Knowledge Bank

Dreaming our way to health and wellbeing

Sleeping on a problem really does help because dreaming provides overnight therapy for painful memories, a California University study has found.

Brain scans showed that after sleeping, the emotional centre of the brain becomes less active while areas that govern rational thought take over, helping us to get over painful experiences from the previous day.

The study could explain why post-traumatic stress disorder victims, who typically suffer
from disturbed sleep, have severe difficulty overcoming painful memories, experts said.

Although there is no scientific consensus on exactly why we spend a third of our lives
sleeping, the study adds to growing evidence on the importance of the REM phase,
which takes up 20 per cent of our total sleep.

This might also be why dream therapy is so useful and is growing in popularity.

What is dream therapy?

For thousands of years, people have been trying to give meaning and interpretation to dreams. This is because dreams have long been considered to contain hidden messages.

In ancient Greece and Egypt, dreams were seen to be messages from the gods and only people with special powers were able to interpret them, though more recently the interpretation of dreams has been linked with psychoanalysis. Psychologists like Freud and Jung believed that dreams had important meanings and were a pathway into our conscious and subconscious mind.

Dream therapy is sometimes the name given to this interpretation of dreams because it is believed that by unravelling the meaning of our dreams, we are able to answer questions and solve problems. Dream therapy is also a term used to refer to a practice whereby we try to alter our dreams, especially recurring ones, which are disturbing and painful and which are causing us other problems.

How does dream therapy work?

Dream therapy and the interpretation of dreams is a very individual process and often there is no right or wrong answer when trying to interpret what dreams mean. If you go to a dream therapist or a dream counsellor, that person is not usually specifically trained in this area. But they may be a trained psychotherapist who has the experience to work with clients and to help them to interpret their dreams and therefore understand their problems. Once problems are understood, a solution is usually much easier to come by.

Dream therapy will often help people answer questions which they haven’t yet asked and are hence in the sub-conscious mind. However, another type of dream therapy actually addresses dreams which are a direct result of a trauma and are therefore very much in the conscious mind. By working to change the content of a recurring dream, the client will benefit in more ways than one.

Dream therapy that deals with dreams which are understood to be in the conscious mind can greatly benefit people that have suffered some sort of trauma in their lives. It has been found to be particularly effective with female rape victims. Because dreams are recurring they are more easily remembered, so dream therapy actually attempts to change the dream. By thinking of pleasant images and memories, then thinking of the dream or nightmare they often suffer and a different, more positive ending to this, they can eventually change the outcome in the dream they experience whilst asleep.

By improving a client’s dreams, the client will benefit by sleeping better and will generally feel more positive and healthy all round. Dream therapy which is focused more on the subconscious mind can be used as a way of interpreting problems we are experiencing and hence finding a way of dealing with them.

To learn more about therapies which help with stress, go to The Therapy Book.