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Health and Spirituality Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other SelfhelpMagazine.com staff.


Are nighttime dreams of any use in helping me stay healthy?


While there is some difference of opinion in this area, my own belief, based on both personal and professional experience, is that dreams can be extremely valuable in maintaining our health, especially if we understand health to include not only physical but emotional, psychological, and spiritual domains. Consider your dreams to be a foreign language, complete with rules of grammar and translation. The key to understanding one's dreams is to appreciate both the rules of grammar and the translation of specific symbols.

The meaning of a specific symbol will be influenced heavily by your personal experience. It may also contain more universal meaning, reflecting what Jung called an archetype. Jung also suggested that our dreams tell us something of which we are unaware, pointing perhaps to a blind spot, an area of arrogance, or even toward some positive quality we are avoiding within ourselves.

Let me share an example with you. Several years ago I had this dream: --- I am at a motel. A Nazi SS General is there and is entrapping children in some evil scheme. I confront him, run him off, yet still bless him as he leaves. -- I woke up from this dream feeling somewhat self-important, impressed with the implied heroism. Yet later that day, recalling Jung's directive that each symbol in a dream represents some part of oneself, I realized "I have something of that Nazi in me as well!" Hardly a pleasant realization. I concluded that the Nazi represented what is known as the Shadow, that part of my personality that I deny.

Certainly, it was and is humbling to admit that I can be rigid, dictatorial, and manipulative. Yet the denial of such potential makes it that much more dangerous. I needed to find the Nazi within me and, as the dream stated at the end, needed to redeem him. Dreams can make statements about physical health as well. My friend Maureen Potts writes in her book The Three-edged Sword of a dream she had while she was in a period of remission from lupus. The dream was of her skiing with wolves running in the forest nearby.

Only after recalling that the Latin word for wolf is lupus did she recognize that her unconscious was warning her to not become blind to the fact that the lupus was still a part of her. Study your dreams. Keep a dream journal. Read some books on dreams but avoid so-called "dream dictionaries" since they ignore the meaning of a dream symbol which is unique to you. You may find a gold mine of guidance within that vast inner wilderness.


Richard B. Patterson is a clinical psychologist in private practice in El Paso, TX. He is the author of three books on psychology and spirituality.


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