight”, questioned, acknowledged, and grappled with in the context of an empathic, curious, and helpful relationship. If you would like to explore the content of your dreams, please consider consulting with the clinicians at Town Center Psychology. You are not alone! If you would like to dedicate private reflection towards dream material you may find the texts “Man and His Symbols” by Carl Jung useful, or you may enjoy the Apple Podcast “This Jungian Life” illuminating.
An example dream is provided below:
I was searching through my closet hurriedly looking for something. In the corner of the closet I spotted a golden pillow. For some reason I was fascinated by this golden pillow and felt like I wanted to reach out and grab it. However, as I was reaching the pillow kept moving backwards and I couldn’t reach it. Then I woke up.
One possible interpretation of the dream may be as follows:
“Your activity of searching in the dream may suggest you are currently desiring something in your life. When I think of a pillow I imagine something soft, comfortable, and often central when someone is sleeping or resting. When I think of gold I am reminded of it’s monetary value in our society and our culture’s fascination with obtaining mounds and mounds of it. I am wondering if the dream is telling us that you feel as if you continue to search for some sense of monetary comfort or security (i.e., gold pillow) in your life that often feels out of reach?”
Bazan, A. (2017). Alpha synchronization as a brain-model for unconscious defense: An overview of the work of Howard Shevrin and his team. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 98, 1443-1473. doi: 10.1111/1745-8315.12629
Carhart-Harris, R. (2007). Waves of the unconscious: The neurophysiology of dreamlike phenomena and its implications for the psychodynamic model of the mind. Neuropsychoanalysis, 9, 183-211. doi: 10.1080/15294145.2007.10773557
Panksepp, J. & Biven, L. (2012). The archaeology of mind. W. W. Norton
Solms, M. (2015). The feeling brain: Selected papers on neuropsychoanalysis: A neuropsychoanalytic approach to the hard problem of consciousness (pp. 182-196). Routledge.
Weinberger J. & Stoycheva, V. (2020). The unconscious: Theory, research, and clinical implications: Psychoanalysis, (pp. 32-51). Guilford.