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Literature Review on Theories of Dreams

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 3309 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Dreams and dreaming are two fundamental aspects of the life of any human being. Dreams are broadly described as a series of vision that an individual has while sleeping. Many psychologists agree that dreams are a representation of the thoughts and imaginations of an individual in the most honest way. As a concept, dreaming can broadly be viewed through various categories, including the psychological, religious, and spiritual perspectives. From a psychological standpoint, a dream is an expression of the unconscious mind. However, from a religious and spiritual perspective, a dream reflects the current and the future life experiences as influenced by a host of factors, including the tangible and the nontangible ones. The focus on the discussion will be on addressing the significance of dreams through these narrow realms. The literature review will assert and debunk certain notions associated with dreams, including providing areas that need further research studies.



The concept of dreams has been properly documented both in history and research. In the ancient days, dreams were regarded as symbolic messages emanating from the gods. However, with the emergence of philosophers such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the conception of dreams significantly changed. The two philosophers introduced a new meaning of the dreams that defined the 20th century. They considered drams to be messages originating from a powerful unconscious state. Modern dream theories agree that the dreams need especially assessment that differs from that given to the waking thought. Through psychoanalysis, individuals have been able to figure out the significance of dreams. In the modern-day, dreams are considered to be a reflection of the visions situated in the subconscious part of the psychology. As such, many individuals associate dreams with hidden meanings. Due to the significance of dreams, they have primarily been viewed through religious lenses. Both the Christian and Islamic religions have played a fundamental role in defining the essence and meaning of dreams. Therefore, dreams are an integral part of the spiritual lives of individuals. Dreams are subject to psychological, religious, and spiritual experiences that seek to reflect the purpose of life.

Psychological Representation of Dreams

The Conceptualization According To Carl Jung

Carl Jung is regarded as one of the two philosophers, alongside Sigmund Freud, who significantly contributed to the thoughts on dreams. His conception and ideas continue to contribute to the field of psychoanalysis. According to Jung, dreams tend to highlight more than they conceal. He considers them a natural expression of an individual’s imagination and uses mythic narratives as the most fundamental way of sending messages. Jung debunked several aspects postulate by his counterpart, Sigmund Freud. The primary argument revolved around the fact that dreams do not dream any form of interpretation for them to perform their central role. Instead, he postulated that dreams are meant to integrate both the conscious and unconscious parts of human life. Jung was primarily concerned with the unconscious part of the human psychology. In one of his books known as the Red Book, Jung says, “Dreams pave the way for life, and they determine you without your understanding their language” (Leon, 2016 p. 2). Jung regarded the dreams as natural and biological aspects confined in several anatomical layers that can be unfolded and understood over several years. A dream can only develop and increase in depth as individuals interact with it for an extended period.

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Jung believes that the drams are impartial. Most importantly, they emanate from the unconscious psyche. As such, they are not subject to the control of the will. Dreams tend to depict the natural truth and how individuals interact with the natural environment. In Jung's discussion of dreams, he asks individuals to understand and appreciate the vital role played by the unconscious part of the psyche. Furthermore, Jung provides a religious backing to his conception of the essence of the dreams. According to him, knowing the dreams amounts to understanding what God communicates to people (Leone, 2016). Another philosopher that has significantly dwelled on the assessment of dreams is Sigmund Freud.

The Conceptualization According To Sigmund Freud

Freud came up with a method of interpreting dreams known as the psychoanalytic dream interpretation. Based on his assessment, Sigmund believed that dreams are a fulfillment of an individual's repressed wish. According to his assertions, studying dreams provided an easy platform for the understanding and appreciation of the unconscious aspects of the mind. Correia (2014) asserted that the dreams have two fundamental parts, including the manifested content and the latent content. The manifested content is the part that individuals experience once they wake up. The latent content, on the other hand, is that part that individuals do not remember hence considered part of the unconscious. During sleep, Freud noted that there is a lack of voluntary motor activity. As such, this leads to the weakening of the repression by a person's super-ego. The subconscious impulses from the id then begin flowing towards consciousness. Therefore, Freud remained keen to assert that the dream was considered as a guardian of sleep.  Through an aspect of visual fantasy, dreams provide a person with the much-needed platform to gratify certain drives. Therefore, dreams allow individuals to fulfill their needs without involving the conscious mind. However, the manifested content does not necessarily have to be clear because it entails the distorted version courtesy of the latent content (Correia, 2014).

Relationship between Dreams and Mental Processes

Research by Graveline and Wamsley (2015) makes several conclusions about the relationship between dreams and a wide array of mental processes. First, dreaming is a function of the process of memory consolidation in the brain. In this regard, the authors assert that during sleeping, an individual experience reactivated memories. As such, this not only leads to consolidation but also enhanced memories. It, therefore, shows that when an individual has recently dreamt about a particular learning experience, the chances are high that they have an improved memory about it. Secondly, the authors conclude their research by saying, "during dreaming, disparate memory fragments combine in unique ways to form imaginary scenes, never before experienced by the dreamer” (Graveline & Wamsley, 2015 p. 100). Several comparisons have also been made between dreams and the waking cognition that people experience while at their most conscious states. Over the years, there has been speculation that dreams are more symbolic than the waking cognition. However, research has now established that no evidence has shown that dream content possess more symbolism compared to the waking cognition. In fact, research has proven some degree of consistency between the two aspects.

Lastly, the focus has been placed on the symbolic significance of the dreams. Many clinicians today have based on their intervention strategies on the interpretation of the dreams. In a recent survey documented by Graveline and Wamsley (2015), the authors assert that approximately a third of the clinicians asserted that they have relied on the interpretation of the dreams as a way of shaping their treatment mechanism. The basis of their practice is ingrained in the fact that dreams tend to represent the personal life of an individual. Research, on the other hand, has sought to establish the relationship between waking life and dreaming.

Dreams in the Mentally Ill

Very few studies have tended to focus on the impact of dreams in the mentally ill. Most specifically, research has been directed to the occurrence and frequency of nightmares in the mentally ill individuals. Understanding nightmares in the mentally ill is fundamental in the diagnosis and treatment of the individuals. Lemyre, Bastien, & Vallières (2019) define the nightmares as "extended, extremely dysphoric, and well-remembered dreams" (p. 145). The two most important fundamental aspects of dreams include their ability to cause distress and impairment. The author goes ahead to mention that the prevalence of the nightmare is common among individuals with a host of mental health conditions including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), personality disorder, and major depressive disorder among others. The high prevalence of nightmares among this population warrants research. The major take-away from this research is that nightmares, and dreams, to a larger extent, come as a result of a trigger. The trigger can be in the form of a traumatic life event, as witnessed in the case of PTSD. Other nightmares come due to a combination of overwhelming situations secondary to stress and other inappropriate mental states common in mentally ill individuals.

Spiritual Representation of Dreams

Causes of Dreams

Neil (2016) asserts that the early Christian and Islamic texts on dreams and their interpretation have come under intense scrutiny in the recent past. Dream interpretation is not a new thing, and the practice dates back to the Classical Antiquity days. Dream interpretation has continued to be a fundamental aspect of many religions, including the Christians and the Muslims, among others. The author primarily focuses on three religious groups, including the Jewish, Christians, and Muslims. He says, "In these three traditions, dreams are recognized as having not only personal meanings for the dreamer but also social and cultural meanings for the dreamer's community" (Neil, 2016 p. 45). Religious representation of the dreams requires a differentiation of the three fundamental terms, including dream, vision, and prophecy. Dreams are representation appearing on the mind in sleep or wake mode and is not a visual perception. Visions have virtually the same meaning, but the difference comes from the fact that demonic or divine forces accompany them. Prophecy on its part can be viewed as a prospective dream or vision. The author describes the three fundamental causes of dreams. First, dreams can come as a result of physical excesses and deprivations that people encounter in their daily lives. The second aspect that the author attributes to the causation of the dreams is referred to as the preoccupation of the waking mind. Thirdly, the demonic or divine revelations are also fundamental aspects associated with the emergence of the dreams (Neil, 2016).

Linking Dreams and Spiritual Authority

Research conducted on early Christianity and Islam religions has shown a close relationship between dreams and religious authority. Different individuals have largely used dreams in an attempt to define an individual's sense of authority. Historically, leaders in the Christian denomination such as the pope's have cited dreams to justify the decisions regarding their successors. In some instances, especially in the Islam religion, dreams have been used as a way of justifying violence. It is therefore important to conclude that both Christians and Muslims used dreams to tell similar stories and most importantly, to assert dominance and justify action. A similar trend has been established today. As such, this explains the position of dream interpreters who continue to hold fundamental positions in society today. They are tasked with the duty of deciphering the dreams that will, in turn, define and shape the decisions taken by the religious leaders. On a keen assessment of events such as the 9/11 terror attack on the US, studies have shown that the perpetrators were guided with visions and dreams that inspired them to engage in the act of terror. They would also go ahead and justify their actions citing the authority drawn from the dreams (Neil, 2016).

The Spiritual Dreams of Children

It is important for scholars to address the spiritual world of childhood. Although little attention has been placed in this area, evidence continues to show that the spiritual sphere has a significant impact on the development of an individual. In justifying the assertions, Schredl, (2013) says, "Dreams are central to many children’s spiritual lives, serving as a place for both religious and spiritual experience and a space for those philosophical contemplations” (p. 1). When assessing dreaming in children, it remains critical to appreciate the role played by the parasomnia that can occur in the form of sleepwalking, sleep talking, night terrors, and other sleep-related forms of hallucinations. Research has documented that such experiences can result in sleep disturbances and in some instances, injuries. By understanding these experiences, researchers have tended to assess some of the body parts that function during the dreaming process. Some of the systems involved during the process of dreaming include the motor and the verbal parts of the body. Research has illustrated that the science of dreams has a fundamental role to play in explaining the human mind. Sigmund Freud believed that the dreams were an expression of unconscious desires.

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In children, dreams have primarily been viewed from different angles in an attempt to decipher the significance it has in their spiritual lives.  Schredl (2013) asserts that dreaming is a form of consciousness that happens when an individual is in sleep. However, they are disconnected from the environment. The author further equates dreams to the storytelling ability of an individual. Most children have not yet experienced much in their lives. Therefore, dreams, especially among toddlers, are regarded as a spiritual expression that highlights the desires of the future. It is almost true to assert that the conscious and the unconscious state of the mind of the child are almost the same. Therefore, from a spiritual standpoint, it is expected that children should possess good dreams as a symbol of their innocence and positive future. However, cases have been documented where children experience violent forms of dreams that have been previously mentioned. Earlier on, one of the identified causes of dreams was the demonic intervention. Therefore, spiritually, children who constantly experienced bad dreams are presumed to have fundamental problems with their psychology that would, in most circumstances, require spiritual intervention.

Christian Worldview

The important position held by dreams in the Bible cannot be underestimated. Dreams, especially in the Old Testament, were used to assert authority. Dreams were a way in which God communicated to his people. For instance, in Mathew 2:13, God uses the power of the dream to warn Joseph of the impending danger to Baby Jesus. As a result, Joseph would take both Mary and the child to Egypt. As such, this is a classic example of how dreams come as a result of divine intervention. They not only determine the future but represent direct communication with a higher power that is above the level of humanity. The Bible closely interchanges between the use of dreams, visions, and prophesies, despite each having different meaning as previously defined. Such a trend has particularly been seen in Acts 2:17, which say, "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions; your old men will dream dreams." Lastly, it is important to appreciate that the Bible clearly identifies the crucial role that dream interpreters held in society. In the book of Genesis, Joseph, the son of Jacob, had the power to interpret dreams held by the pharaoh regarding the future of the country. As such, this enabled the Egyptians to make certain moves in preparations of the eventualities pointed out. Therefore, dreams are associated with symbols that might be open to the eyes of every person. However, current research has proven that dreams can only be a mere representation of an individual’s life events.


In conclusion, dreams are an integral part of the spiritual lives of individuals. Dreams are subject to psychological, religious, and spiritual experiences that seek to reflect the purpose of life. The literature review has provided an opportunity to look at dreams from the psychological, religious, and spiritual points of view. Jung and Freud have played a critical role in placing dreams within their psychological realms by addressing the position of the unconscious mind. It is also critical to draw a relationship between mental processes such as memory with dreams. From a religious point of view, both Christians and Muslims draw significance from the dreams. The three causes of dreams summarized include preoccupations with the waking mind and divine and demonic aspects. The review has also shed light into the essence of nightmares and other unconventional behaviors accompanied by dreams, including sleepwalking and sleepwalking, among others. In mental health, clinicians have used dreams and nightmares as a way of diagnosing treatment. The important position held by dreams in the Bible cannot be underestimated. Dreams, especially in the Old Testament, were used to assert authority. However, several areas need thorough research in a bid to advance the studies on dreams. First, more research needs to be placed on how dreams can be used in the diagnosis and treatment of individuals. Secondly, emphasis should be placed on standardizing dream interpretation to avoid any discrepancies that might emerge in deciphering their meaning.


  • Correia, J. H. R. D. (2014). The Phenomenology of Dreams in the Viewpoints from Freud, from Jung and from Boss, Plus One New Aspect. Universal Journal of Psychology, 2(5), 167-179.
  • Graveline, Y. M. & Wamsley, E. J. (2015). Dreaming and waking cognition. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 1(1), 97.
  • Lemyre, A., Bastien, C., & Vallières, A. (2019). Nightmares in mental disorders: A review. Dreaming, 29(2), 144.
  • Leone, J. (2016). Carl Jung’s Psychology of Dreams and His View on Freud. Research Gate https://www.researchgate.net/publication/305643942_Carl_Jung's_Psychology_of_Dreams_and_His_View_on_Freud
  • Neil, B. (2016). Studying Dream Interpretation from Early Christianity to the Rise of I slam. Journal of religious history, 40(1), 44-64.
  • Schredl, M. (2013). Abstracts of the 30th Annual Conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams June 21-June 25, 2013 Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA. International Journal of Dream Research, 6.


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