March 23

Anthropology of Dreams, Part 3: The Power of Dreams in Psychoanalysis

The power of dreams in psychoanalysis has carved a monumental niche in understanding the labyrinth of the human mind. Freud’s pioneering theories, Adler’s individual psychology, Jung’s analytical psychology, and the subsequent evolution of psychoanalysis all testify to the crucial role dreams play in our self-perception, personal growth, and societal roles.

Sigmund Freud and the Birth of Psychoanalysis

Portrait photo of Sigmund Freud
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

Often hailed as the founding father of psychoanalysis, Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud proposed that our adult behaviors and psyche are significantly shaped by unresolved childhood conflicts and suppressed desires. These latent issues cleverly disguise themselves, only to emerge as psychological challenges in our adulthood. Freud’s groundbreaking work heralded the practice of dream interpretation, asserting that dreams serve as the royal road to our unconscious minds. Each dream symbol, according to Freud, is a cryptic code concealing our suppressed thoughts and desires. By deciphering these dream symbols, we unveil our unconscious mind’s buried truths, leading to psychological healing and profound self-awareness.

Alfred Adler and Individual Psychology

Front photo portrait of Alfred Adler, a prominent analyst, the founder of individual psychology.
Alfred Adler (1870-1937)

While Freud viewed the unconscious mind as a reservoir of repressed desires, Alfred Adler postulated it as the driving force propelling humans to overcome their inherent feelings of inferiority. This quest for superiority forms the cornerstone of his Individual Psychology, where dream interpretation holds an equally significant place. Adler’s theories highlighted the importance of societal and psychological factors in shaping human behaviour, emphasising the role of complexes (emotionally charged clusters of thoughts and memories). By recognising and understanding these complexes, often visible in our dreams, individuals can initiate a journey towards profound self-awareness and personal growth.

Carl Jung’s Analytical Psychology and Split with Freud

Side photo of Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist, founder of analytical psychology.
Carl Jung (1875-1961)

Around the same time, Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung introduced the concept of collective unconscious and archetypes in dream analysis, causing a paradigm shift in psychoanalytic thinking. Unlike Freud, Jung saw the unconscious not as a personal pool of repressed thoughts, but a universal reservoir filled with archetypes – universally recognized symbols that shape our world perception. These archetypes, including the hero, the mother, and the trickster, appear in our dreams, signifying shared human experiences. However, Jung also cautioned against obsessively searching for these archetypal themes in dreams, advocating instead for working with personal unconscious materials when archetypal themes are absent.

The Unconscious Mind and Dreams

Dreams in psychoanalysis act as gateways to our unconscious minds. Through dream symbols, archetypes, and complexes, we can delve into our hidden selves, paving the way for personal growth and self-awareness.

The Language of Dreams

Dream symbols encapsulate our repressed thoughts, emotions, and desires. By interpreting these symbols, we can confront and resolve latent psychological issues.

Similarly, archetypes within dreams provide insights into our collective experiences. These universal symbols offer a framework that shapes our understanding of the world, playing an integral role in dream analysis.

Moreover, the identification and understanding of complexes, clusters of emotionally charged thoughts, and memories provide critical insights into our unconscious minds. Through dream analysis, we can unearth these hidden complexes, thereby enabling greater self-awareness and personal growth.

Individuation and the Unconscious Mind

One of the main tenets of Jung’s analytical psychology is the process of individuation. It is a quest for self-discovery and personal development aimed at integrating the conscious and unconscious aspects of the psyche. Through dream journaling, individuals can embark on this journey of individuation, leading to greater self-awareness and psychological wholeness.

Beyond Freud, Adler, and Jung: Evolution of Psychoanalysis

Over the years, psychoanalysis has burgeoned into a rich discipline, encompassing various schools of thought, each with unique interpretations of dream psychology. Approaches like object relations theory, self psychology, and relational psychoanalysis have expanded the scope of dream interpretation, underlining the significance of the unconscious mind and its role in shaping our behavior.

Despite the differences between these schools of thought, they all share a fundamental belief in the importance of the unconscious mind and the role it plays in shaping human behaviour. Dreams continue to be a valuable tool for accessing the unconscious and exploring its depths.

New insights from Neuroscience

In recent years, advances in neuroscience and technology have led to new insights into the workings of the brain and the nature of consciousness. Research has shown that the brain processes information unconsciously before it becomes conscious, highlighting the crucial role of the unconscious in shaping our perceptions and behaviours.

Neuroscientific research has also shown that the brain’s default mode network, which is active during periods of rest and daydreaming, is linked to introspection, imagination, and self-awareness – important ego-functions.

The anthropology of dreams and psychoanalysis provides a rich and complex understanding of the human mind and its workings. By exploring the unconscious through dream analysis and other techniques, individuals can gain insight into their deepest desires, fears, and motivations, leading to greater self-awareness and personal growth. The legacy of Freud, Adler, and Jung continues to shape our understanding of the unconscious and its role in shaping human behaviour, inspiring new generations of psychoanalysts to explore the depths of the human psyche.


Alfred Adler, anthropology, archetypes, Carl Jung, collective unconscious, complexes, dream analysis, dream interpretation, dreams, emotional growth, history, individual psychology, neurology, personal growth, psychoanalysis, self-awareness, Sigmund Freud, striving for superiority, symbols in dreams, unconscious mind

Dr. Alexander Lebedev (MD PhD) is a psychiatrist, data scientist and a co-founder of Dreamseer.
With over 15 years of experience in healthcare, applied data science, combined with extensive academic research in socionomics and non-ordinary states of consciousness, he brings a unique perspective to address global mental health challenges and foster personal and societal resilience. At Dreamseer, Dr. Lebedev's vision extends beyond individual mental health to a broader societal perspective. By mapping and analysing global dream trends, we aim to raise awareness of shared experiences that unite all of us, ultimately contributing to a healthier, more connected, and empathetic world. Dr. Lebedev is dedicated to fulfilling his mission to leverage technology in the service of mental health and resilient living.

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