Proven Methods to Gain Insight Into Your Dreams

A recent study reveals two dream sharing techniques that work.

Posted Mar 30, 2016

Prior posts discussed how dreams, bad dreams, and hypnagogic imagery can aid in creative insight thanks to their emotional and associative nature. But one recent study asked a more practical question: can reflecting on dreams during wake similarly contribute to creative insight? Can we gain access to the intuitive creativity of the dreamworld even while awake?

For the study, two researchers at different sites conducted weekly dream sharing groups with about 10 participants. The groups used either the Ullman or the Schredl technique for working with their dreams; these are two simple techniques that dream sharing groups can follow as they work through dreams together in order to stimulate insight into the dream’s meaning (see end of post for detailed technique). There were eleven participants (10 females, one male; ages 18–21, mean age = 20.18, SD = 0.98) in the Ullman dream sharing group. The Schredl dream sharing group consisted of nine participants (seven females, two males; ages 19–40, mean age = 27.11, SD = 9.09). 

At the beginning of each session, one participant would describe a recent dream to the group, and, with some guidance from the researcher, the whole group would participate in unraveling the meaning of the dream. At the conclusion of the study, all the participants responded to a series of questions in order to determine whether and to what extent the dream sharing led to increased insight into either the dream itself, or the dreamer’s waking life.

The researchers found that both techniques were successful in stimulating personal insight gains. For instance, participants positively responded to several items regarding insight on the questionnaire, e.g. “I learned more from the session about how past events influence my present behavior” or “I learned more about issues in my waking life from working with the dream.” The participants felt they were able to make connections between the dreams and their waking life that they had not previously realized, and they uncovered some of the personal significance of their dreams.

While these gains may have occurred simply through reflecting on the dream, it seemed that discussing and working through the dream with a group enabled even further insight. For instance, participants mentioned they “learned things that I would not have thought of on my own.”

In sum, sharing and reflecting on dreams may stimulate insights into due to the creative and emotional nature of dreams. Further, dreams tend to work through unconscious conflicts, and dream sharing can bringing these conflicts to the surface and stimulate creative solutions. In other words, dream sharing can reveal unresolved issues that are important to the dreamer, even if they weren't previously aware of them.

The two techniques used in the study are detailed below.

Ullman technique: Dream Appreciation

For the Ullman (1996) “Dream appreciation” method, participants bring a written account of a recent dream to the group, and follow the provided instructions for describing the dream/event, detailing the recent waking life of the participant, and discovering connections between the dream/event and prior waking life.

The technique involves three major steps:

1: The dreamer reads aloud their dream, and the group is invited to ask questions to clarify the dream.

2. The group members imagine and discuss how they would feel if this dream were their own, and they further interpret how they feel this dream might reflect or symbolize elements of their own life.

3. The third step is the most complex. The dreamer first responds to the discussion that has preceded, and then describes how they feel the dream is related to their own waking life, including their recent experiences or personal concerns.

Then, one of the group members will read the dream aloud to the dreamer in an attempt to elicit further insight from hearing the dream from another perspective.

Finally, the whole group and the dreamer are invited to mention any further connections realized between the dream itself and the dreamer’s waking life.

Schredl technique: Listening to the Dreamer

In Schredl’s (2011) “Listening to the dreamer (LTTD)” method, participants again bring a written account of a recent dream to the group, and follow the prescribed instructions for describing the dream/event, and discovering patterns of behavior or emotion that are common between the dream/event report and prior waking life.

The Schredl technique utilizes five major steps:

1. Similar to the Ullman technique, the dreamer shares a dream, and the group is invited to ask questions to clarify the dream.

2. The group members then ask further questions about the dreamer’s waking life or memories that they suppose may be related to the dream (somewhat like a 20 questions of dreamwork).

3. The dreamer then outlines the actions and emotions that were most poignant in the dream. This technique assumes that actions and emotions are pivotal to the dream’s meaning.

4. The dreamer looks for any connection between the main actions and emotions of the dream and their waking life.

5. The dreamer finally considers whether they would have preferred to alter any of their own thoughts or actions in the dream.

Through this procedure, the dreamer is not only pushed to understand the connection between the dream and their waking life, but further attempts to understand how they might like to change these underlying patterns of dreaming and waking life, hopefully altering the course of actions and emotions in future dreams.

Both the Ullman and the Schredl techniques successfully stimulated insight into the dreamers’ waking and dreaming life, and both are rather simple techniques that would be useful for any dream sharing groups. The International Association for the Study of Dreams is a useful resource for connecting with others and finding dream sharing groups near you.