The meaning of dreams has long perplexed mystics and psychologists alike. But a new study out of Australia suggests dream images can provide important insights into people's mental health problems and may help with their treatment.
The research, by a psychology specialist from the University of Adelaide, suggests dream analysis could help in the treatment of depression.
“This is a rapidly growing area of mental health concern, because depressive people are known to experience prolonged periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is directly linked with emotional processing and dreaming," said Dr. Lance Storm, who conducted the study published online in the International Journal of Jungian Studies.
Storm has been studying dream symbols (or "archetypes") and their meanings, first described by the famous psychologist and psychiatrist, Carl Jung. He said his work has largely reinforced Jung's theories about the connections between dreams and mental health, and recommends that dream analysis be explored further for potential clinical use.
In the early 1900s, Jung suggested dream symbols carried meaning about a patient's emotional state which could improve understanding of the patient and aid in his or her treatment.
"[Jung] described the most common archetypal images as the Hero, in pursuit of goals; the Shadow, often classed as negative aspects of personality; the Anima, representing an element of femininity in the male; the Animus, representing masculinity in the female; the Wise Old Man; and the Great Mother,” Storm noted.
"There are many hundreds of other images and symbols that arise in dreams, many of which have meanings associated with them — such as the image of a beating heart [meaning 'charity'], or the ouroboros, which is a snake eating its own tail ['eternity']. There are symbols associated with fear, or virility, a sense of power, the need for salvation, and so on.”
Storm said such dream images have practical significance and could broaden the range of options available to patients undergoing treatment for mental health problems.
"Our research suggests that instead of randomly interpreting dream symbols with educated guesswork, archetypal symbols and their related meanings can be objectively validated. This could prove useful in clinical practice," he said.