How to Use Gestalt Therapy to Interpret Dreams
Source: Source: Andrea Piacquadio/pexels
Have you ever wondered what your dreams mean? You may have consulted a dream interpretation book in hopes of finding out what the symbols and events in your dreams mean. Unfortunately, contrary to what the dream interpretation books claim, there is no set meaning for each symbol or event in a dream. While some common dream symbols usually have a similar meaning, such as a house in a dream often representing the dreamer’s self, the meaning of other symbols is so highly personal that only you can interpret them.
How do I find out what my dreams mean?
A very simple and ingenious method of interpreting dreams was developed by Frederick S. Perls (1893-1970), one of the main founders of Gestalt therapy. Perl’s method allows you to go behind the veil of your subconscious and discover what each dream symbol means to you personally. It’s easy to learn and works on any type of dream, including nightmares.
Underlying principles of Gestalt therapy dream interpretation
- The dreamer is the author of the dream.
- Everything in the dream, including other people, animals, inanimate objects, and the weather, expresses an aspect of the dreamer.
- The main character in the dream represents that part of your personality that you consciously see as yourself. Other people or things will represent other parts of you.
- If something is missing in a dream, it also relates to the dreamer’s self. For example, if you are in a car without a driver, the missing driver is an important part of the dream.
How to interpret a dream
I devised a nightmare about a spider jumping out of a TV to illustrate the basic steps of Gestalt therapy dream interpretation.
Step 1. Narrate your dream aloud from beginning to end in the first person as if it were happening to you in the present tense.
I’m watching a TV show at home and suddenly a giant spider jumps out of the screen and towards my face. I scream and wake up very scared.
Step 2. Now tell the dream from the point of view of each thing in the dream. Be that thing like you were given that role in a movie. Say whatever comes to mind without editing yourself.
TV: I am the TV and all I do all day is wait for it to turn on so I can show things. Some of the things I show are very popular and other things I show people don’t want to see.
Spider: I’m creepy I’m one of those things that people don’t want to see. Sometimes I jump out of the TV when someone tries not to see me.
Room: I am the container. In me are the person, the TV and the spider. This person opened my door and entered. My TV has a message for you. The spider symbolizes it. She turns on the TV and the message jumps out at her. She is scared and screams and wakes up.
Step 3. Let the different things in the room talk to each other. Say whatever comes to mind without editing.
room to person: Why did you leave by waking up? If you came inside me and turned on the TV, you knew you’d see something.
Person to room: I hope I never open your door again. I didn’t understand what would happen if I turned on the TV.
TV to person: I am here for you. There is something you must watch, but keep avoiding.
Person to TV: Why scare me so? I hate spiders and a giant spider jump of you was too terrible. Please don’t do this again or I’ll never watch you.
TV to person: i am your brain You have many scary things that you buried in me.
spider to person: you have to see me I could have taken another form, but I’ve already tried that, and you ignored me in those dreams. I realized that if I wasn’t creepy and aggressive, you would just tune me out.
person to spider: Well, you are here now. i’m listening
spider to person: I represent everything you don’t want to think about. If you allow yourself to think about what scares you, you will experience what I am.
Some additional tips on dream symbols
- house or apartment. This is a general symbol for the self. The condition of the house reflects your current condition. For example, if you find yourself in a house with a shaky foundation, you are likely to feel unstable in real life.
- Danger. Whatever is dangerous in a dream represents something you fear in your waking life. For example, if in a dream you find yourself alone on a small island that is being inundated by a tsunami, you may feel overwhelmed.
- phones. Phones generally represent our ability to communicate. If your phone is dead or lost in your dream then you are probably feeling cut off in some way and unable to communicate.
- Lost Items. If you lose something important in a dream and are looking for it, the function of the item can give you clues as to its dream meaning. For example, if you lose your wallet, which contains your ID, money, and credit cards, it likely has something to do with your identity and what money and credit represent to you.
- Combined people. If you wake up and cannot decide who someone is in your dream because, for example, the man looked like your father but you addressed him by your husband’s name, that person is a combination figure who shares aspects of both people.
Shared Therapy Dreams
The night before therapy begins dream.
Whatever people dream the night before their first psychotherapy session usually represents their concerns about starting therapy. Here is an abbreviated example.
I’m on safari in Africa. I enter the jungle for the first time. I hired a guide but I’m not sure if she knows how to get me safely through the jungle.
Extra rooms dream towards the end of therapy.
Successful therapy expands the client’s thinking and adds new possibilities to his life. Here is a short version of a common dream type in successful therapy.
I’m in my apartment and suddenly I discover a door I’ve never seen before. I open it and there is a corridor that leads to a wing of my house that I didn’t know existed. It’s very spacious. I wonder why I never noticed this before. The rooms are very nice. I am very happy that my small apartment has more space than I knew.
where in the house are you
As I mentioned before, houses usually represent you. Here are some examples.
- Basement, cellar. Going down the stairs into a dark basement often means digging into the depths of your subconscious. Whatever you find in your dream symbolizes something you worry about but usually avoid.
- attic. The attic is at the very top of your house and often represents thoughts or things stored in your head. Some things to think about: What do you have in your attic in a dream? What do these things represent to you? Is it easy to get into your attic?
Frederick S. Perls, one of the main inventors of Gestalt therapy, taught that we create our dreams and that everything in the dream represents an aspect of us. The person we identify as ourselves in the dream represents our conscious idea of who we are – the parts we currently identify with. The other parts, including non-human things like the weather or the road, also represent parts of our personality.
By playing all the roles in our dream, we can discover denied or unrecognized aspects of ourselves. Perls is reported to have said that if we work thoroughly on a single dream and all of its implications, it could be a complete therapy in and of itself. It’s all in.
Adapted and expanded from a Quora post.
To find a therapist, visit Psychology Today’s Therapy Directory.