• Dreams are often considered routes into our unconscious mind, holding thoughts and feelings that may not be obvious to us 

  • Therapist Kim Coussell works with dreams to help clients understand what's going on in their lives

  • If you would like to explore your subconscious inner world, find a therapist here  

Have you woken up with that glorious feeling as the remnants of your dream wash over you? A dream so vibrant you want to go back to sleep and immerse yourself once more? Or a dream of which you cannot quite shake off the feeling of unease that it invokes in you? A really powerful dream can stay with us all day; but what does it all mean?

Dreams are symbolic of what is going on inside of us. In psychotherapy dreams provide valuable opportunity to work with a client’s inner world rather than purely their psychology. Through dream work the imagination has the opportunity to run free and deeper depths can be reached without our logical minds or conscious defences so easily getting in the way. Our ego is not present in our dream world to reign in or limit us, enabling the unconscious to communicate directly.

Freud described dreams as the royal road to the unconscious, and they do indeed give us a gateway into the workings of our deepest selves, a bridge between our conscious and unconscious worlds. The imaginary realm holds endless possibilities, for the whirlwind of events and imagery in dreams contains the psyche’s riches. We might consider our dreams as a gift from our psyches. So what is the psyche trying to tell us?  

Deciphering dreams

Often it is an image in a dream that evokes a powerful response within us, and the unconscious often uses images in places of words to convey its messages. By looking at the associations the dreamer has to the imagery or characters in the dream we can begin to consider the meanings. What’s going on in the dreamer’s life at the time of the dream is important to consider when reflecting on the dream too.

Reoccurring characters could be trying to signal something to the dreamer, or a reoccurring nightmare might be indicative of repressed material breaking through. Certain characters may represent an aspect of the dreamer that is wishing to be acknowledged, a part of themselves that needs some attention and perhaps nurture. Does the dream character represent an aspect of self that perhaps needs an outlet, or is not being heard?

When returning to the dream in a psychotherapy session we can begin a dialogue with important characters from the dream. The journey of discovery is not the therapist providing a concrete meaning to the symbols but rather helping the client discover the meanings and significance for themselves. Perhaps our inner world hopes to open up our everyday existence to the possibilities available to us if we only choose to become receptive to them?

The benefits of working with dreams

By paying more attention to our dreams, we are in turn rewarded with even richer content and there are so many ways to honour your dream world. A dream journal is a fantastic tool for helping to bring your dreams into consciousness. They can become a real joy to immerse yourself in, and a treasured part of your inner explorations. Giving some time to your dreams in this way really helps the dream to ‘land’, and a dream journal is a wonderful gift to take to therapy to explore further.

The symbols of our dreams often emerge through images and it can be both enjoyable and revealing to draw these, using chalk, pens or crayons – it does not need to be perfect! The process of drawing out these aspects of your dream helps to cement them and also helps in processing the content more deeply. Drawing also helps to reconnect to the feeling of the dream, this creative option can be preferable to getting into our heads and being too quickly drawn into the symbolic meanings.

You may also find feelings and responses emerge when drawing that you would not have experienced from simply thinking about the dream, it is worth making a note of the feelings that returning to your dream evokes in you. Colours may also stand out and have a special meaning for you too, or be related to a chakra that’s blocked or diminished. Sexual dreams can be explored through so many lenses, simply wish fulfilment, or perhaps related to our inner animus or anima. How in balance are your inner masculine and inner feminine? Perhaps your dream is calling upon qualities which are traditionally more masculine or feminine in your daily life?

How to connect with your dreams

There are so many ways to reconnect with your dreams that you are sure to find one that resonates with you. Taking a few moments to reconnect with ourselves before falling into sleep is beneficial too. In the lead up to sleep, try to avoid having unnecessary mental stimulation. When you’re in bed and settling down for the night if you find yourself still looking at your phone it’s creating a distraction from the opportunity of reconnecting to yourself before you sleep. We often try to unwind with phones, but so often it has the opposite of the desired effect, instead flooding our already overstimulated minds.

By bringing the day to a close in a relaxed way using techniques such as body mapping, meditation and even simply getting lost in an enjoyable novel is preferable to running through a mental to-do list or ruminating over the events of the day. Body mapping brings your focus back to your physical self and away from your busy mind. When you’re in bed you can begin by getting a sense of yourself simply laying down on the mattress, of the mattress supporting you as you experience the sensation of relaxing into it. Slowly bringing your focus to your body, starting with your head. Do you feel any tension, any tightness in your jaw for example? Perhaps your neck feels stiff. Continue down the body paying attention to any tensions held, and which parts feel relaxed. Often you may not have completed the body map before you’ve fallen asleep!

How do you feel in your body upon waking? When you return to the previous night’s dream do any physical sensations arise? These are useful things to take notice of too. The feeling of the dream is often still very much with us upon waking and it is helpful and often enjoyable to stay with it before getting up and beginning your day. These are all aspects that you can note in your dream journal too.

Our dream landscape often holds answers if we can listen out for them. Working as a link between the conscious mind and the unconscious world within us, the imagery realm with its endless possibilities is valuable exploration indeed. Perhaps our inner world hopes to open up our outer world to the opportunities available to us if we choose to see them, helping guide us towards living to our full potential.

Dare to dream!

Kim Coussell is a verified welldoing.org therapist in Dorset and London

Further reading

Meet the therapist: Kim Coussell

What can our dreams tell us?

Let your unconscious mind help you

Carl Jung and active imagination

The power of imagination in psychotherapy