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A Study on the Interpretation of Dreams

Interpreting dreams has been a subject of interest for thousands of years. There have been many theories formed by top scientists and psychologists, but dreams still remain a mystery. There are websites all over the Internet that promise to decode dreams in just a few easy steps, but most of those are for fun and entertainment.

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What do professionals have to say about the interpretation of dreams? That is the question this paper seeks to answer. As with any somewhat scientific subject, there are as many answers as questions. The writer will start with the earliest information about dreams, and explain the prevalent theories, both past and present, about dream interpretation.

Dreams have been fascinating people for as long as there have been people on the Earth. The very first mention of a dream comes from ancient Babylon, around the year 3000 B.C. (Biele and Piotrowski, 1986).

The dream is only mentioned in passing on a stela carved to commemorate a great achievement by a “God-fearing man,” but the fact that it was mentioned at all gives us an idea of how important dreams were to the ancients (Biele and Piotrowski, 1986). People made “consulting dreams” before taking any action a regular part of life up to the 16th Century, A.D., and no doubt many people still follow the practice (Biele and Piotrowski, 1986).

Perhaps the two most noted “dream interpreters” were Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Freud wrote his book, The Interpretation of Dreams , in 1955, and it immediately caused a stir. Freud asserted that, “the scientific theories of dreams leave no room for any problem of interpreting them, since in their view a dream is not a mental act at all . . . ” (p.96).

He highly disagreed with the idea that dreams meant nothing. He did not agree with the ideas of dreams being interpreted “symbolically” or by “decoding” (Freud, 1955, p. 96-97). Instead, he claimed to have found a “scientific method” to interpreting dreams (Freud, 1955, p. 100).

Freud explained that he had attempted to “unravel . . . hysterical phobias, obsessional ideas, and so on” for years (p. 100). He finally came upon the notion “that if a dream can be inserted into the psychical chain”  than the dream could be “treated as a symptom” (Freud, 1955, p. 101). Freud believed that interpreting dreams in a scientific way would reveal the true problem troubling the patient. The problem could then be treated, and the person would become well (Freud, 1955).

Common knowledge of Freud includes the fact that he believed that dreams had to do with “unconscious sexual and aggressive wishes and fantasies unacceptable to the conscious ego” (Marszalek and Myers, 2006, p. 18) Carl Jung agreed that some dreams could have those implications, but not all (Marszalek and Myers, 2006). He believed that dreams were not just “disguises” for unmentionable feelings, but they were also “metaphors” and showed “creativity” and “individualization” (Marszalek and Myers, 2006, p. 19). Jung found seven “archetypes” that seem to appear “in every culture throughout time” (dreammoods.com).

A few of these are the “Persona,” or the person you show to others, the “Shadow,” or things you do not like about yourself, and the “Divine Child,” you as your “true self”’ (dreammoods.com).  Jung’s ideas have proven very helpful in some forms of  “counseling therapy” because they allow a person to make sense of their dreams and often realize what is behind their problems (Marszalek and Myers, 2006, p.22).

Not everyone believes that dreams really mean anything, but most health professionals agree that dreams are very beneficial to people (Waters, 2002). For example, they can “reveal hidden anxiety, help consolidate memories, regulate moods, and help to process emotions” (Waters, 2002).

One physician notes that major depressives often have a hard time in the morning because their dreams were inadequate to solve their problems (Waters, 2002). Dreams are a time for “reflection . . . and creativity” (Waters, 2002). However, many physicians warn against getting “carried away” with interpreting dreams, as not every dream is going to have a “practical” function (Waters, 2002).

However, some lay people do not agree with that assessment. Understand-your-dreams.com has several articles written by Dave Lappin, a self-appointed dream interpreter. Lappin believes that dreams “speak to us on a spiritual level” because we are “spiritual beings” (2006).

Dreams hold the key to “a vast storehouse of knowledge” (Lappin, 2006). If we keep having the same dream over and over, it is because we “have not fully understood the dream message and used it in our waking state” (Lappin, 2006). For Lappin, and those like him, dreams always have a purpose and “information” for the dreamer.

The book, Extraordinary Dreams and How to Work with Them, is something of a middle ground between believing all dreams have messages and no dreams have messages. For the authors, “ordinary” dreams simply “reflect daily experiences.” “Extraordinary” dreams, however, have many functions.

They can be “telepathic, clairvoyant, and precognitive, and some can even be “out of body, lucid,” and  involve a past life or a visitation (Bogzaran, Krippner, and Percia de Carvalho, 2002). These studies show the cultural differences between groups of people. Many people from other countries and cultures were involved in the studies, and while they have “ordinary” dreams, they also have fantastic dreams that most modern cultures would be quick to dismiss.

The concept of interpreting dreams runs the gamut from no dream being particularly special to dreams directing our lives. It is difficult to determine what theory, if any, is correct. The truth is that we do dream, and we do often see and act out strange things in our dreams. We see people we have not seen in years, and we work out problems. We dream of ordinary things, and we dream of flying.

Perhaps dreams are what a person makes of them. There is no need to believe that every dream will have an earthshattering message, but if a dream comforts a person or stirs them to act, that is all the better. In the end, your dream falls under your own interpretation. Your interpretation is better than what anyone else can give to you, for only you know your true self.


Interpreting dreams has been of great interest to people for thousands of years. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung are known as two of the authorities on interpreting dreams, even though they have different ideas on the interpretations.

Many medical practitioners see great mental benefits from dreaming, but they caution people to not get too wrapped up in analyzing dreams. Other people take note of their dreams constantly and model their lives around them. Different cultures have different ideas of what is normal in a dream, but in the end we must decide what is normal for ourselves. Regardless of all the information floating about, only we know ourselves well enough to know what our dreams really mean to us.

Reference Page

Biele, A. and Piotrowski, Z. (1986) Dreams: a key to self knowledge. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: New Jersey.

Bogzaran, F., Krippner, S., and Percia de Carvalho. (2002) Extraordinary dreams and how to work with them. State University of New York Press: New York.

www.dreammoods.com. Carl jung’s archetypes. http://www.dreammoods.com/dreaminformation/dreamtheory/jung3.htm Accessed September 14, 2006.

Lappin, Dave. (2006) The spirituality of dreams. http://www.understand-your-dreams.com/spirituality_dreams.html Accessed September 14, 2006.

Freud, Sigmund. (1955) The interpretation of dreams. Basic Books: New York.

Marszalek, J. and Myers, J. (2006) Dream interpretation: a developmental counseling and therapy approach. Journal of Mental Health Counseling. 28:1, pgs. 18-30.

Waters, J. (7/23/2002) Why do we dream? experts differ on the meaning. The Washington Times: B 01.