I was barefoot in my backyard, standing on the cool shaded grass under a dying oak tree in the summer heat. As I started towards the river, a black snake with a triangular head hissed at me. Drawn to it, I reached down and the snake straightened its scaly body upright, flickering its tongue. The serpent attacked me with striking speed. Its fangs penetrated my soft skin, drawing blood while injecting fatal venom into my hand. I shook my blood-soaked hand frantically in an attempt to disengage the snake, and once I was free of the serpent I knew what I needed to do in order to survive. I had to suck the venom out of my own body.
I shot up from my bed panting in a cold sweat, my arms stretched out to check the back and then front of my hands for any sign of blood. As my breathing slowed and I realized it was only a nightmare, I became intrigued; why was it so powerful, so vivid and so upsetting? Where had it come from? Turning to Google to research, I learned that my questions could be answered, that there is an entire field of psychoanalysis dedicated solely to analyzing dreams and how the unconscious mind interacts with your waking life.
“Dreams are from the unconscious. The job of the unconscious is to try to bring us into balance, bring us to who we fully are, who we are fully capable of being, and try to make us grow,” said Jungian psychoanalyst Erica Lorentz. Equipped with over 30 years of clinical experience, she has taught on the university level and is presently a training analyst with the Jung Institute of Boston.
Jungian analysis is a method of psychotherapy developed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who was mentored by Sigmund Freud but would break with the father of modern psychology. “A Jungian analyst is really listening for how the psyche is guiding a person’s life,” explained Jungian psychoanalyst Kathleen Goldblatt of Boston, who completed her training with the Inter-Regional Society of Jungian Analysts and has worked as a Masters-level social worker for over 23 years. Jung and Freud had a shared interest of the unconscious, but they would come to view it differently.
When Goldblatt sees a patient, “we listen to the dream as a guide to what’s happening that they’re not conscious of.” She explained that the dream is trying to express something that we don’t know, consciously. Similar to Freud, Jung regarded the psyche as comprised of three main separate but interacting systems; the ego, and the two layers of the unconscious. Dreams are derived from the two layers of unconscious, the personal and collective unconscious. The personal unconscious consists of suppressed memories and temporarily forgotten information. The collective unconscious is comprised of latent memories from our ancestral and evolutionary past.
Both Goldblatt and Lorentz will listen to the client’s dream providing insight about that dreamer’s life. “And of course the dream is related to our lives and where we are, what we are working on in ourselves,” said Lorentz. They listen to what’s going on in their client’s waking life to find the dream’s significance. “It’s trying to bring up whatever needs to be looked at,” said Lorentz.
While Goldblatt starts with the tone and setting of the dream, Lorentz begins by going through the dream and evaluating symbolic meanings. For fellow sleepers who have trouble remembering their dreams, Lorentz explains that if the client only remembers a fragment of a dream, they will evaluate that fragment and can spend long periods of time analyzing one part of the dream. Goldblatt strongly suggests that her clients keep a dream journal to help remember the dreams more easily.
However, Lorentz explains that when clients remember the entire dream, there’s usually an opening that defines the issue in one’s waking life. The middle of the dream is a commentary on that issue of how one is being affected by it, and then at the end of the dream there is usually a solution to the problem. “And most of it is becoming conscious,” Lorentz said. In her professional opinion, dreams often exaggerate symbols to get our attention.
In all dreams, there are symbols. Clients come to Goldblatt and Lorentz to describe their dreams, and they look for symbols within the dream. However, symbolism isn’t quite as black and white as one might think. For example, the symbol of a snake is from our collective unconscious, according to Lorentz. “Years before Christianity, the snake was the symbol of a great goddess, and it was also in the Garden of Eden. In every religion of the world there is a symbol of the serpent,” Lorentz said. She explains the complexities that one symbol has due to its many historical meanings.
“Anybody working with dreams has a pretty good understanding of symbols,” said Goldblatt. Lorentz is trained as a Jungian analyst. “I know a lot about symbolism and how to facilitate somebody working with symbols from all over the world.” Yet she will ask her client for a description of that symbol as though she is a Martian, to discover and interpret the message that the dream is sending about each individual client’s waking life. Similarly, Goldblatt will not offer her opinion of the symbolic meaning in a dream until her client has completely exhausted what the images mean to them.
Furthermore, the same symbol will have a different meaning depending on the person, their situation in life, and their experiences; the specific meaning of a symbol can vary with each client. “What’s most important is what it means to you,” Goldblatt said. The patient and analyst will find what the dream is speaking to in terms of their waking life.
“We’ve become a quick fix society,” says Goldblatt. She is referring to how much research is available which shows that dream analysis is one of the most effective means of alleviating symptoms such as depression, anxiety, relationships and more. “When I work with people, my goal is to get them off medication and really to understand themselves.” While Goldblatt understands that certain cases require medication due to organic causes of mental health issues, she believes that there are also many cases in which medication isn’t necessary.
Similarly, Lorentz believes “Dreams are an opportunity for you to learn.” She trusts the dreams and the unconscious to guide her and the client towards self-discovery. “Learning and growing and discovering the unconscious never stops.”
Goldblatt defines the word individuation used by Jung as, “becoming the person that we were born into life to become, and that is the work for all of us. To become who we are meant to be.” As people discover more about themselves by analyzing their dreams, they discover more of who they really are instead of who they think they should be.