The Psychology of Dreams

You walk in front of a room full of people, nervous to give your big speech. Just as you’re about to start, you look down and realize you’re completely naked. Luckily, after what feels like eternity, your alarm clock goes off and you realize you’re safe in bed, the tragic social mishap just in your mind.

Dreaming of being naked is incredibly common. But what does this dream mean? Dream analysis can help you figure this out. Dr. Andy Drymalski, a Jungian psychotherapist based in the Reno area who has been practicing since 1997, explains that, in dreams, being naked is often a symbol of being revealing.  So, depending on what’s going on in your life, this dream could be telling you that you’re being too revealing or that you need to be more revealing.

But dreams are often much more complex than this, and contain many different situations and images that need to be unpacked through psychotherapy in order to better understand them.

“There’s different levels to dreams. There’s a level of personal association, so let’s say if you dream of a dog, the proper interpretation of that symbol may involve your own associations to dogs,” said Dr. Drymalski. “But there can also be cross cultural or mythic level to that symbol. So, for instance, a dog is often a symbol of a guide to the unconscious. So you take in these different levels and examine each level and see which one seems to resonate and fit together with the rest of the dream story. And when you do that you often get a better sense for what that dream might mean.”

Why try to get to the bottom of your dreams, though? Well, it can help you in many ways, mainly in helping to better understand yourself and your purpose in life. According to Dr. Drymalski, dream interpretation reveals the work of the psyche, or the Self with a capital “s,” and its attempt at promoting growth and healing while we sleep. The idea of the Self, or the core of one’s character, comes from Carl Jung, negating Sigmund Freud’s idea of conflicting parts of the personality.

When working with clients, Dr. Drymalski starts by asking them what dreams they remember from the week, or what dream they’d like to talk about. He then asks clarifying questions about the symbols and situations of their dream, as well as their associations to them. He takes note of what the dreamer does in the dream, how they felt upon waking, what they think it might be about, and what’s going on in their lives at the time.

“To talk about these things helps a person get feedback and develops a dialogue between their ego or conscious mind, and their deeper self and that always has a healing effect because you become more conscious,” said Dr. Drymalski.

Once he and the client have gained an understanding of the dream and what it’s telling the client, they explore what to do with the meaning, and how to embody that “greater conscious awareness.”

Dream work can be especially important for students and young people in this stage of our lives, Dr. Drymalski notes. Paying attention to our dreams can help to guide us in the right direction.

“There’s more to you than you realize, and life and your deeper self want you to reach your full potential and your dreams are one way that the psyche communicates to you and wants to help you to find your path and negotiate the challenges of relationships and career and so forth,” Dr. Drymalski said. “Because it’s very important that you guys find your path, that you do the right thing, that you be with the right people.”

Not everyone has the time or the finances for a psychotherapist, however. If you want to examine your dreams on your own, Dr. Drymalski suggests writing them down and giving them titles, in order to reflect on them and treat them like a story. Then write your associations with images in the dream.

“If you dream of the house you grew up in, what are your associations to that house, what were you like back then? That may be saying you’re still like that now or still living in that house in some way,” Dr. Drymalski said.  

Then explore what mythological or cross cultural meanings the images might have by googling them or looking them up in a dream book. You can also share the dream with a friend and ask what they think it might mean. Determine how all of these meanings fit with the dream and what you’re going through, then work out how you can apply it to your life.