Introduction to the Clinical Use of Dreams

By using Jungian and post-Jungian therapy techniques, clinicians can help patients assess and understand real-life situations through the dreams they have.

Jungian & Post-Jungian Clinical Use of Dreams


Estimated watch time: 41 mins 

Available credits: none

Objectives and Summary:

Learn the basics of Jungian and post-Jungian therapeutics and assessments with the assistance of patients’ dreams. This brief course will review ways clinicians can invite dreams into their consulting rooms.

After watching Minh’s presentation, the viewer will:
  1. Be exposed to basic Jungian approaches to working with dreams
  2. Be exposed to post-Jungian approaches to dreams
  3. Be exposed to how to invite dreams from patients into psychotherapy sessions

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Jungian & Post-Jungian Clinical Use of Dreams

Welcome to the Community Education Series, hosted by The Recovery Village and Advanced Recovery Systems.

Welcome to a presentation, obviously a very primer presentation, on Jungian and post-Jungian clinical use of dreams. My name is Minh; I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, and I received my master’s from Pacifica Graduate Institute, which is a grad school out in Santa Barbara, California, that specializes in Jungian and puts you in depth psychology. I’m actually back for a PhD program there — a PhD in depth psychology. I’m finishing out my first year of curriculum there. It’s the post-master’s PhD as well, and so I’m basing this off of my clinical work as well as the education and training I received from Pacifica Graduate Institute.

And I am a practicing psychotherapist; I’m currently actively seeing patients full-time. So after I graduated from my master’s program, I went on to do a year of a post-master’s certificate in psychedelic-assisted therapies and research from California Institute of Integral Studies — while I was finishing my requirements for licensure, the hours and the exams and whatnot. And then, I came back to Pacifica and I’m pretty steeped in a PhD work at the moment. My involvement with psychedelic work — really, the field has kind of, you know, due to COVID-19 and all of this has come from — it’s a bit of a halt, and it was really booming for a number of years, but we’ll see how things play out.

Moving on, let’s start with the man on the front left. This is Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis or the founder of psychotherapy in general, I think most would agree. The man on the front right is Carl Young, and Carl Young was the Swiss psychiatrist. Obviously from this picture, one can tell that he’s younger than Freud. Freud was definitely his senior, and the two had a pretty involved friendship for a number of years; actually, about seven, eight years while they were actively writing and lecturing and seeing patients and creating their own unique psychological and psychotherapeutic theories. The man in the middle and the front is Stanley Hall, and Stanley Hall, of course, was the president of Clark University at the time.

This picture was taken in 1909. Freud and Young were invited to the U.S. — Clark University is a university in Massachusetts — and they were invited to the U.S. to do a series of lectures on this emerging field of psychoanalysis. And at the time of Freud and Young, it already had some differing ideas. Young was hiding them at the time because he was seen as the crown prince of psychoanalysis in Freud’s eye at the time, before their break. And of course, psychoanalysis was originally known for its use of dreams, right? The royal road to the unconscious for Freud was through the dream, and in Jungian analysis and Jungian-oriented psychotherapy, dreams are probably even more importantly emphasized these days in contemporary practice than Freudian, psychodynamic practitioners. Let’s see if there’s something else I want to say about this slide.

So, the terms Jungian and post-Jungian: For most people in the mainstream, it might be like splitting hairs or something, but they’re actually quite different. I’m paralleling the Freudian tradition where you have object relations and self-psychology and intersubjectivity and relational psychoanalysis in its current form. In the Jungian tradition, you also have several lines of development past you, or post-Jungian. Here, what I have is an emphasis on the difference. There are some similarities or some original grounding in certain philosophical assumptions, but the difference here is that you hear Jungian, you think classical. So think Young’s original theories — his analytical psychology, which is actually a very comprehensive theory — he really, toward the end, attempted it to be kind of a theory of everything. You know, he wanted to call it complex psychology and he was working with several physicists. The Nobel Prize Laureate Wolfgang Polly was actually a patient of Young and then became collaborators, and they actually published their letters recently. They collaborated on the theory of some chronicity, and Young had exchanges with Einstein. They were all kind of in the same neighborhood at the same time for a couple of years, regarding synchronicity and some other theories.

Young had a pretty comprehensive theory and a theory of dreams as well, and dream analysis. Developmental. Young’s psychology — you can kind of think of it as very complementary to the Freudian tradition because the Freudian emphasis was on kind of early childhood and more relational developments. Young’s emphasis is on the latter half of life. It’s what happens after your midlife crisis oftentimes — the classical Jungians, anyway. It’s clinical, so it’s this focus on analysis on the practice of psychotherapy, and it’s a developmental theory in that it seeks to integrate unconscious aspects of the self. The self here is capitalized because to Young, the self was defined as the totality of consciousness, and it includes conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche. Or the totality of the psyche, rather. And the point of analysis is to become a more individualized whole in terms of the personality. To become more whole as a person rather than fragmented and split off in various complexes and having various complexes perhaps take over the personality.

Now, post-Jungians — they’re the big school of five. It’s called archetypal psychology, or imaginal psychology, which is led by James Hillman. The focus, often, is on the soul of the world beyond, which is taking psychic life outside of the skull and placing psyche not only into relationships as in family and family systems, but placing psyche in terms of our relationship with the natural world. Placing psyche in terms of our relationship with structures — our political structures, for example — and how we can interpret political movements from a depth psychological perspective, and they often do. It’s animistic and pluralistic, which means that you can imagine archetypal psychology as a kind of updated psychological language version of animism.

The rivers, the mountains, the lakes, everything has a kind of life of its own and it’s prolific. For example, Young really emphasizes the development of a whole personality towards the self. And in post-Jungian thought, it’s more of you; you are a constellation of various archetypes and complexes, thereby they structure one’s personality. So it’s less developmental — you know, you go from stages of development or something and it imagines the psyche as emphases of various energies. It’s closely related to what one might think of classical astrology. So in terms of your birth chart, you come in synchronistically, right? The stars are matched in a certain chart. You base off of those sort of constellations and the energies that are emphasized in the person, and it’s actually a personality theory. It’s one of the oldest personality theories, actually — astrology — and a lot of post-Jungians actually take their theories into astrology. It’s called archetype astrology.

Let’s see what else I want to say here. Psyche: Post-Jungians really emphasize that it’s the soul, so they’ll call it the soul. And soul here has a stark, stark distinction from the theological notion of spirit. What you want to take out of this difference from the post-Jungians is that, essentially, think of them as modes of perception. So, that spirit will tend to want to transcend, go into oneness, unify, all is one, and the soul entertains more multiplicity. The soul is more fallen, it’s entered, it’s more about relationships and suffering and the gap between people and imagination. The spirit seeks truth while the soul seeks enchantment, one might say.

Moving on to this slide: This is some classical Jungian approaches to dreams. Who is dreaming the dream when you’re asleep at night? Usually, there’s a character, right? There’s a central character, and that central character usually sort of represents the person. We call that the dream ego. It represents the waking attitude of the personality and everything else. Landscapes, persons, animals — they all represent objects. They all represent, at least symbolically, ego consciousness. They all represent, symbolically, various aspects of a person’s psyche that’s interacting with the ego. So we would say in classical Jungian dream analysis that the dreamer of the dream is the self — the capital S self, the totality of consciousness itself, which imagines ego is a figment of the self’s imagination. The self is the totality, right? Which is why the self — and in Young’s mind and definition — was the image of God, the imago Dei, the sort of the Atman-Brahman relationship, the spark of the divine that is in everything.

Symbols, metaphors, images. So, literalism is but one fantasy within psyche. The primary language of psyche seems to be a symbolic and metaphoric language — at least, that’s how ego can understand it. Which is why it’s close to metaphor; that’s why dreams are often such a great way to access psyche and psychic life because it seems like the primary mode of psychic function is to imagine. Oftentimes, psychopathology is a restriction in the imagination that one becomes sort of seized by one fantasy — one creature within the dreamscape, for instance. You know, the one that causes panic attacks, for instance — underneath that bridge, like a cat that reaches out and seizes you.

So, the dream structure. In terms of the way we look at the self — you know, the observer — we’re looking at the drama of the psyche. One might look at it as playing out the way a play would play out with the next position, the development of climax, a license. An exposition is the setting up of the drama. So, you got the setting, and there’s usually an emphasis on the setting of the place, right? Are you in a house? Are you in a piece of land? Are you in a car? That’s the setting. Then, it moves into development. Characters start to come to play and interact, perhaps. A plot starts to develop; you’re searching for something, you’re looking for someone. And then climax — usually, something dramatic happens. You get to that house or you finally arrive at that destination, or you open that jar or whatever finally. And then, the license is sort of the resolution — it’s also considered the prognosis. It’s the entire sort of exposition development, climax of the dream, where a diagnosis is sort of a painting and illustration of something to maybe take a look at. Then the license would be the prognosis. It orients the dreamer, usually to wake up into something. It sort of positions the dream, the ego, in a way where it’s like, “Hey, look at this. You should look at this, or you should maybe even do that.”

Some of the methodologies that Jungians will often utilize — and these are classical methodologies — are association, which is different from Freudian-free association. Freudian-free association is the patient talks, you know, stream of consciousness — whatever comes to their mind — and the idea is that the analysts will sort of snag whatever details that sort of fit their theory of the dream. Now with Jungian association, association is more — you have the patient actually talk about, you know, “Tell me a little bit about your brother.” We actually asked a patient, “What do you think about ice cream sundaes? How do you feel about them? Do you have any memories about them?” So it’s an associated process, and then you can also amplify a symbol or an image. Amplification — that is a technique where you draw upon mythology or story or contemporary mythology, like Hollywood films, for instance.

With kids, you could use cartoons and superhero movies, but amplification is a process where when you start to hear an archetypal structure within the dream, you go, “Oh, you know, that sounds an awful lot like Cinderella’s story,” or whatever. Maybe you recite a certain rendition of the Cinderella story that you know, and then what that’s supposed to do is a couple of things. One, it’s supposed to help the dreamer realize that what they’re going through is a part of the experience. Usually, they say clinically, but that’s supposed to help therapeutically somehow. That, “Oh, okay, other people also go through this.” That there is a moment of some kind of self-empathy — the experience or something.

The other unique thing about amplification is that you could even have the patient perhaps tell the story forward. Perhaps you can do one of two things before you amplify them to tell the story forward. “If the dream were to continue, what would it look like?” See if it matches the mythology and then verify, perhaps, the hypothesis. Also, some people will kind of tell them the mythology and tell them to dream it forward and see what would happen if they follow this map. Some people believe that myths could be used as a certain map for navigating psychic life and what will feel nurturing to psychic life.

Active imagination is a process of essentially taking, let’s say a dream image, and you interact with it. It’s an active imagination process, and the process is you get the person into kind of a hypnagogic state. You would relax the patient through whatever means — you know, deep breathing, mindfulness — and then, you have the patient call up the image, let’s say a dream image, they had last night. The idea is that once the ego is relaxed enough, that dream image can start to perhaps take on some autonomy and start to maybe move or talk and interact with the dream ego who’s over here, and sort of observing, minimally interacting through talking. It’s dialogue mostly, as far as classical approaches are concerned. Then, some kind of art-making — Young, himself, with the red book.

You will often create a Mandala, which is a circular image, which is also an image of the self, Freud says — the images of totality, of an individuated whole, right? Young would often draw various images within a Mandala circle, and he’s actually quite a painter. That’s one way of sort of ritualizing or capturing, embodying, solidifying, concretizing something that’s more psychic — more in your imagination. Oftentimes, that ritualizing it, giving it an embodiment or putting it on your altar or creating something out of clay oftentimes will make whatever is bothering you go away. And that’s just sort of something that comes out of the clinical observations of Jungian dream analysis for a long time. It’s empirical, I suppose, in that sense.

Architectural progression — so, this is very old-school. I don’t know of any Jungian analysts who really hold hard and fast to this, but it is a classical theory where when you do dreamwork, the first figure that confronts you is the shadow. The shadow is the figure that chases you in your dreams. Young thought that, oftentimes, the shadow will be a figure of the same gender as the person, which segues into the anima/animus, which is a figure of the opposite gender. Young thought in your dreams, that is a representation of your soul; it’s an attractive image, whereas the shadow is the image that you’re repulsed by. The shadow is the “Ew, not me,” but really is you, and people close to you will wink and tell you so, right? Now the anima/animus is also the “not me,” but it’s the “not me” that’s enticing. It’s a “not me” that I want in some way.

Young thought that it’s the contrasexual, which is it’s the image of the woman and the man, the man and the woman. Now these days, that gets him into trouble right? With gender fluidity, genderqueer. If you focus it off of the gender thing for a moment and really just look at the theory of anima/animus as really just the inner hole — the inner masculine, feminine, the inner opposites, the interplay of what feels like two poles, right? Then it gives the archetype back its archetypal form, rather than how it maybe creates trouble in a culture. In other cultures, it’s very easy to imagine a yin yang, for example. A positive charge, negative charge within the energy sphere, I mean — there’s really no trouble with that. But I think Western culture tends to wanna make it genderized for some reason. Anyway, that’s a whole other thing.

The next archetype, after you work on your anima/animus, is the wise old person — wise old man, wise old woman, wise old person. It’s the you that is older and wiser and has things to teach the developing personality, the developing ego. The image is often represented as a crone or an old yogi with the beard, something like that, and the wise old person leads the personality into a spiritual path. Then you move from working with your enemies and then working with your lovers and then working with sort of your inner spiritual being. That goes into the self, which is again, the image of God, which is sort of the highest potential a person can realize in one’s lifetime. Which remains — even to Young — sort of in potentia. Like you can’t really necessarily be the whole shebang in one lifetime, Young thought. It’s too ambitious for humans to maybe aim for, Young thought, but to aim for it. So, the process of individuation. You can see that the archetypal progression of working with dreams and clinical work is the process of becoming a whole or more whole personality — sort of the best you can be in this lifetime, to put it in regular layman’s terms.

Now, small dreams, big dreams. Small dreams are considered complex dreams — the dreams where you’re interacting with your own personal psychology, your own complexes or mother complex, your money complex. Big dreams are thought to be archetypal dreams — dreams that are maybe meant for more than just you, perhaps. They could speak to what’s going on in the culture, the movements of the culture. And then precognitive dreams: Young and classical Jungians do acknowledge that sometimes or oftentimes, when you really look at your dreams, there are dreams that really kind of predict the future, or at least they show you images of what it looks like. So, you have those deja vu moments. He lists it in his reports rather than tossing it out for the sake of maybe fitting in or something.

Young always thought of himself as a scientist and was respected so very much in his time, but of course, he was very interested in the occult and psychology and all of that too. He had what he thought to be empirical evidence — data fresh from his patients and his research at the Institute or asylum — for his theories. And then dreams of the dying; Young saw that the dreams of individuals who, let’s say, had terminal illnesses went on as if the personality were still developing. So he encourages patients to act as if they were still going to go on — their consciousness somehow continues on because it seems like the dream doesn’t really care if a person is dying. It seems like it continues in some way; it just keeps going, he saw, which didn’t really make sense to him.

Now, moving right along to post-Jungian dreamwork. Archetypal psychology — imaginable psychology, I mentioned earlier — is the movement really spearheaded by a man named James Hillman, a psychologist in the ‘70s. My grad institute is very, very big on Hillman as well, and the Hillman imaginal school. Sandplay originated from a lady named Dora Kalff. She was a therapist in Switzerland at the same time Young was in practice and had Young’s blessings to work with sandplay in a certain way. It was a kind of a Jungian-inspired, adjacent development — and often, these days, is used with children. And Marion Woodman and Robert Bosnak are known big names for the somatic development of post-Jungian work, where they really took post-Jungian theory into working with somatic psychology — what do I want to say about that — into embodiment rather than transcendence. That, again, is an emphasis on soul rather than spirit, right? We’re not necessarily trying to transcend to limitations altogether. It’s staying fully embodied in one — in this lifetime — and what that may look like.

Psyche and soul in mythology is often represented by the image of the butterfly, and spirit is often represented by the image of the bird, right? So it soars higher, birds-eye view, you see the bigger picture; it all makes sense somehow from that perspective. Psyche stays closer to the ground and is elusive and is beautiful and captivating and transforming, right? It’s an image of transformation, so you never really know which way it’s going to go. It seems to have not really a single agenda — it wanders, it’s meandering. Soul is meandering, it’s labyrinthian, that’s an elaborate dream.

Tending is Stephen Aizenstat, who is the founding president of Pacifica Graduate Institute. He is known for his methods of association, amplification, animation, which is very close to active imagination. Now, dream council is unique to dream tending, which is his way of eventually — you know, you gather your allies in the dreamscape. He would find that various, you know, a deer here and a seashell there, would become sort of his — he would stack them up in his dream, council and consult them whenever he has to make some decision or something. And these figures have autonomy. So the dream tending, basing off of imaginal psychology or archetypal psychology, grants the image a life of its own. With dreams, for instance, images you revisit over and over again, or you have a figure that will pop in and out of your life from time to time. Maybe more so when you’re going through some things and others, right?

We kind of grant them a life of their own in post-Jungian thought and in dream tending. So, a dream council and respecting the soul of the world that these images are autonomous and that they really don’t belong to you necessarily only — that they also somehow belong to the world itself. Dream tending also has an ecological component to it where one of its guiding ethos is really looking at how an individual — you know, this is very close indigenous wisdom — where an individual in the tribe will dream something and then go, “Oh my gosh, there’s a well there to dig.” Or, you know, “We need to kind of do something about this piece of the land ‘cause there could be floods coming later.” So it’s tapping into some indigenous and animistic kinds of wisdom that just kind of have updated and waspy sort of language for it.

Now, just kind of some tips and things coming from this tradition. Jungian and post-Jungian development, which is very different from Freud’s and his object, relational, self, psychological relational, intersubjective developments, attachment theory, as well as also a Freudian kind of development. Now, Young’s side of things — from this tradition, we look at nightmares, for example, as if you’re going to work with kids. For example, oftentimes, kids will have night terrors and/or nightmares, and usually monsters will be a part of their dreamscape. So, you want to help the child master the monster, is the saying. So if the child can draw out the monster and perhaps draw themselves bigger than the monster or something like that. So that in conscious waking life, they can — it’s a form of active imagination, really, to play with these images in a way where it’s almost like, “Okay, you know I can interact with you. I have my own person over here.”

For kids especially, those kinds of techniques are really needed, and oftentimes, it will help with things like bullying. I’ve observed in my own practice — children, as the identified patient, can be the dreamer for the family as well. So same with the family systems idea of children oftentimes being what’s called the identified patient — the holder of the symptom for the family. I want to say the right word here because — the other word is repository. It’s a repository for family, really — the psychic life of the family. The child often will hold the symptoms, and so that’s why in family therapy as a family therapist, when I work with a child, I’m treating the family. I’m looking at what’s going on with mom and dad and everyone in the household as well. And oftentimes, yes, the child will also dream things that will diagnose what’s going on in the family system.

So, the shadow usually is a figure that the dream ego cannot really see who chases the dream ego. So, that’s another — I was talking about the figure of the shadow earlier. The first figure — supposedly, in classical Jungian work — that approaches the dream ego for integration is the shadow, and oftentimes, you can’t see it. That’s why shadow is sort of the term that Young used; it chases you, but you can’t see it in some way. It’s the other — it’s an image, it’s a representation of something. Now, oftentimes, when you think about a shadow on a wall or something, it’s bigger than what it really is. Then clinical work, what we see is that when we approach the shadow, it’s oftentimes a part of the personality that has been very shamed away but also holds some gem — you know, the gold and the shadow, we call it. It’s a traumatized part of the personality that needs to be integrated because it is part of the person and it can be a member of the team as well.

One’s clothing is representative of personas. The persona is your social self or social selves in analytical psychology. The persona is the — it’s your clothes in the dream or, in Greek terms, it’s a mask, right? It’s who you represent yourself to be in the social sphere, and that can vary from setting to setting, obviously? Now, the persona is often denigrated in the literature, but it’s actually a big interest of mine to redeem the persona because I think that persona’s psychology. Like, you process different things when you’re playing a certain role, right? When you’re playing a therapist, you open yourself up to certain kinds of empathic experiences and a certain level of objectivity, for example. But I can’t access it when I’m not playing that role. So there’s something important about it and the roles we play for each other, right? From a relational and systemic perspective, I think that the persona thing may be more than just clothes; I don’t know. Anyway, moving on — maybe even hair or something.

When in a car, who is driving? A classic dream experience for a lot of people is being in a car. Usually, the question to ask is who’s driving it? Is it the dream ego? Is it the person or is it their mother? Because if it’s their mother driving the car, then perhaps it could suggest that a mother complex is driving the personality in some situation that dream is trying to point towards. “You want to have the complex rather than the complex having you, so you want to be in the driver’s seat,” is sort of the trick of the trade.

Dreaming in cartoons — kids will often do this. I’ve done this even in my adult life, and dreaming cartoons often will signify perhaps the age of development that the dream is sort of pointing towards, in terms of the personality or the person. It could be speaking in a language where it reminds that dream ego and the dreamer, “Remember when the world looked like this?” That may offer something to the therapy process because maybe that perspective could help the person relate to something that happened to them where they couldn’t relate to it before. They can go, “Oh, I can see why that made sense to me when I was seven years old,” and therefore, therapy.

Houses in dreams often represent self — so, the “you.” Sometimes, people would dream about their childhood house, the house they grew up in. I could also point to their psyche, their sense of who they are when they were at that age, that developmental range, wherever the setting is of that house.

Dream journaling. It’s always recommended to write down your dreams to remember, and oftentimes, setting an intention before going to bed and placing your journal by your bedside can help the person remember their dreams more apparently. Has that worked? Sure. I mean, I’ve recommended it to my patients and they started dreaming their dreams, but who knows?
It seems to, and it’s working for me too. So that’s another trick of the trade. And then, lucid, you have to write it down right away, obviously. The more you start writing, the more the dream will come back, actually. Oftentimes, I have to kind of write a dream backwards.

Lucid dreaming. So, lucid dreaming is essentially being awake inside of a dream. For some people, that’s exhilarating; for some people, that’s a terrifying experience. But lucid dreaming holds potential for interacting with dream images. When I was working with my shadow way back in the day, it was through a lucid dream experience that I was able to confront my shadow. It was a really interesting experience at one point, too.

Alright, so this is how you can contact me if you want to reach out, if you want to say hi, if you want to connect, if you want to build a community. I am definitely always down for networking, and this is how I can do it.

Thank you for watching this video. We hope you enjoyed the presentation.

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