November 9, 2012
Dream Symbols May Reveal Underlying Mental Health Issues
Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
There´s a saying that eyes are the windows to a person´s soul. While this may or may not be true, there´s another theory that dreams are the filters to a person´s mental health. In particular, a new study from scientists at the University of Adelaide in Australia found that symbols in dreams could provide perspective into people´s mental health issues, allowing psychotherapists to develop possible treatments.
According to WebMD, dreams are experiences consisting of “images, sounds, or other sensations” while a person sleeps. They are considered an internal mental process and can be based off of the activities that occurred in an individual´s life during the day. Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs three or four times during the night, during which the brain is more active and can have “story-like” dreams that are filled with “action, complexity, and emotion.”
Dr. Lance Storm, a Visiting Research Fellow at the University of Adelaide´s School of Psychology, conducted this particular research project. Storm observed dream symbols, otherwise known as archetypes, and what they could possible mean. Carl Jung, the well-known psychologist and psychiatrist, first studied the effects of dream symbols. Jung theorized that the archetypes were based off people´s unconscious and that dream symbols could relate to a person´s emotional state. These images could provide clues to a patient and possible treatment options.
"Jung was extremely interested in recurring imagery across a wide range of human civilizations, in art, religion, myth and dreams," explained Storm in a prepared statement. “He 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.”
The findings from the current study, which are slated to be published in the International Journal of Jungian Studies next year (available online now), support Jung´s position and show that dream analysis could be investigated for clinical purposes.
"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,” continued Storm in the statement. "In Jungian theory, these symbols are manifestations of the unconscious mind; they are a glimpse into the brain's 'unconscious code', which we believe can be decrypted," noted Storm in the statement.
Furthermore, Storm believes that Jung´s theories could help pave the way for more treatment options for patients who have mental health issues.
"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," concluded Storm in the statement. "We believe, for example, that 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."