Dream Interpretation Offers Insight

Dream experts tell what the real meaning is behind our dreams.

From the WebMD Archives

Ever had the classic "examination" dream? You dream you're late for class and miss the exam, or you can't find the classroom, or you haven't studied or you studied the wrong subject. You panic. Upon awakening, you might dismiss the dream as irrelevant -- after all you haven't been a student for years. Or you may instantly sense how the dream reflects what's going on in your life. Perhaps the dream dramatizes how ill prepared you feel to handle a work project or reminds you to write a report you'd forgotten about.

Most of us pay little attention to our dreams. The impression in western society is that dreams are the province of psychoanalysts seeking to unlock mysteries of neuroses and psychoses. But, in fact, dreams can be very useful tools for self-discovery and problem solving. It takes just a bit of practice to learn dream interpretation.

What do those dream symbols mean?

Many books on dream interpretation contain a dream dictionary. Some common themes and their meanings are:

  • Falling: insecurity, loss of control, feeling threatened
  • Being chased: running away from your fears
  • Teeth falling out: anxiety, losing face, concerns about self-image, inability to get a grip on something
  • Being naked in public: feeling vulnerable, anxious about something that did or will happen, desire to be noticed
  • Ocean: the unconscious, emotional energy
  • Train: power, freedom
  • Island: isolation, loneliness, tranquility, longing for independence
  • Flying: desire for freedom, release of creative energy, transcending limitations
  • Finding a new room in a house: discovering an aspect of yourself you weren't aware of

Experts tell WebMD it's more instructive to understand dreams in terms of your own experience rather than to try to apply the meanings in dream dictionaries. Mark Freeman, PhD, who teaches a course on dream interpretation and uses dreams in personal counseling at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., suggests looking at the book called, A Dictionary of Symbols, by Juan Eduardo Cirlot, or The Secret Language of Dreams, by David Fontana, only after you've examined your dream and made associations between the dream symbols and your life.

Gayle Delaney, PhD, a dream specialist in private practice in Mill Valley, Calif., is more emphatic about the place of dream dictionaries. "Throw them out," she says. "They're the bane of all dream work. They've kept it in the dustbin of the intellectual mainstream. Yes, there are common dream themes, but no, they don't all mean the same thing."