Interpretation of dreams

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Jung considered the dream a natural and normal psychic phenomenon describing the inner situation of the dreamer, a "spontaneous self-portrayal in symbolical form of the actual situation in the unconscious" (Jung, 1947). In analytical psychology the dream is seen as neither a disguise nor a symptom but as a source of new understanding, especially of the psychic function of archetypal imagery. Jung never distinguished between manifest and latent meaning, since he based his understanding directly on dream content. Analytical psychology does not generally encourage free association per se; rather, it employs circular associations around the various images and actions in the dream to make sense of the dream in its entirety. In analytical psychology, the concepts of sign and symbol have meanings different from their meanings in psychoanalytic usage. For Jung, a sign is a token of meaning that stands for something known, whereas a symbol is an image that points to something partially known but unknowable at its core. A symbol has a subjective dynamic that powerfully attracts the individual and transforms psychological energy.

Jung first read Freud's Interpretation of Dreams in 1900 as a student at the Burgholzi Psychiatric Clinic in Zurich, reviewing it for his fellow psychiatric students (Jung, 1907). He began to develop his own ideas about the meaning of dreams shortly after his break with Freud around 1912 to 1913, and by 1928 he had outlined his mature views.

Dreams can be interpreted on three levels: objective, subjective, and transferential. Any interpretation that refers the images in the dream to the subject's view of external objects is considered an interpretation on the objective level. Any interpretation that refers every part of the dream back to the dreamer is an interpretation on the subjective level. Interpretation on the objective level breaks the dream content down into memory traces referring to the external situation. Interpretation on the subjective level detaches the underlying memories from their external sources and presents the dreamer with the images as inner facts. Such experience of inner reality opens the way for psychological transformation. Transferential interpretation is a mixture of the two levels, except that dream images are interpreted in relationship to the transference.

Dreams compensate for attitudes held consciously. This follows from the concept of the psyche as a self-regulating system, dreams representing an unconscious voice. Jung saw compensation as operating in two directions. One he termed the "prospective function," by which he meant that the dream is an anticipation of future conscious achievement. This does not mean that dreams are prophetic; rather, a dream is a preliminary exercise, a combination of possibilities, roughly sketched out in advance. In their prospective function, dreams can be both integrative and synthetic. In the other direction, the reductive function, the dream operates as a retrospective compensation, bringing up repressed material. A dream can be interpreted in either or both directions at the same or different times and at different developmental stages. No interpretation is considered final.

Another important, uniquely Jungian method in dream interpretation is amplification. Here analogous material is brought into play to enlarge upon the symbols of the dream. Parallels from mythology, folklore, anthropology, comparative religion, ethology, and current cultural patterns are presented to the analysand to elicit a richer understanding of the dream. Amplification is used less often today, as analytical psychologists have become more aware that it can be used to avoid personal issues.

Basically, analytical psychology teaches an open attitude in interpreting dreams. Jung stressed that each dream should be approached without preconceived notions. At the beginning of the twenty-first century there is a greater emphasis on transferential interpretations in analytical psychology. Yet many analytical psychologists hold the view that dream images are part of the objective reality of the psyche and that dream interpretation is central to theory and practice.

See Also

Active imagination (analytical psychology); Amplification (analytical psychology); Anagogical interpretation; Analytical psychology; Archetype (analytical psychology); Numinous (analytical psychology); Shadow (analytical psychology).


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