Wisdom of the Dream: Journey Along the Royal Road

Clinical Update

By Zur Institute

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Many clinicians shy away from working with their clients’ dreams, feeling that they lack the required training and expertise. This is unfortunate because dreams provide a window into your client’s deepest conflicts, hopes, and fears. They also provide a convenient barometer of the status of your relationship with your client and the progress of your therapeutic work together. Unfortunately, the idea of “dream interpretation” suffers from a great deal of historical mystification.

It’s been a bit more than one hundred years since Freud focused attention on dreams as “the royal road to the unconscious”. That seminal insight is as true today as it was back then. Freud introduced a whole vocabulary around this enterprise: wish fulfillment, day residue, condensation, over-determination, manifest content vs. latent content, primary process thinking vs. secondary process thinking, the pleasure principal vs. the reality principle, the dream censor, and so on.

After Jung’s major contribution, the scientific study of dreaming really took off in the 1950s with the discovery of Rapid Eye Movement (REM). Since that time, sleep laboratories have sprung up and, as a result of technological advances in brain monitoring and imaging, we understand many of the processes surrounding sleep and dreaming in much greater detail than previously.

From a practical, clinical point of view, moreover, it is clear that dreams are meaningful and that they speak eloquently about the client’s inner life. Rather than requiring a huge repertoire of technical knowledge, the therapist simply needs to learn to listen with a metaphorical ear.

Here are some basic facts:

  • We spend a third of our lives sleeping.
  • We have at least four to six dreams per night.
  • There is still no scientific consensus as to why either sleep or dreaming have evolved.
  • Prolonged sleep deprivation leads to death and/or to mental disorganization.
  • Recent science suggests that dreams are associated with the storage of the day’s events, retaining what is important and weeding out the unimportant.
  • Most, but not all, dreams take place during REM sleep.