What Does Your Therapist Dream About?

Therapists tell you little about themselves, especially their dreams. Why would they? The woolly, wild world of the unconscious might suggest the counselor is a rapist, murderer, or thief.

Looking at him through the lens of the dream makes the treatment about the practitioner, not about the patient. It cripples the client’s ability to project his own long-standing issues onto this person: react to the counselor as if he were a father or mother identical to the real dad or mom.

A crucial part of classical psychodynamic treatment relies on the client playing-out his long-standing relationship problems and historically driven expectations of trauma or rejection within the session. The patient is unaware, at first, of the “mistaken identity” going on, where his reactions are more about his own past than the practitioner. If the therapist reveals too much about himself, he risks becoming the man of his chaotic dreams to the patient, not a benign, but blank canvas upon which his client throws the paint of his own internal life.

Dream interpretation is an art, not a science. Its value is difficult to demonstrate, though some therapists swear by it. Too many possible interpretations, no way to validate them. Yet they can be helpful. Certainly they may enlighten. Regardless, dreams are hard for the patient to resist discussing. An open therapist needs to take in all the uncensored data provided, the better to serve him.

Though I claim no specialty in dream interpretation, what I offer here is a partial explanation to those who wonder about the kinds of dreams therapists have.

The simple answer is, I doubt they are much different from those of people of similar upbringing, temperament, and overall life experience. I might add two exceptions:

  • Certain kinds of dreams are recognized as symptoms within the diagnostic framework developed by the American Psychiatric Association. For example, one possible symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is: “Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content and/or affect (emotion) of the dream are related to the traumatic event(s).”
  • Conventional wisdom tells us that high achievers have recurring dreams dealing with things like being late or unready for tests. Since people with advanced degrees prepared well for examinations (and took so many of them), the unconscious disquiet of discovering you are not ready or present for a test, a crucial appointment, or a presentation requires no leap of insight. Many of us were either driven to succeed, afraid of failure, or both.

Ah, but this discussion is rather impersonal, so I will offer an actual dream of one person I know well and present you with two interpretations. Moreover, I invite you to take the interpreter’s role yourself: be the therapist.

Whose dream shall I speak of?

My own.

Get ready. Prepare yourself for the unexpected nature of the story. The partially unclothed aspect, too.

I was sitting in the smallest room of my old office suite. Yes, the washroom. Some vulnerability here, don’t you think?

The door to the W/C led to the waiting room, the lobby of the office suite. I shared the workplace with other therapists. Unexpectedly, one of those counselors opens the door to the washroom. A man. He walks through a side entrance I hadn’t noticed and was never there before. I pushed him out and spoke with him soon after.

The extra door was installed without my knowledge, he informed me. Even though all the other counselors rented the space from me, they somehow did this unilaterally, without discussion with me, and with no warning.

Several of them were in a meeting which I joined. I talked to them. I spoke of the danger to our patients, our duty to protect, and our professional liability. Since our clients all used this facility, I stated this unlockable entrance would constitute malpractice. The head of the group argued back, though I can’t recall the details of her rejoinder. The assembly of counselors was mostly docile and unpersuaded by my logic. In the end I went off, saw my next patient, and did my job.

What should be made of this, if anything? Well, I can recall failed attempts at rational persuasion dating back to my childhood. Mom ran the roost, like the female leader of the other therapists. My mother was a tough cookie and dad worshipped her. No amount of logic or effort were enough to effect changes in the family dynamic. Should I leave the interpretation at that or try another tack?

Let’s visit recent events as possible triggers of the sleepytime return to my professional practice. I read two disturbing books in the days before the dream. As Dr. Michael Breus notes, some believe dreams are “a means by which the mind works through difficult, complicated, unsettling thoughts, emotions, and experiences, to achieve psychological and emotional balance.”

The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois and The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset both carry profound messages about the dark side of humanity. The first deals with American slavery, the second with the growth of a naïve, destructive, anti-intellectual “mass man” who may destroy the pillars of Western civilization. Du Bois led me to watch Slavery by Another Name, a superb, but equally unsettling documentary on the color-line that existed in the South even after the emancipation of blacks. Their forced-labor and imprisonment by legal and extra-legal means was new to me.

I was powerfully affected, but not, I thought, to the point of emotional distress. Still, these books and the movie offered a larger vista on what happens when reason fails and men know only rights and not duties to something virtuous and greater than themselves.

One more feature of my dream was a lack of control. Being interrupted in the washroom by a stranger is profoundly threatening. One is literally caught “with his pants down,” though I felt more surprised and angry in the dream than in danger.

The books also might have amplified my personal concerns about the current state of Western democracy: another possible precipitant of the strange story. If this is so, then perhaps I should alter my life: dip a toe into the ocean of earthly woe, not bathe in it. Rather ironic, in light of what I did during my career, which on some days was a daily if not hourly immersion.

Other interpretations are possible, of course, but I hope you get the idea.

Your own analysis might tell you about both yourself and me. Do remember, that the therapist must remove himself from his issues when doing therapy, including his investigation of dreams. Freud was a notable exception who performed a self-analysis.

So, you now get to be the psychologist. Complicated, isn’t it? Give it your best shot.

The first image is called Think Different by Neotex555. It includes within it a statue plus a portion of Kandinsky’s Fugue, the entirety of which makes up the painting that follows. Finally comes Sean Foster’s Cloud Frenzy. All are sourced from Wikimedia Commons. For more about the function of dreams, you might want to visit a very fine post by Dr. Michael Breus.

16 thoughts on “What Does Your Therapist Dream About?

  1. It is quite funny for me to see the post today about the dreams because I had a dream last night that I stabbed myself with a small blue scissors. I saw so much blood gushing out of my left side under my rib cage. I saw the piece of the flash was still attached on me. The blood was everywhere, on my hands, my body and on my back. I woke up this morning with vivid clear memory of this dream and i had a strange sensation on my left side under the rib cage. I then went online to check the meaning of the stabbing in dream, it didn’t tell me much about it except saying that i am struggling with something which was kind of true but i am still very curious about what exactly what did it mean.

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    • I’d hesitate to believe any single “meaning,” Amiee. Not only is there no consensus on what individual dreams mean, but anything you read on the internet will not take into account the details of your life history, recent events in the world about which you heard, or what you’ve been doing or thinking about recently. Sorry not to be more helpful.

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  2. I found this a fascinating article. I have a mild obsession with dreams, and enjoy the process of trying to interpret them. I don’t do this with all dreams though. Sometimes one comes along that I just know has a deeper meaning and I need to spend some time on it. There’s so much that it can reveal.

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    • drgeraldstein

      Glad you enjoyed it, Rayne. They are hard to ignore, both those that are distressing, but not only those. Any powerful emotion seems to register, including the remembrance of past relationships involving love of one kind or another.

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  3. Given the books you were reading and the events of terrorism/ inhumanity to man, that defies all human decency and reason, which we are seeing on a daily basis, I think we are all feeling abit like our vulnerable security is being invaded. One thing that makes us feel secure in our most vulnerable position in the wc 🚽 is that we can close the door on intruders. But at this time we are being invaded by constant visions of people being bombed, mowed down and killed because they have the ‘audacity’ to just be going peacefully about their everyday life. Even being a baby or child apparently is a crime deserving of death these days. When we try to protest or say to our government leaders that this goes against our duty of care to one another and we haven’t been consulted about this rude assault to our security we come up with dictatorial or vague responses that leave us feeling helpless and unheard and all we are left with is to just try to get on with our next day or task.

    That’s my efforts for you Gerald, a bit dark, but it kinda fits. Having very CPTSD my dreams have mostly been very dark and distressing for most of my life. I have constant themes of death, murder and suicide, and even the other week on of cannibalism. When people have said to me about leaving my past in the past, this is one of the reasons that I tell them of the impossibility of that, because no matter how hard I try to live in the present during the day I am a helpless slave to the uncensored horrors that come into my night time sleep that often leaves my waking up at the highest intensity of emotion, (because of my being unconscious in sleep I haven’t been able to do any regulating work to prevent the high intensity) which can take many hours to bring back to normal my emotional status.

    Dreams do regularly come up as information in my therapy and my T has been very talented at finding the information and connections. It can’t be denied the unconscious gives up a lot more connections that can lead to further healing.

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    • One thing I did with my therapy patients who continued to suffer dreams of trauma was to suggest they try to bring someone or something into the dream that might protect them. This sometimes worked. As to the origins of my dream, yes, the world is sometimes just too much. Those who so easily suggest leaving the past in the past don’t understand the difficulty of doing that for someone with a trauma history. You should be proud that in the daytime hours you do much for the benefit of others.

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  4. When I was in longer-term therapy I recall having so many dreams about therapy and time. I would be working against broken clocks, forgetting about my session and missing it or a wild adventure would cause me to be late. I also recall many dreams about therapy not being private, such as showing up and other people in the room (and my therapist acting like it was fine) or half-walls which made therapy public. It makes me smile now, and to reflect how important it was for me to have the time for myself and that therapy was one of the few places I made that golden. Thank you.

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  5. Unless we know someone very well, it’s difficult to interpret the dreams of others. As such, I won’t attempt to decipher yours 🙂
    Dreams fascinate me. Over the course of my life, I’ve had some very striking dreams. Since moving to the USA, I started a dream journal as a form of self-analysis during periods of emotional upheavals.

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  6. thecollectivesystem

    My first thought on the bathroom scene was it would similar to someone following or barging into the most private places in your mind by a door they installed without your permission. Something maybe about boundaries in that scene too. That would make sense since the beginning of this post is about patients asking you about your dreams. You not being afraid or angry but surprised by the intruder and talking with your colleges about patient safety made me wonder about where you think you fit into that hierarchy. Are you the last person on your list to worry about?

    “If this is so, then perhaps I should alter my life: dip a toe into the ocean of earthly woe, not bathe in it. Rather ironic, in light of what I did during my career, which on some days was a daily if not hourly immersion.”

    This makes sense. You got your own crap to worry about and you have yourself to take care of. Maybe this dream is telling you you need to take care of, pay attention to, and set strong boundaries for those around you. And yourself too.

    That was fun. I was probably way off. Not a scholar, never finished college. So not in the league of real analysis but I had fun trying to come up with something that may ring true.

    Thanks for posting this.

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    • I’m glad it was fun. Among the difficulties of dream interpretation is the fact that no two interpreters will come up with the same interpretation. And, importantly, one must sift through details that are probably insignificant to those of enduring meaning. For example, last night I had a dream involving baseball, a lifelong interest. During the day I’d been reading about old baseball players and, sure enough, more than one turned up in the dream. Were the players or even the sport important, or perhaps a nurse or hospital staff member I also encountered, or a speech I was appointed to give, or all of them? By the way, I wouldn’t dismiss your lack of advanced education. You sound quite sensible and you write very well. Thanks for your comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. thecollectivesystem

    **take care of, pay attention to –yourself. That statement did not come across the way I inteded. Opps 🙂

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  8. I guess in my mind I would consider this an anxiety dream. You are invaded in a private space, underlings have violated your property without any consideration to you, nor are they validating anything you have to say and are dismissive. This is my very low-level, para-professional, interpretation. 😊

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    • drgeraldstein

      It’s a good one, Nancy. Writers and film makers of the 20th century began dealing lwith this kind of dilemma long ago. Thanks for commenting.

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