Dreams speak a language of metaphor and symbol. When we are unfamiliar with this language it is easy to disregard our dreams as meaningless. However, if we take the time to remember, record, and study our dreams, and to examine their relationship to our waking life, certain meanings and themes begin to emerge. In time we may come to see their purposefulness. We may also see that our dreams spring from a part of our being quite different from our ordinary, daily consciousness. With patience, study, and careful observation we may begin to unravel the mystery of their symbolic language.
It is estimated that Carl Jung worked with over 67,000 dreams during his lifetime. In addition, he intensively studied the world’s religions, cultures, mythologies and philosophies. Through his studies Dr. Jung observed that there are specific developmental challenges that people tend to go through in the course of life. Certain types of dreams are associated with these periods. For instance, sometimes we dream of dying or attending a funeral. Does this mean that we are going to die? No. Dreams of dying often occur when we are experiencing depression. These dreams generally indicate that a change needs to take place in our life. All significant change and growth typically involves some aspect of our current worldview. Jungian psychology views depression as an opportunity for learning and transformation in life. It does not seek to simply eradicate uncomfortable symptoms but to gain insight from the symptoms on how to live life in a more vital and creative way.
Sometimes our dreams give us useful information about our relationships. A woman dreams: “I am in a car with my boyfriend driving. He loses control of the car and we crash. Jung observed that in our dreams the person of the dreamer typically represents the dreamer’s conscious attitude toward life. The vehicle he or she is in is an extension of these attitudes or worldview. So, to be in a car that is out of control suggests that her life is out of control. Perhaps she’s even letting her boyfriend run her life.
Every dream must be interpreted within the context of the dreamer’s life. A “cookbook approach” to dream interpretation, such as looking up the meaning of dream images in a dream dictionary, is not a very accurate method for interpreting dreams. On the other hand, a knowledge of the archetypal, or mythic and cross-cultural, meaning of dream symbols is important. This is because the dreammaker utilizes both personal and collective, or universal, themes in communicating ideas. Sometimes emphasis must be given to the dreamer’s personal associations to the dream images, at other times emphasis must be given to the archetypal meanings of those images. The right interpretation carries the ring of truth; it resonates with the dreamer.
Jungian psychotherapy seeks to alleviate psychological problems and promote personal growth through the development of a more harmonious relationship between the conscious mind and the Self. Dreams are especially useful in this regard because as spontaneous products of the unconscious they provide a “snapshot” of our current life situation. However, Jungian psychotherapy can be very helpful even if a person has difficulty remembering their dreams. A person’s life story is like a novel. The same symbolic structure used in dreams is woven into a person’s life story. As a person learns how to look at life symbolically he or she is transformed.