Friday, December 25, 2009

Seasons Greetings.......

Best wishes to everyone around the globe-may this season bring family, good friends and joy to all.

Sweet Dreams!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Each of us dreams of the unknown and the impossible according to his nature. Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo's line in his famous book, "Les Miserables" sums up nicely the findings of dream research: "Each of us dreams of the unknown and the impossible according to his nature". Much of dream research has revealed that no matter what the story, no matter what the message, dreams are written by the dreamer with their own hand. Dreams are always in the paradigm of the dreamer. Angry people have angry dreams. Shy and quiet people have few characters and introverted dream imagery. Perhaps there is nothing so clear as dreams to reveal the true nature of an individual. Dreams are the unaltered, unchanged information that clearly display what the dreamer experiences, thinks, feels and is destined for. Again, what dreams mean to a dreamer is summarized by Victor Hugo with the following line:

"In such aspirations, much more than in composed, reason, and ordered ideas we see every man's true character."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Killer Dreamer: Committing Murder While Dreaming

The recent murder case of a Welsh man who murdered his wife while dreaming, is certainly getting a lot of media attention. Could this really happen? Was he actually just malingering? One of the primary phenomena that occurs during REM is the neurological inhibition of voluntary nerve impulses during REM sleep. This renders the dreamer immobile and therefore, unable to move. So how could one possibly commit murder if this is the case?

With many sleep disorders (parasomnias) they are associated with non-REM dreaming states and therefore, acting out without the dreamer knowing it, is possible. In the case of the Welsh man he stated that he acted out a violent dream and unknowingly killed his wife. This has come to be known as REM Behaviour Disorder. These disorders occur, unlike in normal conditions, where behaviours occur that are not the norm. People have been known to display bizzare behaviour while sleeping (e.g. walking, talking) which can even include murder.

Though this is a very interesting case, especially for sleep and dream scientists, it should be noted that it is extremely rare and it is a "disorder". That being said, few people will ever act out in a violent manner while dreaming. In the vast majority of cases, the REM response will be completely normal and the dreaming function will do exactly what it is meant to do for the dreamer.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Dreaming of Vampires

I recently became aware of the fact that a book series based on vampires (e.g. Twilight) has become a world-popular phenomenon. The books have caputured the minds and imaginations of millions and have been made into even more popular movies. What captured me was the fact that the books were inspired by a vivid dream. The author of the books found herself dreaming of a vivid story that involved a young girl and a vampire. She awoke and began writing what would become the great stories that would captivate millions.

This is yet another wonderful example of how dreams can fuel creativity. Just as many writers, painters and song writers have discovered for themselves, dreams can carry the energy of creativity. When this occurs, it is up to the dreamer to recognize the inspiration and then act on it in waking day. Just as the author of the Twilight series did the work of writing her books, all dream-inspired work must be carried through in waking day. The painter must show up at the canvas. The writer must show up at the keyboard. The song writer must show up at the instrument. The best part of this entire creative process is that the ideas and the energy to fuel them will show up in dream time.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Long dreams, short dreams....does it really matter?

In a recent conversation with an esteemed colleague she posed the following question to me: "How can you really use dreams as data if people only remember a samll portion of their dream?" What she was really asking me was, can we measure and examine dreams if we do not have the whole dream? I found this interesting and perplexing because this colleague is a very rigorous researcher and yet could not understand how basic research design could be applied to dreams.

Upon pondering this query I began trying to imagine scenarios that could answer her question. For example, how can we know someone's blood sugar level by taking only a small drop of blood? Do we not need to test the complete volume of their blood to have an accurate reading? How do we know someone's IQ if we do not test every single measure of IQ on them? Is one measure really valuable at all?

Given this line of thinking, we can say that dreams are a sample of consciousness that represent the whole of consciousness for a dreamer. One dream scene will provide valuable information about a dreamer but not the whole story of the dreamer's life. Many dreams will provide even more information. A dream about anger will reveal a small window into the consciousness of the individual. We do not need every single detail from the dream to know that anger is an element of that dreamer's psyche. Every image carries important information and therefore, it is always releveant. We do not need to have ALL the dreamer's images from one night to have relevant imagery. It is all relevant, no matter how long or how short the dream is.

Also, if we are interested in the dreams of a specific group, for example migraine sufferers, then we need to collect a large number of dreams in order to get a representative sample. We do not need the dreams of every single migraine sufferer, nor do we need every single dream from a single sufferer. Many, many dreams will reveal the imagery that is specific to this group.

I am amazed that researchers who are well versed in their own field cannot at times imagine how their very own methodology can be applied to dream imagery.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Teaching Dreams and Dreaming

As I teach my third year university course on Dreams and Dreaming (Theory, Research and Practice) I am again reminded how difficult it is for people to make the connection between the dream image and the meaning obtained from interpretation. The temptation is to keep going to the dream imagery and make it literal. We know that this can be the case but we also know that dreams have many levels of meaning.

For example, a dream about a sore leg can mean that in waking day the dreamer has an injured leg (continuity hypothesis!) but it can also mean that the dreamer has been dragging his leg on a decision, or, that he is unable to move on from a waking day issue, etc. etc. In fact it can mean all of these things in waking day. He could have fallen and hurt his leg, and he is having a difficult time in a romantic relationship because he cannot make the decision to commit to it. This may be due to the fact that he is unable to move on from a previous romantic relationship because he has not fully recovered from it.

The reminder here is that dreams have many, many levels of meaning and the more willing we are to delve into the dream, the more information we will retrieve from it. Dreams are far more complicated than what novice dream workers are willing to realize. The more interpretations we work with, the more meaning will be revealed and thus, the more fruitful is the result.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Where do dreams come from?

After many years of studying dreams and consciousness, one of the most common questions still asked of me is "where do dreams come from?". Historically, there have been many suggestions of where the dreaming mind originates with basically two explanations arising: 1) dreams come from outside of the dreamer's mind or, 2) the dreamer creates the images while sleeping.

From the studies of consciousness we know that the mind is a vast and boundless entity that is constantly active during the waking day and then continues to be active during sleep. During sleep the mind assimilates and consilidates information that is stored with new information that has been acquired. Studies have shown that during sleep, the mind does not become dormant but rather, it becomes busy and more productive than ever. It is in this essential and active state of sleep that the dreaming mind is activated.

It is here that events of the past, present, and future come to life and play out in the nighttime images. It is here that the true inner self of the dreamer is revealed in many ways. The images are personalized with all the elements created from the dreamer him or her self. The images are produced from the consciousness of the dreamer-the conscious, unconscious, waking life experiences, and the very matter that makes one alive. So where do dreams come from? From the very place that makes a human life alive and that, is still a mystery.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why Bother With Dreams?

As the new university year starts up I see the students piling back onto the campus. While on campus earlier this week I ran into a student who had taken my 3rd year dreams and dreaming course last year. Part of the course entails doing dream interpretation on one's own dreams over the course of 12 weeks. This student told me that she still uses the dream interpretation methods that she was taught in class and that her dreams now make sense to her. She was happy to report that her dreams have a message for her and that the messages are relevant to her waking life. Of course I was delighted to hear that my teachings are being practiced and that they are helping people, however, the most important message for me was that dream interpretation is doing the work that it is meant to do: it brings conscious awareness to one's waking day.

The whole point of dream interpretation is to bring thoughts, feelings and behaviours into the conscious mind. It is with this awareness that one can live a life more fully and certainly more clearly. Awareness is the path to living a fulfilled life. Awareness stops the unconscious patterns and reactions that bring forth the same results. Awareness is what bring's one's life to it's purpose. If this can happen with dream interpretation, then this is work that is well worth the effort.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Can Dreams be Precognitive?

One of the most confusing and curious elements of the dreaming mind is that dreams appear to be precognitive at time. That is, that someone will have a dream that then manifests itself in waking day at some point in the future. Can this really be happening?

One explanation for this is that the dreamer has the images in a dream and then tries to match them with events in waking day. Therefore, it appears that they have had the dreams before the event but they have not. Research has shown that people can be brought into a sleep lab and can then dream about a very specific event that they could not possibly have known about or tried to create. Also, when someone has a truly precognitive dream the details of the dream to the waking day are so specific that the dreamer could not possibly create that. For example, a dreamer has an image of a squirrel with no tail running in front of his path as a group of women in red hats walk by. The next day this event occurs in waking day (the red hat society are going to lunch at a local restaurant). The possibility of that even occurring is quite rare.

People have always reported precognitive dream images and research is now trying to unravel that mystery. A recent study (Smith, unpublished data) has shown that approximately 10% of dream images appear to be precognitive. Often they are of everyday events such as a friend calling out of the blue or a parcel showing up. None the less, people continue to report on these dreams and research continues to try and understand them.

Perhaps these are more common and typical then once thought but more research is required to shed light on this phenomena.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Technical Difficulty....

My internet service has been very unrealiable for the past week or so due to bad lightening storms.......I will update my blog as soon as the service is fixed!
Stay well,

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Jumping around With Anxiety

In a recent study (Jones & DeCicco, 2009) a colleague and I have found that people who were mild to moderately high in anxiety tended to have more scene changes. The participants in the study reported going from one scene to the next, where people high in depression did not. This finding implies that people who are anxious in their waking day bring thoughts and feelings into sleep time that may affect the images that are being created. That is, the images do not appear to finish out a scene entirely but rather, scenes are quickly changed with unfinished story lines. For example, a man may be running down a road in one dream scene and then suddenly, finds himself at a friend's house. These abrupt scene changes were correlated with waking day anxiety.

Another interesting finding from the study is that people high in waking day anxiety did not have as much "discovery" with dream interpretation. Perhaps it is the fact that the dreams are so abruptly changing scenes that it is difficult to relate this to any one waking day life with interpretation. Nevertheless, many scene changes in a dream may be altering us to the possibility of waking day anxiety. This could help in self-guided dream work and in professional practice since jumping scenes may be an important element of the dreaming landscape.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Teeth Are Falling Out-What Can This Mean??

It is very common when working in the field of dream therapy that people will ask what their dreams mean. What does it mean when my teeth fall out? What does it mean when I am flying or falling? Though it is very common for people to want to know from us, can we actually generalize imagery to meaning, or is it specific for the dreamer?

Research has shown that dream images are specific for the dreamer. If a person is dog phobic and dreams of dogs, then likely that dreamer will connect the imagery to fear or anxiety in waking life. For another dreamer, who loves dogs and in fact owns 4 dogs in waking life, dream imagery of dogs will be connected to a different meaning. From what we know so far, we cannot generalize dream imagery to any one meaning and in fact, to do so, diminishes the meaning of dreams. Falling does not translate into waking day anxiety, water does not translate into spiritual matters. Imagery is specific to the dreamer and can ONLY be interpreted by the dreamer himself.

Taking images and making them universal could be one of the major mistakes made by dream workers. Though this is how dream interpretation was practiced in the past, we are now far beyond that work and into a more sophisticated form of interpretation. It is our professional responsibility to guide dreamers to their own meaning and to not stand in the way of that. We do not, and cannot know what a dream means for someone else-no matter how tempting it is to want to do that. Unless the dream is our own, we cannot claim any part of it as our own.

Dream interpretation has moved forward with scientific research practices so we must not stay stuck in the dark ages where dream interpretation was done by the healer, holy man, or shaman. Dreams belong to the dreamer and should be respected as such.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What Are Your Dreams Telling You?

Though people have been writing about dreams since the beginning of time, the age old questions remains; what do dreams mean? This area of study, especially scientifically, has only recently come into light. Not surprising in many ways, studies have shown that dream meaning is related to the dreamer's life. Meaning is not random. For example, people who are ill find meaning in their dreams related to health and illness. People in relationships find meaning related to their waking day relations. The meaning of dreams may seem vast and complicated but it appears to be as simple as the salient waking events for the dreamer.

The good news is that dream meanings can be realized and then applied to waking life circumstances. Once a dreamer finds the meaning, this then is the real jewel that gives value to life. The meaning is applied with conscious awareness which means more informed decisions are made. For example, if a woman realizes from her dreams that she is choosing male partners who are controlling, she can then make more informed choices in waking day. She can become aware of her choices and choose differently. With this awareness, a new life path is being created. Dreams bring awareness and awareness brings new choices. New choices means a new life for the dreamer. In terms of dreams and dreaming, it really is the meaning that matters.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

When the Mind Sleeps.....

I am often asked by people who are unaware of the mechanism and importance of dreaming what these images could possibly mean. It seems that when the mind sleeps our bodies are resting yet the mind is more active then ever. What could possibly be happening during this time? Scientific studies have shown us that during sleep time, the mind is in fact very active and that while certain parts of the brain are shut down, other parts become very activated. When the mind enters this essential state of sleep, the dreaming mind is then activated.

During dreaming, events of the past, present and future come to life and play out in the dream images. It is here that the life of the dreamer is revealed; uncensored and accurate. If dreams are left to their own devices (without lucidity) then the dreamer's life, emotions, ego-driven circumstances, personality, relationships etc. all become part of the dream scenes.

Research has shown that the personality of the dreamer shapes and forms the images while generating dream stories. The dreamer's personality traits and dimensions drive and sculpt the images. This in itself is very important since most people are unaware or unconscious to much of their own personality. We are all somewhat blind to our true personality and getting to know and understand one's true self is the great journey of life. As we learn about ourselves, befriending all the parts that make us who we are, we then move to a more mature personality. We know what we are good at and we do it. We know what we are not good at, and we find other solutions around them. We find our true purpose in life by acknowledging our strengths and weaknesses and then doing what we were meant to do. That may be raising a healthy, functional family, contributing to a business, painting or sculpting. No matter the medium, it's the message that matters. Dreams carry the messages that tell us who we really are, what we are meant to do, and how to it. We simply have to pay attention.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The International Association for The Study of Dreams-Chicago 2009

As a newly elected memeber of the IASD board I want to thank everyone who voted for me. This position is promising to be very interesting and challenging but most importantly, it is a position where I can give back to a community that has helped me in my work. The International Association for the Study of Dreams is an organization that allows researchers and clinical practitioners from all over the world, a forum to share their work.
IASD is foremost, a platform which allows the scientific investigation of dream consciousness. It is through this process that we as researchers will then share our knowledge with the non-scientific community in the world. Without scientific vigour, we are simply espousing our opinions and as intersting as those may be, they will not bring the realm of dreaming consciousness into global acceptance. Researchers from Germany, Italy, the UK, The United Arab Emerits, and other corners of the globe recently discussed and collaborated this frontier of science in Chicago (June/July 2009).
IASD has a second important factor and that is a place for therapists and applied practitioners to take the knowledge of dream therapy to help others. The value of dream therapy is known to those who work in the field but this work has yet to be incorporated in a fully intergrated manner. The applied work that occurs at IASD is the education element that is so important for application. Of course scientifically testing dream therapy methods makes them even more valuable. Just as new drugs are tested with control designs are new dream therapies tested with similar rigours methods. IASD is a place for professionals and dream-enthusiasts to learn, share, and collaborate on a vital part of the human experience; the dreaming mind.

Monday, June 22, 2009

5 Reasons To Practice Dream Interpretation: Reason 5

Though there are many important reasons to practice dream interpretation, one of the most valuable rewards from this work is that it helps with waking day relationships. It is a rare circumstance that someone would have dreams that did not involve characters of some kind. Common characters include romantic partners (past, present and future), family members, strangers, co-workers, friends, peers, and celebrities.

Who you dream about is a function of who you think about, who you have interacted with in the past, and what waking day issues you are experiencing. The "who" of dreaming is very salient so when someone shows up in your dream, they are important to you, whether you realize it or not. It may not be the actual person that is important but something about him or her that is coming into awareness. The dream characters may represent a personality type (the issue is aggression), a situation (it's about family), a similar person (my sister shows up as my brother) or any number of issues (the bully at work shows up as the bully from grade school). Dream characters are filled with important information about our lives and since more than half of our dreams are about relationships, the meaning in relation to waking day lives is important. Dream characters have much to teach us if we are willing to listen.

Monday, June 15, 2009

5 Reasons To Practice Dream Interpretation: Reason 4

From Donatella's last comments (in Reason 3) comes the next big reason to practice dream interpretation. She states in her comments:

Our intuitive, more secret and intimate parts, know before the other parts, those that are more “worldly”, and they ask us to intervene.

Donatella's comment brings us to the notion that dreams contain information that are greater than our own conscious mind can know. While we sleep, it is known that we continue to process information and to "learn" new information from what we have acquired. For example, if we learn A, B, and C, then while we sleep, the mind can make connections between them and all and come up with new information such as, A, B and C can be =Z! This new information (e.g. Z) lies within us and in the conscious mind, we may not know it.

The information that is "intuitive, more secret, and intimate" includes all the information that has ever been experienced by a dreamer; every person ever met, every book ever read, every stranger ever encountered, every emotion ever felt. During sleep time, the mind can assimilate, reorganize and more importantly, access this information at a level that the conscious mind simply cannot do.

The fourth reason to practice dream interpretation is to access this information that is at a level that cannot be accessed otherwise. To not do so, is to miss out on the intuitive and intimate parts of the self that are speaking out and asking for action to be taken.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

5 Reason to Practice (and Teach) Dream Interpretation: Reason 3

One of the most important reasons to do the work on one’s own dreams is that dreams can lead to self-awareness. This is perhaps one of the most important aspects of human development; as the personality matures the sense of self and self-awareness becomes more prominent.

Dream imagery can aid in the process of revealing personality traits to the dreamer, illustrate behaviours that may be unconsciously engaged in, and of course, reveal blind spots that are so often present. Dream imagery will play out the parts of the self that need to be acknowledged or even changed. The first crucial step is that parts of the self must be in conscious awareness and then, possibly changed.

It appears from dream research and practice that recurring dreams are often of this nature. When a important part of the self is being revealed in a dream, the imagery will continue to play out in the mind of the dreamer until the dreamer makes changes in waking day. People are often perplexed and bothered by their own recurring dreams but the solution appears to lie in the connection to waking day. If a dream is revealing a personality trait (e.g. chronic worry, anger, low-conscientiousness, emotional instability etc.), then once the dreamer acknowledges this in self-awareness and begins to make appropriate changes in waking day (e.g. tries to distract the mind instead of constantly worrying), then the recurring dream imagery will stop.

Perhaps one of the most significant processes in human development is that of self-awareness. This is the point where we begin to see ourselves in the full spectrum of our being (the good and the bad), we begin to engage in reflexive consciousness (we look back on ourselves) and then we engage in more consciously aware thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Dream imagery can be a gateway into the process of fully becoming one’s self.

Monday, June 1, 2009

5 Reasons to Practice Dream Interpretation: Reason 2

The International Association For The Study of Dreams is holding it's annual conference in Chicago (June, 2009). For details click the link below:

It is here that many scientists, researchers, and clinicians will share their knowledge on what dreams mean and how they can be useful in waking life. One of the main reasons for this work is to reveal coping mechanisms to waking day problems. During sleep time the brain undergoes complex neurophysiological functioning that sorts, stores, and creates new information. It is during dreaming that this new information can be accessed. We have many examples where solutions to problems are revealed (e.g. how to deal with a difficult child, or, work-related issues causing distress are solved) Examples of coping mechanisms in dream imagery are quite numerous.

The coping literature in psychology has suggested that there are 3 basic coping techniques; avoidance coping, emotion coping and problem-solving coping (Endler, 1998). If we begin with this premise, we will see that the dreaming brain will reveal to the dreamer two important aspects of coping. The first is the coping mechanism that is being employed in waking day, such as crying or yelling at others in a dream (emotion coping!). The second is a solution to a problem with a new coping pattern, such as working out an interpersonal problem in the dream, rather than crying or yelling.

Dreams can offer a rich source of information for coping with everyday problems. An interesting study would be to measure participants` coping techniques in waking day and then analyzing their dreams for possible coping techniques and solutions. This would help tap into the important phenomena of using dreams for coping.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

5 Reasons To Practice (and Teach) Dream Interpretation: Reason 1

Research and practice have given us many concrete reasons to implement personal dream interpretation programs, and, to teach these in our practices. The first important reason is that dream interpretation can aid in the process of exploring emotions. The inner world of emotions can often be confusing and bewildering. Emotional lives can be embedded with layers and layers of complex emotional elements. For example, one can be very angry at someone and yet very drawn to that person as well. One can suddenly feel sad and anxious without knowing how or why this is occurring. Similarly, layers of guilt, sadness, relief and excitement can all exist at the same time. Disentangling emotions is often a difficult process and this is where dream interpretation can be of great benefit. Once the underlying emotions are teased-out and recognized then appropriate action can be taken in waking day. This action will then be based on a more conscious experience than mere reaction. Dream interpretation programs, especially those that involve more than one technique, can help reveal the layers of emotions playing into a waking day issue.

A woman recently began dream interpretation as part of her therapy program since she was experiencing disturbing, negative imagery. She was recently diagnosed with kidney problems and entered therapy because she wanted to have a more balanced mind-body approach to her heath. With her first interpretation technique she discovered that her recent health issues were triggering pain and guilt for having given her infant daughter up for adoption 30 years previous. These feelings were buried deep in her unconscious mind and were only recently coming to the surface while sleeping. With further exploration she was able to tap into the feelings of unworthiness, which was paired with feeling she had no right to recover from her health problems. She began to explore these complex, entwined emotions consciously with dream interpretation. Still further, she was able to come to terms with her remorse, sadness, and acceptance of her life decisions, and where they had taken her.

Dream interpretation is a courageous practice of self-discovery and especially, of the complex emotions that contribute to the human experience. Though it can be difficult, dream work can enrich one's life and contribute to a more conscious, emotional experience of life.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dreaming in many languages

I have been travelling throughout Italy for the past several weeks and going between two languages-English and Italian. After several days and nights I have found myself dreaming in both languages. As I speak more and more Italian in waking day, I use more Italian in my dreams. I find myself and other characters speaking Italian and English. Interestingly, those people who only speak Italian (e.g. colleagues) are in my dreams only speaking Italian. Those who speak both Italian and English (e.g. my son) speak both languages in my dreams.

When I am in an English-only environment then my dreams include only English speaking characters, including myself. Of course this represents the continuity hypothesis which states that there is a continuity between waking day events and dream time imagery. However, there appears to be more complex circumstances here. As I transition between English and Italian, my dreams seem to be problem-solving, assimilating cultural differences, and helping me learn the language (I dream in both languages sometimes-as if I am teaching myself the language). Once again, the consciousness of dreaming reveals the complex layers of this mentation. Studies exploring cultural differences, language acquisition, and dreaming should yield fruitful results.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cultural Differences in Dreaming

In a recent study (DeCicco, Zanasi, Musolino & Wright, 2009) we investigated the differences in sexual imagery between a Canadian sample and an Italian sample of participants. There were differences between the two groups for female imagery in target (who they were having sex with), emotions, and for sex categories. Interestingly, there were no significant differences between the Canadian males and the Italian males. In a closer look with a second study, the differences became smaller and the groups only differed in one category (number of body parts in the dreams for male dreamers). This is an important category since previous research has found that the number of body parts is correlated with discovery of sex, rather than other waking day issues (King, Decicco & Humphreys, 2007).
What was surprising to us however, was that the dreams with sexual content did not differ as much as expected. Given cultural differences, we would expect the samples to differ across each other but also, by gender. Though we did have significant findings, they were not as large as expected.
Another study examined the "meaning" of sex dreams with a Canadian sample and found two basic factors: sex and relationships. It would be interesting to extend this study to an Italian sample to see possible differences in meaning for sex imagery. Since this study has not yet been conducted, it is an important next step. In fact, dreams across cultures are indeed scarce and should be considered in future research projects.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I dream a dream....

Just in case anyone has missed Susan Boyle's performance of I dream a dream...

just click here:

This will no doubt, lift your spirits and make you smile.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Colouring The Dreams of Women with Breast Cancer

As a continuation of the previous blog, the women with breast cancer that participated in the study had a very interesting colour pattern in their dreams. Specifically, white in dreams was strongly correlated with lymph node involvement, which indicates a more serious form of the disease. The colour white was also correlated with a diagnosis of cancer in other parts of the body. This colour seems to be related to the seriousness of the illness and to the extent that it has spread in the body.

Black on the other hand, was strongly and negatively correlated with radiation treatment. Black was not significantly correlated with any particular discovery category, or meaning. The same was true for white in dreams and discovery of the dream's meaning.

Another interesting finding is brightness in dreams. The longer patients were away from their original diagnosis of breast cancer, the more brightness they had in their dreams. Furthermore, the more brightness in their dreams, the more discovery about happiness.

Colour in dreams is both fascinating and interesting however, the current study appears to show that colour in the dreams of women with breast cancer is perhaps indicative of recovery and other waking day issues. Further research is certainly warranted.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Can Dream Interpretation Help Women With Breast Cancer?

In a recent study which explored the dream content and discovery (meaning) of the dreams of women with breast cancer, several very important findings were revealed (DeCicco, Smit, Scharfe & Kerr). There have actually been very few studies that have directly examined the dreams of cancer patients. More commonly, studies have looked at the use of dream interpretation as a therapy technique for this group. From our recent study, some of the findings are listed here.

There were important connections among dream content categories (e.g. colour, location of the illness, torso, being lost) and waking day demographics directly related to cancer (e.g. number of treatment modalities, lymph node involvement, radiation therapy). For example, those who had radiation had a negative relationship with dark colours in their dreams. Those who had lymph node involvement had more white colour in their dreams. Also, those who had attended a support group had less references to their disease in their dreams. It appears that waking day issues are connected to the dreams of women with breast cancer in many important ways.

So what did these women discover from their dreams using The Storytelling Method (TSM)? Some very relevant findings are that the farther they are away from diagnosis, there is more happiness in their discovery, more meaning out death and dying, and more meaning in their support. The farther they are away from their first treatment, the less discovery about medical conditions. Also, if they had chemotherapy as a treatment, discovery was related to apprehension. If they had surgery, then there was less discovery about the disease reference.

When comparing the dreams of women with breast cancer to those without breast cancer, they significantly differed in apprehension, confusion and sadness. They also differed in categories of death/dying and the torso. In terms of discovery, the two groups had completely different discovery categories from their dreams. The women with breast cancer discovered things related to their illness, treatment, their body, or their negative emotions. Women without breast cancer on the other hand, discovered such things as their family, future, friends, and romantic relationships.

These are just a sample of the results from the recent study but it appears that dream interpretation for woman with breast cancer can be very useful. They tend to suffer nightmares, negative dream imagery and worry, therefore, dream interpretation with TSM may help them make sense of their nighttime mentations.

In order to explore this further, a new study is underway with women in treatment groups using The Projective Method of Dream Interpretation (DeCicco, Pannier, Lyons, 2009). The research on dreams, breast cancer, dream content and discovery has begun but much work is needed to fully explore this area. Of course the work must also be extended to other forms of cancer and then other diseases, where patients may directly benefit from exploring their dreams.

For more information on the complete study please feel free to email me directly.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Gambling With Dreams

While writing up a recent manuscript on addictions and dream interpretation an interesting finding was revealed with The Storytelling Method (TSM). Participants reporting an addiction (alcohol, drugs, sugar, food, or cigarettes)participated by completing self-report measures of waking day mood and completing a TSM worksheet. With TSM both a dream and discovery or meaning of that dream was reported. Many past findings were confirmed including "using" dreams, unpleasantness, cravings, repressed substance use, and images continuous of waking day preoccupations (e.g. Araujo, Oliveira & Piccoloto, 2004; Choi, 1973; Denzin, 1988; Fiss, 1980; Hajek & Belcher, 1991).

One new and interesting findings was the correlation between discovery about waking day gambling, tension/anxiety in waking day, and anger in dreams. It was found that people who scored low in tension/anxiety in waking day reported their dream to be about gambling. Also, those who were high in anger in their dreams (via content analysis) also reported discovery to be about gambling in waking day.
These findings imply that high anger in the dreams of addicts may be an important feature that is linked to gambling in waking day. It is important to note, that gambling was not reported as an addiction by any of the participants.

In a further analysis with a regression model, it was found that anger in dreams predicted discovery about gambling in waking day. For example, participants reported such things as; I have been spending my time at the casino, or, my family and friends are telling me that I gamble too much. Again, this finding has important implications for working with addictions.

Dream interpretation with TSM was found to be useful with addicts since it led them to relevant waking day discoveries (e.g. I miss my drinking friends, I need to go to an AA meeting soon). The finding that anger in dreams was linked to discovery about gambling suggests that further research needs to be done in this area. Also, since addictions seems to occur in clusters then gaining insight about another possible addictions with dream work, would be very valuable.

In an extensive literature search only a handful of empirical studies have been found linking addictions with dreams and discovery. The research, past and present, suggests that this be studied on a larger scale but also, that the applied implications may be quite far reaching.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Mysterious Meaning of Life

In speaking with a woman earlier this week about her dreams, she reported that her dreams contained themes of being lost, looking for something she had lost, or searching for some unknown object. In discussions with her around these themes, she decided to use dream interpretation techniques to try and get some insight. She was particularly perplexed by the dreams since they were recurring and confusing to her.

What she discovered from the dreams was that they were telling her exactly how she was feeling and behaving in her waking day life, but she was completely unaware of it. She had no idea how she was constantly searching for waking day events to give her a deeper and more meaningful life. She had spent many years seeking higher education, she changed jobs many times, she looked for work that was particularly difficult and challenging-all in the hope of finding a deeper and more substantial way to live her life. In spite of these things, she still felt empty and unfulfilled.

I encouraged her to continue with the dream interpretation practice and we could keep discussing her discoveries. Of course the deepest meaning to one's life cannot be found outside the self, but rather, in a connection with one's own inner world. As she continued to explore her dreams and make meaning from them she began to see that she was searching externally for something that was internal, and her dreams could help her with her quest.

This is one case study that illustrates how dreams can help with the deeper issues of meaning and human existence. When the psyche is ready to ask the questions regarding one's own existence and to search for the ever-pervasive meaning of life, dream interpretation can be one of the best gateways into this mystery.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Transformative Potential of Dream Work: IV

Once we have worked with clients and patients with techniques 1-3, and having established a rapport with them, it may be appropriate to move them into the deepest level of dream interpretation. It is however, only appropriate when the dreamer is ready to delve into the deepest realm of the unconscious. It is here that life-altering insights can be had.

This level of dream interpretation occurs in a practice with relaxation and guided imagery. If this level of interpretation is to occur, then relaxation training must occur for several weeks prior to using the method, called Meditative Dream Re-Entry (DeCicco, 2008). One very good protocol is to introduce relaxation in the first week or two of therapy, which is always beneficial even if dream interpretation is not introduced. Once the patient is comfortable with relaxation and the three other methods of interpretation are being fully used, then guided imagery can be introduced.

Meditative Dream Re-Entry, is a guided imagery that leads dreamers back into a dream and allows it to evolve. This is one of the most profound and useful techniques for dream interpretation. The method allows the dreamer to access the vast and complex landscape of the psyche which only a portion is realized by conscious awareness. The Giant Compass (2009) illustrates how therapists and clinicians can guide their patients into the dream world with guided imagery. This must be used with caution however, because one does not want to move the patient too quickly into the unconscious without preparation and readiness.

When Meditative Dream Re-Entry is used, is has been found that many levels of discovery are possible: emotional, mind-body connections, relationships, and all other matters of waking day that are important to the dreamer. This is one technique that can help and guide both dreamer and therapist into the transformative potential of dreams.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Putting Dream Work Into Practice III

It's nice to share our dreams and generally, people really like to tell others about their dreams. In fact, people have been sharing their dreams since the beginning of time. This being the case, dream sharing can be used in terms of formal dream interpretation. Many authors have used dream sharing in groups to help a dreamer find a link to waking life. Extending this previous work, The Projective Method of Dream Interpretation (DeCicco, 2007) was designed and then tested. The method has been used in groups with a specific protocol-it's easy to use and to teach. Also, the method has been scientifically tested and found to link to specific events in waking life. The method ensures safety and protects the dreamer's personal, private and confidential matters that may arise.

Sharing dreams in groups can provide discovery for the dreamer and also provides a space for group members to connect with each other. The method appears valuable to dreamers, workshop leaders, group therapy leaders and dream enthusiasts alike. After all, it is nice to share.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Putting Dream Work Into Practice II

Since designing and using The Storytelling Method (DeCicco, 2006) in practice and in groups, the method was translated into Italian (DeCicco & Donati, 2008), Spanish (DeCicco & Gallo, 2009) and is now being translated into French. The method proved valuable since people were able to find meaning in their dreams quickly and easily. Also, their early success led them to want to do more. Once they were comfortable with the new world of dream interpretation, I then moved them into a deeper level of interpretation which was accessing their emotions.

The 2A Method was designed which is based on association from dream images and amplification as well. Emotions are then specifically accessed from this process. A worksheet is used which makes the method easy to follow and to teach. Participants generally find that they have to work harder with this method since it is longer and a little more demanding. Results from testing show that, like The Storytelling Method, people find discovery about 80% of the time. Discovery links the dream images to waking life events and to the emotions associated with those events. Also, discovery from the method was significantly different than the control group.

The 2A Method appears to be a useful second step in a dream interpretation practice. It slowly guides the dreamer to a deeper level of meaning while not being so demanding that participants will not engage in the process. It is user-friendly, effective and a great way for dream workshop leaders and clinicians to guide dreamers yet further into the process of self-discovery.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Putting Dream Work Into Practice: Step I

It has been recognized in scientific writings that dream interpretation can be extremely valuable. Anyone who uses, teaches or practices dream interpretation will certainly know this by the life-changing insights that occur with dream work. Unfortunately, it is still the case that most practitioners do not know how to actually do dream work or dream therapy, they don't know where to get this training, and even when clients/patients ask for dream work they are reluctant to work with dreams. Even the terminology is confusing-dream work, dream interpretation, dream therapy, what does it all mean? Though they all mean the same thing and lead to the same valuable goal, the field is still not well versed.

Over the past 4 years I have worked diligently on designing a dream interpretation tools that could be used in therapy, or, for self-guided dream work. I started with groups of patients and worked on a dream interpretation tool, tested it, re-tested it, tested it again, tested it against control groups, tested it again, until I could predict the tool led to discovery. My hope was that I would have a tool that clinicians who were not specifically trained in dream interpretation could begin using it in practice. Anyone who wanted to simply pick it up and use it, with little training, could do so and find discovery.

The result has been that this tool which I call The Storytelling Method of Dream Interpretation (DeCicco, 2006; 2007) could be easily used, shared in groups, easily taught and, used between therapy sessions by clients/patients. It was the beginning of building the knowledge of dream work for people who were novice. Clinicians began using it because clients had early success and it was easy to use and to teach. Researchers began using it because it provided an empirical protocol for dream work and people in general began using it because it helped them tap into the mystery of dreaming quickly and easily.

I am hoping that the method is helping to close the gap between wanting to add dream work into a practice and not knowing where to begin. The method also allows for safety and privacy while leading to discovery (80% of the time!). The Storytelling Method connects dream imagery directly to waking day issues. Of course dreams are very complex and therefore, more than one interpretation is needed to tap into the emotions, hopes, desires, longings and other mysteries that dreams represent.

Once The Storytelling Method was in place, well-tested and working well, I began the second method of dream interpretation which would tap directly into the emotions that were generating a dream: The 2A Method, which I will discuss in my next blog...Putting Dream Work Into Practice: Step II

Monday, March 9, 2009

Sex Dreams: What Do They Really Mean?

A man dreams that he is having sex with his boss at the office. A woman has a recurring dream that she is having sex with her ex-husband. Another man dreams that he is having sex with his wife and then he morphs into a woman. What do these dreams mean? Though writers have been interested in dreams with sexual imagery since the beginning of time, very few have scientifically examined these dreams.

Several authors have examined the characteristics of sex dreams for gender differences, target, dream acts etc., but only very recently was the meaning of sex dreams examined (DeCicco, 2009; DeCicco & Clarke, 2009; DeCicco, King & Humphreys, 2008). Dream interpretation with The Storytelling Method (DeCicco, 2007) was used and some very exciting findings were revealed.

One finding was that 2 major categories of discovery or meaning was found: 1) Sex and, 2) Relationship issues. Dreams that had more body parts, nudity and sex acts yielded a discovery about sex (e.g. I want to have sex with my boss, I fantasize about sex with my ex-boyfriend). The second major category yielded discovery about relevant waking day relationship issues with current partner, past partner, friends, family, etc. (e.g This dream relates to the recent fight with my husband, this dream relates to my ex-husband's feelings for me). All studies had >80% of participants reporting discovery when using The Storytelling Method of Dream Interpretation with a sex dream. This implies that dream interpretation with this method may be a valuable tool for tapping into relationship issues with dreams with sexual content.

This research is now being extended to examine dreams and infidelity, waking day behaviour, and cultural differences. For example, the sex dreams of Italians and Canadians are now being examined (DeCicco, Zanasi, Musolino & Wright, 2009). Investigating the meaning of dreams with sexual imagery promises to yield many important findings in a research area that has been underdeveloped with dreams that are typical, and yet, still mysterious.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Playing the Violin While I Sleep

Dream writings from the beginning of time have suggested that dreams can be used for creative pursuits. Many authors, artists and scientists have documented that dreams have helped with inventions, works of art, and writings, in many ways. I myself have experienced writing in my own dreams, which has helped me to find new ways of expressing material in scientific articles and, in the writing of my recent book.

In conversations with a professor of psychology and music in Italy, Massimo Schinco experienced writing a piece of music in a dream. He plays the piece and explains the process on youtube at:

This work nicely explains the creative process of music and the contribution that the dreaming mind can make. Interestingly, in my own teachings and workshops, I find people who are not familiar with the dreaming mind believe that sleep and dreams is akin to falling off the face of the earth. It`s as if sleep is a totally disconnected experience for the individual. In reality, the opposite is true. Sleep and dreaming is a continuous process of consciousness from waking mind to sleeping mind, back to waking mind again, etc. Once we realize this, then we can become aware of our own consciousness while awake and, while asleep in dreaming. What would be the benefit of this?

By paying attention to dreams and then consciously working with them, we can tap into the creative process that occurs while sleeping. The dreaming mind assimilates and consolidates information and then creates new information-as is illustrated by Massimo Schinco on youtube.
We now have a self-generating information system that we can tap into for our own creativity. We can literally write, paint, sculpt and even play the violin in new and creative ways, while sleeping.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Alcohol Addiction and Dreaming

My colleague Heather Higgins and I embarked on a research study to investigate the dreams and the meaning derived from dreams, from recovering alcoholics (DeCicco & Higgins, 2008; 2009). We found that alcoholics dream about their past, their issues revolving around their addiction but most imporantly, more than 90% of the participants had a revelation about their own waking life addiction. There was a significant difference between the discovery of alcoholics and the discovery of non-alcoholics. Though the discovery from the recovering alcoholics about their addiction varied (e.g. I drank to numb the pain of relationship rejection, I drank to feel more alive and confident etc.) it was highly salient and relevant to them. This study revealed that dream work was not only important to people recovering from addiction but also, could be a valuable tool that they could use throughout their lives. It appears that addiction recovery and management programs could benefit from adding dream interpreation to the process. Dream work may help with waking day triggers, with past issues that have not been addressed, with becoming aware of high risk thoughts, feelings and behaviors, or any other issue that needs to be attended to, regarding addiction.

Heather Higgins is an addictions councellor who runs Dream Interpretation Workshops in the East Toronto Area, Ontario Canada. She can be reached at:

Her workshops are titled: Dream On... (Nice)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dreams, Death, Dying and Beyond....

When working with terminally ill patients very early on in my professional career I noticed that they often had dreams with religious or spiritual imagery. Patients would tell me that they dreamt of Jesus coming to get them-lovingly taking him or her by the hand and the two of them walking away together. Another would recall the Buddha, smiling and giggling, telling him or her not to worry that he would soon be there. Still others dreamt of beautiful angels coming for them, or a God figure holding and rocking him or her, in peace and tranqility. The imagery appeared to the dreamer in the paradigm that they were most comfortable with in waking day. Though these are some of the hardest dreams to have, to hear, and to accept, they appear to be very much a part of the human experience. Most importantly, these dreams can be of great comfort to the dreamer, as they are often filled with peace and grace. These dreams can also be of great value to the dream worker, as they can help the dreamer go into the imagery and find the deepest longings, wishes, desires and meaning that can be linked to waking life. End of life issues can be difficult to accept but dreams and the inner life of the dreamer can certainly help with this process. By working with death imgery one can accept life more fully and hopefully find meaning in it in order to live every moment of every day to it's fullest.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Saved from Surgery

A woman has a 12 year old son who is 1 day away from exploratory surgery. Weeks before, the boy suddenly had become paralyzed from the neck down and would not speak. After many rounds of testing, doctors could not find anything physiologically wrong with him, so they decided to peform he exploratory surgery for the purpose of testing. The night before surgery the mother dreams that she is asking her son, "Is this mental or physical?". The next morning upon waking, she asks her son if he is "faking" and to her surprise he answers "yes". The correct diagnosis of somatization disorder is made and proper treatment is followed up. The boy had literally shut down his physical body due to having too many stressors in his life.

Dreams will consolidate information, provide new solutions to problems, and guide the dreamer in waking life issues. Often the emotions surrounding a problem mask the solution in waking day. The dreaming mind can untangle the emotions and provide valuable, new insights.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Black Wedding Gown!

A dream workshop participant tells me that 25 years previously, she had a dream on the night before her wedding. She dreams that she is about to walk down the isle to get married and suddenly her wedding gown turns black. Upon waking, she feels this is a warning dream and tells her father about it. Her father reassures her that it is "just a dream" and that she is having wedding nerves. Sadly, the marriage is very unhappy and painful for her, for 22 years.

How can we really know if a dream is a warning dream or not? Dream interpretation with a method that links dream imagery to waking life is the best source of information. These methods consolidate the emotions, memories and life experiences of the dreamer in dreams to waking life information. By doing systematic dream interpretation then the guess work is taken out of dreaming and it is no long...just a dream.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Mind-Body Connection for Healing

A young man develops a serious gastrointestinal disorder and is repeatedly hospitalized to try and get the disorder under control. Over a period of 2 months his health is getting worse and all forms of pharmacological treatment are not working. He has, at the time, a recurring dream.

He dreams that he is at a social event and there is a large buffet table with beautiful food. He approaches the table and discovers that the meat on the table is decayed and rotting. He looks under the table and sees large masses of rotten meat.

Upon waking he decides to stop eating meat for a while. His symptoms abate over 2 weeks and he begins to feel better. He wonders if the meat (as indicated in his dream) is actually related to his failing health so he is tested for allergies. He discovers that he is in fact "allergic" to meat and if he stays off meat his health is much better. In fact, his drug therapy works only if he does not eat meat-if he eats meat then the drugs cannot control the illness.

The mind-body connection is clearly revealed in dream imagery and can be very helpful in providing useful information. There are numerous case studies and research studies that have shown that dream imagery is related to one's illness. More importantly, the imagery can help the dreamer find treatments and lifestyle changes that may improve health.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Nightmares From Lettuce

Recently a man tells me (to his amazement!) that he is having nightmares every time he eats lettuce. He has noticed this pattern over a long period of time and is pretty sure that lettuce is the trigger of his nightmares. How could this be? It turns out he has a serious gastrointestinal disorder and lettuce is in fact, a trigger for a painful episode in waking life. His body knows that lettuce is toxic for him. The dream imagery is a mechanism for his body to tell his mind that lettuce is his illness trigger.

Scientific research has shown that foods do not necessarily trigger dreams of any specific theme. That is, chocolate does not ellict sexual imagery and meat does not ellict imagery of aggression. However, if foods are linked to illness-then dream imagery and food will ellicit a warning to the dreamer.

The mind-body connection is one of the most important purposes of dreaming.