Dreams. They can be remembered if they are vivid or nightmarish. Some are easily forgotten and cryptic to us once we awake. But what if they could help us form a link to our subconscious, and thereby help us to overcome personal obstacles? According to the Jungian theory, they can do precisely that.
Dr. Carl Jung , the psychologist behind this theory, was considered a successor to Freud until he began to develop his own theories of the unconscious that deviated from Freud’s.
As the story goes, Jung had a vision and decided to document it, along with his dreams, through paintings and sculptures. As he examined the symbols in the dreams, he began to develop his own theory on the collective unconscious. Jung believed it represented the common memories of mankind. He theorized that, in dreams, symbols of the ‘collective unconscious’ seeped into the ‘personal unconscious’- our reservoir of personal memories that manifest during the dream state. Through analysis of these dreams, he believed that psychological healing could take place.
So great was his influence in modern psychology that today therapists put this theory to practice. Many help patients to examine their unconscious through dreams, or even art work.
Dr. John Allan, a Vancouver based therapist, is one such practitioner of Jungian analysis. He was first introduced to Jungian therapy as a young psychology student when a friend recommended dream therapy to help the nightmares he’d been having. Allan was so inspired by the therapy, he decided to make Jungian analysis his life’s work, and went on to research dream therapy in young children.
From his research he wrote a book, entitled Inscapes of the Child’s World which contains the images of children’s drawings, and examines he way they change as the children undergoe therapy to cope with issues such as physical and sexual abuse. “In certain ways, the dream is a vehicle for talking about the bad, so the good feelings can come into conscious life,” he explains.
According to Allen, dream therapy, coupled with art work, can be a therapeutic tool for both children and adults. “Clay work, singing, dancing – Jungian work is any kind of symbolic process – any artistic process”.
Mira Khazzam, a Jungian therapist who has just set up her practice here in Montreal, also uses art and dream analysis in therapy sessions. She maintains that, although dream therapy is useful, it isn’t the only way patients can explore their unconscious. “An important part of it[therapy] is the dream work, but many people come to Jungian analysis who don’t remember their dreams. It’s just that the dream is one of the major ways to establish a relationship between the conscious and the unconscious self – it’s not the only way… art work,[and] body symptoms are another way of expressing the unconscious.”
For those that do remember their dreams, understanding them is not easy, but analysis of them often brings insight, says Khazzam. “Dreams aren’t clear cut guidance – you can’t say that because a dream tells you to do something that you should do it….If you look at them symbolically, not only concretely [they] can be a tremendous guidance in life and can be key to unlocking parts of ourselves that are hidden.”
Khazzam should know, she had to undergo her own dream analysis – a requisite of all Jungian psychotherapists during their training and even after they have established a practice. “To do this work we have to have our own analysis. That’s a strong part of our on-going training – most people come to this training already having undergone many years of this work,” she says. Although she won’t go into detail on her own reveries – or those of her patients, it is clear that Khazzam’s own life has been impacted by the use of dream therapy.
“My experience with working with my dreams has been that they are an incredible source of richness, and of opening dimensions of [myself] that I haven’t been aware of,” she proclaims.
In addition to telling us our desires, Khazzam explains that dreams can also tell us what we don’t want to know. “Often dreams may not agree with our goals,” she says, recalling one such dream.
The dream is from Jung’s therapy sessions, as told by one of his patients. The patient recounts his dream of being in pursuit of a train that is speeding past him and watching his train going so fast around the curve, that the back of the train de-railed. At this, Dr. Jung advised him to stop his career climbing, as it seemed to be destructive.
Khazzam suggests this probably wouldn’t have been the case if he had listened to his dreams and tried to understand their message.
“We’re [westerners] so driven by outward success and by mastery and control of our world, that we don’t want listen to the unconscious. When we’re in touch with the unconscious, we realize we’re really not in control, that there’s a whole other thing that’s driving us.”
Asked about how some scientists and critics may dismiss Jungian analysis, Khazzam and Allan do not seem deterred. “Some people think it’s rubbish and other people think it’s a major benefit, because everyone has their dogmas. What they think is the truth and what they think is right,” remarks Allan.
Interestingly, Jung was respected by some great minds of his time, including Astrophysicist Wolfgang Pauli and even Albert Einstein. Through their mutual correspondence, both Pauli and Jung influenced each other’s work.
Ultimately though, whether or not it is scientifically valid doesn’t seem to matter to patients and therapists who maintain the therapy is helpful. ” If it’s working, both [therapist and patient] get changed. When its really going well, it’s a difficult and painful process, but [it’s] really engaged…the analyst grows as well,” concludes Khazzam.
To find out more about Jungian therapy or to set up an appointment with Mira Khazzam, contact her at her Montreal office at (514)-989-5189. Initial consultation is free.