Jungian psychotherapy—also known as Jungian analysis and analytic psychotherapy—is an approach to therapy that originated with the ideas of Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist.  Jung believed that dreams are not just a random jumble of associations or repressed wish fulfillments. Instead, they contain a wealth of truths for the individual concerned. They usually need interpreting, but when understood, they offer a commentary on life that can reveal what the individual consciously believes. 

Working with dreams is an important aspect of Jungian therapy. According to Jung, dreams had purpose and meaning. Dreams emerge from the unconscious in an effort to compensate for some negative attitude of our ego. This is what Jung called the compensatory function of dreams. 

Jung suggested that dreams have a prospective function, anticipating probable future events. Clients in Jungian therapy work with dreams in a number of ways. One way is to interpret dreams by concentrating on the imagery. 

Another Jungian way of analyzing dreams is to interpret them with a method Jung called “amplification.” To amplify a dream is to compare the images in the dream to images in other sources, such as myths, in order to identify archetypal parallels. 

Dream analysis is a primary tool in Jungian therapy when treating depression. Research has shown that people who are depressed can dream up to three times more than people who are not depressed, creating abundant content for dream analysis. Studies suggest that people with depression dream more frequently as a way to regulate and process negative emotions. 

Not surprisingly, depressed individuals report dreams with more negative mood, as well as more failures and misfortunes. Patients with depression also experience more frequent nightmares. 

Depressed patients with a history of suicidal thoughts or behaviors report more death themes in their dreams. What’s more, a study of people with bipolar disorder found that shifts from neutral or negative dream content towards more bizarre and unrealistic dreams can predict alterations between depressive and manic states. This suggests that shifts in affective content of dreaming may occur congruently with vacillations in waking mood in depression. 

Because depression affects everyone differently, some depressed people experience a more neutral affect in their dreams. For these people, the roles they play in dreams is relatively passive, along with reporting less bizarre dreams and lower dream recall frequency. 

In treating depression, Jungian dream analysis probes for unconscious material and symbols to explore for hidden meaning that is supporting feelings and thoughts associated with depression. The dreamer is crucial in unlocking the dream’s message and dreams are seen as attempts to express and create. Jungian dream analysis is based on Jung’s belief that unless the interpretation resonates with the dreamer, the interpretation is not helpful. 

Jungian dream interpretation focuses on the relationship of the dream ego  to the other figures in the dream, which gives an indication, through the imagery, of the ability of the ego to cope with emotions, impulses and complexes. Since the information in dreams comes in the form of symbols and images, it needs translation to be understood by the conscious ego.

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.


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