Finding the Meaning in Dreams

I came across this article at the Hartford Current at and found it worthwhile to share.

Finding Meaning In Dreams

November 26, 2006
By DAN ZAK, Washington Post It is January 2009.

Imagine, for a moment, that the new president begins his inaugural address by saying he has written down and studied his dreams. With a level head, and without detouring into the psychic or prophetic, he says he hopes to understand himself better by doing some dream work.

“I mean, how would that go over in the press?” says Gayle Delaney, who for the past 30 years has striven to mainstream dream work – the practice of sidestepping classical dream interpretation for a more nuanced, personalized meditation on one’s dreams.

Delaney is the founding president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. She has written books and virtually shorted out the lecture circuit in the United States and Europe. Still, many people think dream work is bosh and bunkum.

“Prejudice against dreaming is huge, in part because so much nonsense is written about it,” Delaney says.

Ask any professional with dream experience, and their message is clear: Ignore quick-fix dream “doctors” on TV and the Internet. Toss your conventional dream dictionaries to the curb; they are too strict, too patrician.

And their meanings? Meaningless.

“After all, a dream about a house must mean different things to a carpenter and an arsonist,” says Karen Shanor, a clinical psychologist in Washington.

Dreams should be worked rather than cut and dried into categories, Shanor, Delaney and others say. No book, and no one, can tell you what your dreams mean, because one’s dreaming life can be understood only in the context of one’s waking life.

As Dr. Phil-ish as it sounds, dream work is a matter of self-therapy, of being open to the possibility that reflecting on your dreams may yield some holistic or entertaining insights.

“People would just as soon think that dreams are random activity in your cortex,” Delaney says. “There are still huge swaths of movers and shakers whom I have as clients who say, ‘If I tell anybody I’ve seen you, I’ll have to deny it.”‘

Oh, if those Hewlett-Packard knuckleheads had prefaced their morning meetings with a little dream analysis …

That scenario is not so crazy. Business schools and management training programs in England and India use dream therapists to help hone problem-solving skills. Working through a conflict in a dream scenario may have a practical application to one’s waking life.

Still, there is bias against dreaming, agrees Clara Hill, a professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Maryland. Some comes from a lack of understanding dream work, particularly the aspects that sound a little paranormal.

Take dream incubation, in which people condition themselves to dream about a certain topic, or prodromal dreaming, in which the body sends signals to the dreaming mind about impending illness. The validity of both is supported by a wealth of anecdotal observation and some supplementary research.

But they still have that faint whiff of the psychic. Extrasensory powers may exist, but there is no way to gather statistical proof about clairvoyance.

“I think the jury’s still out on that,” says Deirdre Barrett, a Harvard Medical School professor who uses dream work in clinical and classroom settings. “It’s a matter of faith. Most of us hear really dramatic anecdotes in that direction, and I think it’s possible there’s something we don’t understand happening in communication outside of what we’re consciously aware of. But we also underestimate coincidences.”

What about the skeptics? How does Hill respond to naysayers who invoke psychiatrist Allan Hobson’s theory that dreams are products of benign psychosis – a mostly random firing of neurons?

“They might be, but if you can use them therapeutically, and it works, that’s great,” says Hill, who has conducted about 20 studies on dreaming. “So I get out of the argument that way. The research we’ve done so far is that people really can gain insight.”

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