What does science say about dreams?
Dream research provides fascinating insights into the how, what and why of dreaming, providing evidence that:
- Dreaming reflects waking life concerns and emotions (Foulkes, 1967; Foulkes, Larson, Swanson, & Rardin, 1969; Foulkes et al., 1967).
- Dreaming helps us to process complex emotions (Karni et al. 1994; Plihal and Born 1999a; Kuriyama et al. 2004; Smith et al. 2004).
- Dreaming is part of our cognitive development (Foulkes, 1999).
- Dreaming serves a problem solving function (Barrett, 1993).
- Dreams help us make connections (Hartman, 2010).
- Dreaming is a “storytelling instinct”( Edward Pace-Schott, 2013) facilitating creation of meaningful personal and communal narratives.
- Revonsuo asserts dreams serve a survival function enabling us to rehearse survival responses to threats (2000).
- Dreaming depends upon the maturation and development of a specific neural network (William G. Domhoff, 2001, 2003)
- Lucid dreaming (to be dreaming and self-aware at the some time) is an innate capacity experienced by 50% of the population that can be strengthened and enhanced (Bulkeley and Hurd, 2014)
- Dream recall correlates with political ideology (Bulkeley, 2010)
How does psychology understand dreams?
There is no one theory of dreaming in the field of psychology. Rather, there are numerous dream theories. Freud (1900/1966) thought dreams represent repressed infantile and primitive desires. Jung (1964/1974) understood dreams to be a natural symbolizing activity originating in the unconscious (and used dreamwork in his own healing). Adler (1936/1958) thought dreams serve a problem solving function, and Beck (1971) believed our dreaming thoughts parallel our waking thoughts with some dreams providing insight into thought distortions. More recently Clara Hill (1996, 2004), integrating previous theoretical models, proposed a cognitive experiential model for working with dreams therapeutically. Hill considers dreams to be effective means of facilitating exploration, insight and action in therapy. Research supports the efficacy of this model (Hill, 2004).
I combine the Hill Cognitive-Experiential Model with insights gleaned from Jungian analysis, dream research and my own clinical and personal experience. When working with dream groups I use a format grounded in the works of Montague Ullman (1996, 1985), Jeremy Taylor (2009), and Nan Zimmerman (1985).
Dream Research: Physiological Coherence and Dream Content in Traumatized Adolescents
This mixed methods study uses both qualitative and quantitative measures to investigate the inter-relationship of physiological and psychological measures of coherence, the creation of coherent, meaningful narratives and the development of symbolizing capacity (examined through content analysis of dreams and case studies) in traumatized adolescents. Results of this study suggest that increased physiological coherence (measured using the Hearmath Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback Protocol) and participation in Dream Group correlate with changes in dream content (analyzed using DreamSAT and SDDb Word Search quantitative measures) and development of symbolizing capacity in this population. Study results provide evidence that dreaming and patterns in dreams are relevant to trauma recovery in adolescents. For more information about this study contact: Mary Walsh.
Dream Research: Dreamwork and Vicarious Trauma in Trauma Care Providers
This study emerged both out of my interest in addressing vicarious trauma (also described as secondary trauma and compassion fatigue) and burnout in trauma care providers and my experience over the past three years of providing dream groups for students in Holy Name University’s post-baccalaureate certificate program in Traumatology and Treatment. The study collects dreams of trauma care providers, measures symptoms of vicarious trauma (using the Symptom Checklist 90-Revised and the Impact Event Scale-Revised) and analyzes dream content using the DreamSAT and the Word Search Tool, Sleep and Dream Database (SDDb). Trauma providers include therapists, first responders, medical care providers, probation officers, social workers and spiritual care providers counseling to traumatized individuals and families.
Those interested in participating in this study can contact Mary Walsh.
Those interested can learn more about Holy Names University University’s post-baccalaureate certificate program in Traumatology and Treatment at: hnu.edu/academics/graduatePrograms/pdf.
Dream Research: Historical Trauma and Content Analysis of Recurring Dreams
The theory of Historical Trauma describes “a cumulative emotional and psychological wounding” from massive communal experience of traumatic events across generations. (Brave Heart and Debruyn, 1998). Groups commonly suffering from historical trauma include American Indians/First Nation Peoples, people of color, refugees, immigrants and displaced people. I am currently researching recurring dreams which dreamers identify as associated with their experience of Historical Trauma. I am using the SDDb Word Search Analysis Tool to do content analysis of these dreams.
Those interested in participating in the study can contact Mary Walsh.
For general information about dreaming and dream research, go to: