What is Dreamwork?

M. Haskins

Dreamwork is a term used to describe different ways of studying and interpreting dreams, and is sometimes part of various kinds of psychotherapy. Depending on the kind of therapy, dreamwork can mean different things. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, used the term dream-work to refer to how the mind distorts and disguises subconscious feelings and unfulfilled wishes, turning them into dreams. Carl Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, considered dream analysis an important part of therapy, and used the term to refer to how a person could learn to understand his dreams. In more recent forms of dream therapy, dreamwork often refers to a process in which a person studies and interprets his own dreams freely, without using established forms of therapy or preconceived ideas about how dreams should be deciphered and interpreted.

A woman dreaming while she sleeps.
A woman dreaming while she sleeps.

Sigmund Freud believed that the human mind created dreams by distorting repressed wishes and desires. He called this distortion dream-work, and believed that a therapist had to reverse the distortion to decipher, or decode, dreams. Carl Jung believed that dreams were not just repressed wishes, but could have different levels of meaning. Jung also believed that some symbols and images in dreams were shared collectively, meaning that they meant the same thing to many people, while other imagery was subjective, and could only be interpreted by an intimate knowledge of each person's life experience.

Sigmund Freud referred to dreamwork as how the mind distorts and disguises subconscious feelings.
Sigmund Freud referred to dreamwork as how the mind distorts and disguises subconscious feelings.

Dreamwork can also refer to a very personal kind of dream therapy. Proponents of this type of dreamwork claim that dreams are too subjective to be interpreted using standardized methods or predetermined interpretations of dream symbols and imagery. Instead, it is believed that each person has to study her own dreams in order to understand them. Common steps in this kind of dreamwork include willing oneself to remember one's dreams before going to sleep, keeping notes describing the dreams, and analyzing the dreams by thinking about how they relate to one's personal life. Proponents believe that dreamworking can help a person overcome fears and problems, and also lead to a deeper understanding of one's own psyche.

One ancient form of dreamwork is oneiromancy, or dream divination. This type of dream interpretation was common in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and many other ancient cultures. In these societies, dreams were sometimes thought to contain messages from the gods, and oneiromancy was the process of understanding these messages. This is different from oneirology, which is the scientific study of dreams, focusing both on what causes dreaming and how to decipher the dreams themselves.

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