Dream analysis is an important element, and common talking point – in mental health. While some believe dreams are highly important, others question their relevance.
Renowned neurologist Sigmund Freud – whose theory of Psychoanalysis helped to shape the field of mental health – believed that dreams were very valuable for therapists, and wholeheartedly followed the idea that dream analysis was an excellent tool.
Freud’s Psychoanalysis is a set of theories and techniques which relate to the unconscious mind – which is the part of the mind that a person is unaware of, where memories of past experiences and traumas are hidden, yet continue to affect a person’s mood, thoughts and feelings to the present day.
Psychoanalysis revolves around the idea that a person’s unconscious mind influences a person hugely – and is able to explain many emotional disturbances. For instance, Psychoanalysis suggests that a person’s mental health problems could be traced back to a childhood event that they are unaware of, or have forgotten.
In order for a therapist to reach the unconscious mind, or bring events, thoughts and memories from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind, Freud came up with some key techniques, of which dream analysis was one.
The Theory Behind Dream Analysis
Freud believed that dreams are crafted by everyday life. By analysing the dreams that a person has, Freud suggested that it is possible to identify themes or areas that seem to be causing disturbance to an individual.
Freud believed that the features of dreams were the true desire of the unconscious mind. Therefore, by making the hidden meaning behind a dream available to the unconscious awareness, psychological distress could be relieved.
Essentially, Freud believed that our dreams are a disguised way of fulfilling a wish. Freud suggested that this disguise was caused by repression, itself in turn is caused by negative past experiences.
Freud proposed that there were two types of content in each dream – the manifest content and the latent content. The latent content is the most important part of the dream to analyse.
The latent content refers to the psychological meaning of the dream – something that is hidden from the conscious. It is disguised symbolically, and usually involves an area that a person has traumatic memories of.
Meanwhile, the manifest content refers to the actual content of the dream, e.g. the subject of it. While this too is important, Freud suggested it was the latent content which held the clues to the unconscious mind.
As alluded to earlier, Freud’s psychoanalysis theory revolves around the need to make unconscious thoughts, memories or feelings come to conscious awareness.
Freud believed that the latent content of a dream had been suppressed and consequently hidden by the preconscious mind – an area between the conscious and unconscious that acts as a buffer of sorts to protect the conscious from harmful areas from the unconscious.
The mind is careful with what it does let in to conscious, though this manifests through defence mechanisms. Freud suggested that various defence mechanisms led to the mind only letting certain content in.
These centred around symbols or objects being substituted in a dream for an innocent person or object and projecting unacceptable feelings on someone else among others.
Dream Analysis in Therapy
Dream analysis can be used in multiple talking therapies. It is best associated with psychoanalysis-inspired talking therapies like Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy.
Freud believed that harmful areas can continue to influence the conscious in the present day. It is therefore important to bring any harmful feelings or thoughts to the conscious mind.
In therapy, a patient will recall a dream that they have had. A therapist will listen to the dream and try to analyse the contents of it, along with any themes or patterns to it. Symbolic meanings can normally be derived from dreams, which can gradually make psychological distress easier to treat.
Freud believed that dreams were examples of secret and deep-rooted desires. As some dreams may be completely inappropriate, the mind will sometimes disguise the meaning – an example of the manifest content of a dream.
Dreams are certainly bizarre occurrences. Most do believe that dreams are related to areas in our lives. Whether or not the meaning of dreams align with Freud’s theories are unknown. Yet they continue to be analysed in the modern day – suggesting Freud was correct to place emphasis on this area.
Other views on dream analysis
While Freud proposed this theory, others have provided differing opinions on the meaning of dreams. G. William Domhoff felt that dreams were similar to a person’s individual life – and that over a period of time, that dreams can paint a very accurate image of an individual .
Carl Jung posited that dreams went beyond Freud’s idea of disguised wishes, and instead involved both the conscious and unconscious mind. Though he did place importance on the identification of symbols, like Freud.
Aside from these theories, many have questioned the scientific rigor behind Freud’s theory. Dream analysis is not supported by all therapists, and therefore doesn’t always feature in modern-day mental health therapy.
Dream analysis is certainly an interesting topic, and it is one that will continue to divide opinion. For Freud, dream analysis was important, and a key method in reaching the unconscious mind, alongside free word association and the Freudian Slip.
Whether or not dream analysis has a place in modern-day mental health treatment is open to debate, but it is certainly interesting. For more information on Freud, you can see our list of articles about Freud here.
- What Are The 4 Key Methods Used in Psychoanalysis?
- Freud and Free Word Association in Mental Health
- What is a Freudian Slip? Explaining the Freudian Slip Theory
- Freud’s Theory on the Importance of Dreams and Dream Analysis in Mental Health
- What is the Rorschach Test? Information on the Inkblot Test
- Overview of Sigmund Freud and His Theories
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 Domhoff, G. W. (1993). The repetition of dreams and dream elements: A possible clue to a function of dreams? In A. Moffitt, M. Kramer, & R. Hoffmann (Eds.), The Functions of Dreaming (p293-320). Albany: SUNY Press.