I love dreams. They are not only freaky fun, but they often give us a glimpse of what we need to be focusing or working on. Although it true that we do not fully know the purpose or value of dreams one theory is that it is our minds ways of processing, organizing, and storing the information and events of the day into long term memory. Check out this great article in Scientific American briefly describing this idea. This theory is also why researchers believe that eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an effective form of mental health treatment (check out this FAQ page for more info on EMDR.)
Many people, especially those struggling with trauma do not always pay attention for acknowledge their dreams. I fully understand this approach. First dreams often do not make much sense so just trying to pay attention to them can be confusing. Second, those with trauma often struggle with nightmares and I know if I have a nightmare the last thing I want to do is try to remember and acknowledge the experience; I want to forget it the moment I wake up. Once we begin to be mindful and aware of our dreams, however, we can gain a great deal of insight.
This past week, for example, I had a dream I was providing therapy to an old classmate of mine. She is normally very mild mannered and reserved. In this dream, I kept offering advice and suggestions (things a good therapist shouldn’t do). In the dream, my classmate exploded on me and yelled, “Alex, you need to shut the fuck up.” When I woke I was surprisingly disturbed by the dream. I could have shaken it off and left it as just a weird dream after all I haven’t even spoken to this classmate in a long while. Once I allowed myself the space to acknowledge and even more importantly appreciate the dream I realized that one of my biggest fears as a therapist and especially as a therapist newly opening up my own practice was that I didn’t know what I was doing and that It was all a charade.
When I was able to translate my brain’s cryptic message to me I was able to challenge and reframe it. I was able to recognize my own fears and insecurities and begin doing my own work on these issues. I recognized that I am a well trained, widely experienced, empathetic, and knowledgeable therapist. Although I have a lot to learn on the business side I am fully capable of learning it all. My brain may have been shouting at me that I am not ready and trying to get me to retreat but I saw through its scare tactics and was able to gain insight and wisdom from it.
I encourage you to start paying attention to your dreams. You don’t have to pull out a dream interpretation book or channel your inner Freudian. Simply, acknowledge what the dream was, what your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations were during the dream and after you woke, and ask yourself, “What in my current life is creating these same thoughts, feelings, and body sensations?”. Once you have identified what that is thank your brain for sending you the message and making you pay attention (no matter how cryptic it may have been). You may be surprised how it all comes together.