Levels of Dream Interpretation

By George A. Boyd ©2015

Sigmund Freud popularized dream interpretation in the early 20th Century. A number of other experts have elaborated other approaches to dream interpretation. These are shown below:





Major exponent




All dream symbols are reduced to sexual, aggressive, self-destructive, or conflicts of sexual maturation

Sigmund Freud




Signs of an individual’s “neurosis” or mental illness are identified in the dream

William Stekel




The actions of the figures in the dream suggest wishes, motivations, or intentions; these are the expression of the vital force, which Reich called orgone

Wilhelm Reich




The therapist analyzes the words of the characters in the dream, which reveals patients’ conflicts, their essential existential anxiety, and their quest for meaning

Victor Frankl




The therapist explores dream symbols as urges to growth, healing, progress, understanding and a resolution of symptoms; the dream reveals the fears and shame that underlies resistance to change

Carl Jung




The therapist asks the patient to become and enact the images in their dream to unlock their personal meaning

Fritz Perls




The therapist asks the patient to examine the dream at different levels, each discovering a different layer of meaning. Layers that can be uncovered through this process include the physiological, emotional, vital or energetic, mental, personal, higher mental, and mandalic.

Roberto Assagioli

In the synthetic approach

  • The physiological layer corresponds to classical Freudian analysis.
  • The emotional layer reveals the affect seen in Steckel’s approach.
  • The energetic layer draws upon the body-mind matrix that Reich explored.
  • The mental layer uncovers the meaning of experience that Frankl’s work tapped.
  • The personal level uses the humanistic and psycho-dramatic methods of Fritz Perls.
  • The higher mental layer interacts with archetypes; Jung utilized this transpersonal approach.
  • The mandalic layer views the dream as a multidimensional conveyer of meaning, and posits that the dream story points to the re-unification of the psyche in the figure of the Soul

The multi-faceted synthetic approach examines

  • To what physiological process—sexuality, hunger, urge to survive as an organism, urge to defend oneself or to kill another, urge to word off disease or death, or surrender to death—can these dream symbols be attributed?
  • What does the dream image symbolize? What constitutes change in the symbols representing the patient’s illness? What indicates resolution?
  • What wishes, desires, or urges does the dream express?
  • What meanings does the dream express? What central issue does the dream present that presses for resolution?
  • What do the individual dream elements reveal about themselves? What unconscious, disowned aspect of personality (subpersonality) do they represent?
  • What spiritual or transpersonal process does the dream portray?
  • What is the Soul teaching or disclosing through the dream?

Each approach draws out different aspects of the dream’s communication to the dreamer. A dream be alternately construed as:

  • A neurological process, consolidating the day’s experiences into long-term memory
  • A symbolic discharge of repressed biological drives
  • A randomization of mental processes; a chaos out of which the mind imposes order and meaning in daily life
  • The experience of the astral body, as it travels through the track of life history and on the Astral Plane
  • A symbolic code that unlocks the mysteries of the unconscious mind
  • A message from the Divine Spirit, which reveals the Divine Will or Divine Plan
  • A communication of the Soul to the surface mind, veiled in the cryptic language of the dream

We filter different levels of meaning from the dream,depending on the lens through which we view the dream. The dream is actually a multi-layered loom, which operates at these different layers simultaneously.

We suggest that a multi-layered approach could be captured in an evocative questionnaire, which asks clients to examine these elements at each level, and to tease out the essential message at the core of it.

Please Login to Comment.