What we call ‘dreams’ are remembered manifestations of the highly associative, figurative and symbolic processes of the mind.
In fact we are always ‘dreaming’ because this is what the mind does but this process occurs below the level of consciousness. Occasionally, however, a dream can be recalled upon waking. The rational mind can have difficulty taking dreams seriously because their symbolic language is not readily understood and so dreams are often discarded and de-valued as being ‘nothing but..’.
Unlike Freud, who understood dreams as being essentially wish fulfilments and who felt that there was always something ‘hidden’ or disguised in a dream, particularly a repressed sexual wish, Jung felt that dreams were symbolic and he came to understand a dream as being ‘a spontaneous self-portrayal, in symbolic form, of the actual situation in the unconscious’ — a portrayal that both describes the unconscious psychic situation as it is at that time and also points towards its resolution.
Jung also felt that dreams are nearly always compensatory, that is that they compensate for an overly one-sided (narrow) conscious attitude towards ourselves and others.
Dreams, therefore, offer a unique ‘window’ into our unconscious life and, if related to and understood, open up the possibility for reconciliation between our often conflicting conscious and unconscious attitudes, beliefs and desires. This can lead to deeper self-awareness and freedom as the dreaming process can become a rich source for greater meaningfulness in life.
A Jungian approach to dreams always seeks to understand the dream within the dreamer’s own context — there is no formulaic ‘interpretation’, rather dreams have many levels of possible meaning which may continue to unfold as the process of therapy — and life — continues.
Some people come into therapy with dreams that are deeply affecting and/or troubling without knowing why. Some people begin to remember their dreams once they have begun their therapy and there are many people who do not remember their dreams clearly at all. If you do not remember your dreams this is in no way an impediment to a meaningful therapeutic experience.
If you are interested in dreams you might find either of these two books interesting:
Dreams: A Portal to the Source, Edward C. Whitmont and Sylvia Brinton Perera, Routledge, London, 1989.
Understanding Dreams in Clinical Practice, Marcus West, Karnac Books, London, 2011.