Delving into the community of serious dreamers

My experience with subconscious analysis and emotional healing

Claudia organized a Dream Group to reveal truths about her life.

I’ve always treated my dreams as entertainment. However, after a few weeks of restless and dream-filled sleep last semester, I found myself scouring the internet for theories to interpret my dreams.

Some people believe dreams are meaningless, others argue they’re a dialogue between the subconscious and conscious mind.

Sigmund Freud held to the latter view, saying “the interpretation of dreams is the royal road to the unconscious” because they often reveal repressed feelings or knowledge. Montague Ullman, a psychiatrist, furthered Freud’s theory by presenting dreams as metaphorical explanations of real-life experiences. “We find ourselves, for example, in a dream, driving downhill in a car with no brakes,” Ullman wrote. “Metaphorically speaking, some aspect of our life has gotten out of control.” 

Ullman spent his career linking dream analysis to emotional healing. He believed this connection could be optimized through a Dream Group—a small gathering of people who have specific intentions of analyzing their dreams. Dream Groups give participants the opportunity to share their dreams for collective interpretation. 

I was skeptical about the validity of Dream Groups as a means of revealing deep truths about my life. But following weeks of waking up anxious and exhausted, I was willing to try anything.

After reading the online accounts from other modern Dream Groups, I learned they had become a social event. So I gathered my closest friends, ordered a pizza, cracked open a bottle of wine, and opened up about my dreams. 

Per Ullman’s instructions, the process begins with one participant sharing a dream, after which the remaining participants ask technical questions about its content. 

Next, the dreamer is asked to remain silent while others interpret the dream as if it were their own. This process involves identifying the emotional response the dream incites and examining the imagery of the dream like it’s a visual metaphor for the feelings and tensions of real-life experiences.

The final step invites the dreamer back into the discussion by allowing the group to ask the individual deeper questions about the dream’s subject matter, such as the events that occurred in the dreamer’s life which may have shaped their dream. The dreamer concludes the discussion with a personal analysis, using information revealed in the discussion. 

My friends and I used a dream dictionary to help us interpret the symbols we identified, propelled by a shared exasperation over our confusing dreams. I was surprised at how quickly we transitioned from a discussion of dream imagery to personal difficulties. For example, the appearance of someone’s father in a dream led to a discussion of our fear of failure.

Our discussions also revealed our self-censorship, whether it be out of fear, embarrassment or shame. The Dream Group was a safe environment that relied on the vulnerability of its participants. I was honest in a way I previously hadn’t been and, in return, learned new things about my closest friends, even though they’re people I talk to everyday.

Our discussions also revealed our self-censorship, whether it be out of fear, embarrassment or shame.

When we ended the night, we immediately made plans for our next meeting.

After my experience holding a Dream Group, I think Ullman was correct in identifying a connection between dream analysis and emotional healing. Verbalizing my dreams in a judgement-free space allowed me to recognize the mental load of my real life—to acknowledge my dreams and move past them. 

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