Dream Therapy: Types of Dreams and How to Interpret Them

Louis Laves-Webb

February 3, 2020

Do you remember what you dreamed about last night? For something that we all do every night, remembering your dreams is difficult. Studies show that we forget roughly 95 percent of a dream almost immediately.

Making sense of your dreams can be even harder. This is why dream therapy has become more and more popular. Despite the fact that we spend about two hours per night dreaming, we know surprisingly little about what dreams are and why we experience them.

We know that dreams are a type of hallucination and that we have most frequently during stage five REM sleep, the deepest stage of sleep. We also know that dreams play an important role in regulating our metabolism, blood pressure, and brain function. One critical question, however, that we still don’t have a good answer for is...

Why Do We Dream?

The logic we use to navigate waking life has no chance in the face of dreams. Dreams seem to be based on recent experiences and issues we’re facing, but there’s still no consensus among mental health professionals as to what the purpose of dreams is. Here are the most widely accepted answers.

To Process Emotional Trauma

Your dreams may be ways of confronting emotional pain in your life. While you’re asleep, your brain is operating at a much more emotional level than when you’re awake. This may allow your brain to make connections about your feelings that your conscious self wouldn’t make, much in the same way that psychedelic drugs, meditative trances, or Hypnosis works.

To Practice For Future Challenges

Your amygdala is one of the most active areas of your brain when you’re dreaming. This part of your brain is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. This activity suggests that dreams could be your brain’s way of simulating future threats to prepare you for them; an instinctive biological survival mechanism that allows you to “learn how to avoid getting eaten by a tiger without actually having to physically face the actual threat”. A fascinating conceptualization of the purpose of our dreams.

To Sort Through And Store Memories

Dreams might be a way of sorting through which of your memories are important enough to store so you can recall them efficiently later and which should be delegated to the subconscious or unconscious memory system. This type of dream interpretation sees dreaming as a type of automatic sorting system for your memories and experiences. Your brain looks back on the day’s events, digests them, and puts them into context of what you need.

Types of Dreams

Before a dream therapist conducts dream analysis on the contents of your dreams, they might begin by classifying the types of dreams you’re having.

Normal Dreams

Most of your dreams are probably normal dreams, but that doesn’t mean that they or you are boring. Normal dreams can be fascinating, exciting, and (more often than not) weird. Having normal, common dreams is a good sign that you’re healthy and well adjusted. Normal dreams can also sometimes be recurring dreams.

Lucid Dreams

A lucid dream is when you are not only aware that you’re dreaming but are able to control what happens during the dream. Unlike your most vivid dreams, lucid dreams happen most frequently when you’re partially awake.


Nightmares are bad dreams caused by stress, trauma, and fear. They tend to make you feel anxious and afraid, sometimes to the point that they wake you up. Though a nightmare isn’t anything to worry about, a recurring bad dream is something to consider dream therapy for.

What is Dream Therapy?

Dream therapy is the process of unraveling what dreams mean in relation to our waking lives. The process of dream interpretation is symbolic and it is uniquely tailored to the dreamer. It is a collaborative process that draws upon Freudian interpretation, Jungian symbols, Transpersonal theory, and Object Relational introjects.

The aim of dream therapy isn’t necessarily to come to an unmistakable interpretation of a given dream but to find meaning, usability, and emotional substance for the client through their dreams.

For this reason, you may not be able to perform substantive dream analysis simply by looking up symbols in your dream in a "dream dictionary”.

It can be important to interpret your dreams under the direction of an experienced psychotherapist or dream therapist. Psychotherapists, in general, are already skilled at picking up on subconscious indicators of problems. Because dreams are often so abstract, picking up on these indicators is more complex, but it’s still similar to the process of individual therapy.

What Do My Dreams Mean?

Dream therapy is rich in material, and for those insatiable curious about the true depth and meaning of their psyche, I can be an empowering journey. The topic of dream interpretation has inspired hundreds of books and doctoral theses to be written. Dreams are powerful. They cause us to feel strong emotions and remember seemingly forgotten experiences.

While dreams on their own can seem entirely abstract, dream analysis helps you to understand them within the context of your life. This process of dream interpretation is used by psychotherapists and dream therapists alike, as it can be instrumental in helping patients understand themselves and their deepest desires more profoundly.

The Up-Shot of Dream Therapy

Why we dream is still largely a mystery, but experts’ best guesses are that our brain uses dreams to:

  • Process emotional trauma
  • Practice for future challenges
  • Sort through and store memories

Dreaming can leave you waking up feeling angry, sad, or afraid, and confused as to why. Psychotherapists use dream therapy to help you make sense of a dream by connecting its puzzle pieces with the ones from your waking life.

If you think you don’t understand subconscious aspects of yourself, if you have a recurring dream, or if you find your dreams to be particularly meaningful, dream therapy could be right for you. To learn more about how dream therapy can be a useful tool in psychoanalysis, contact Louis Laves-Webb and Associates today.

Frequently Asked Question

Who can I talk to about my dreams?

Therapists, like the ones here at Louis Laves-Webb, LCSW, LPC-S and Associates can help you understand and interpret your dreams and the things in them. More importantly, dream therapists can help you find the connection between your dreams and your self-consciousness. 

What is dream therapy?

Dream therapy is a term used to describe a therapy technique where dreams, especially recurring dreams, are explored, interpreted, and analyzed to help an individual understand the underlying stressors of their life. In most cases, dream therapy will involve journaling as soon as an individual wakes up from a dream, which will then be discussed with their therapist.

What is dream analysis?

Dream analysis can be defined as the process of interpreting and evaluating the dreams of an individual to help that individual understand the meaning of their dreams. For example, a dream where an individual wakes up falling has often been associated with that person feeling like their life is on the wrong track. Dream analysis helps that person understand where they subconsciously agree with the idea of their life being on the wrong track so they can fix their situation and remove that stressor from their life, and in turn, their dreams. 

Why do I dream about my phobia? 

Dreaming about your fear or phobia is a common occurrence for many people who experience a phobia. In many cases, dreaming about your phobia represents confronting an underlying fear, whether it be that phobia or something else entirely. Discussing your recurring dreams involving your phobia with a therapist is a great way to understand why you keep having these dreams and how they relate to your subconscious. You can learn more about phobias in this post from our blog. 
Is dream interpretation real?

Yes, dream interpretation is a real practice that has been done across cultures for thousands of years. The validity of dream interpretation is often debated and brought into question, but many trusted therapists believe that dream interpretation can be effectively used to treat a patient who is suffering from recurring nightmares.

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